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AI, human-centric design to drive innovation in finance

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore has introduced a raft of digital initiatives to fuel innovation in the country's financial services sector, ranging from developing an e-marketplace for trade-finance assets to building smarter infrastructure to enable the more convenient use of e-payments.

Homegrown cashless payment solutions firm Nets has also recently unveiled a string of new fintech offerings aimed at digitising the consumer payment experience, which include digitised debit-linked cards, QR-code payments, and a mobile wallet app.

Both examples, even as they hail from solely the finance industry, point to two ubiquitous tech trends that global consulting firm Accenture has identified in its 2017 Technology Vision report. The first is "AI (artificial intelligence) is the new UI (user interface)", and the second is "design for humans".

Both trends - which are among five trends Accenture has rightly pointed out in the report - will affect all businesses, no matter the sector, globally.

AI, powered by machine learning, can help workers tackle problems - big and small - in simpler, more convenient ways, and revolutionise the way companies acquire information from and interact with customers.

Paul Daugherty, Accenture's chief technology and innovation officer, tells The Business Times: "We see 2017 as the coming of age for AI's maturity and becoming a digital spokesperson for companies."

He says that AI has moved beyond a back-end tool for an enterprise to take on more sophisticated roles within the enterprise's various tech interfaces. "From autonomous-driving vehicles that use computer vision to live translations made possible by machine learning, AI is making every interface both simple and smart."

Mr Daugherty adds: "By acting as the new UI underpinning people's transactions and interactions with systems, AI will gradually become the face and key differentiator of every digital brand, delivering value at each connection made."

The second trend, 'design for humans', is about shaping technologies to help workers perform their roles more effectively and efficiently, and users realise their desired outcomes.

According to Accenture, this marks a fundamental shift away from humans previously having to "learn technology". Today, humans are instead "teaching technology" how to be adaptive, responsive, and aligned to goals that will enhance their lives.

Accenture's Mr Daugherty says: "Through this shift, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to create rich, responsive journeys with customers and employees, transforming relationships into true partnerships."

Players in the finance industry, in particular, can do more to adopt AI and human-centric design.

For one thing, such companies have or will come to possess vast amounts of consumer and transaction data, from which they can use AI to generate insights on consumer behaviour and market movements.

Already, AI is being used to reduce manual, mind-numbing office tasks in the finance industry, eliminating the need for many back-office professionals.

Moreover, AI is being used to design investment algorithms that enable asset management firms to make predictions based on historical data or live news events. Some of these algorithmic trading systems have become so smart that they are even able to learn from an erratic, rapidly-changing global market, and devise better investment strategies each time.

With human-centric design, finance companies can use tech to create offerings that address the needs of their employees and consumers, and positively transform the way they run their lives and businesses.

The key point is that today, humans are in control. It's no longer the case that humans must adapt to tech; tech is adapting to humans. And as tech becomes more sophisticated, it's not the tech itself that's driving change; it's humans. Accenture says: "We're putting technology to work to disrupt ourselves."

Of course, these trends are not limited to the finance industry. Every business today, whether enterprise- or consumer-facing, is digital. AI and "design for human" will only set the bar for how future interactions and partnerships in the business world will work.