From conducting transactions through Siri to taking out a mortgage through a chatbot, OCBC Bank is proud to be a game-changer when it comes to innovation. The group was an early adopter of structural digitisation, beginning work in this area more than 10 years ago, long before ‘digital’ became a buzz word.
Ken Wong, Head of AI Lab at OCBC Bank says: “Innovation is really part and parcel of what we do at OCBC, from senior management, right down to staff across the branches and back offices.” OCBC’s innovation focuses on what the ‘bank of the future’ might look like.
For Ken, this breaks down into three key themes, namely creating a banking experience that is natural and frictionless, providing customers with personalised advice according to their life stage and lifestyle preferences, and creating a bank that is ubiquitous yet invisible.
“We should be looking at how we can embed ourselves into the daily lives of our customers and facilitate those banking moments, rather than it being an intrusive process,” Ken says.
A key part of this digital transformation involves ensuring employees at the bank have the skills they need, and to this end, OCBC has launched its SG$20 million Future Smart programme in May 2018 to re-skill its 29,000 global workforce to ensure no-one is left behind by digital disruption.
OCBC has already achieved a number of digital firsts, including being the first bank to enable customers to open savings accounts remotely, with around half of accounts now opened in this way.
In April last year, it became the first bank to launch a digitally viable chatbot, which it calls Emma. “It is quite famous in the market because it is synonymous with being the first commercially successful chatbot,” Ken says.
When Emma first launched it was focused on home loans, and to-date more than SGD150 million-worth of home loans have been initiated through the chatbot. In February last year, OCBC became the first bank to provide voice powered conversational banking, enabling customers to perform simple transactions through their iPhones by speaking to Siri.
“We are looking for ways to make it very seamless for customers to actually transact and there is no easier way than speaking to Siri,” Ken says. But the innovation does not end there, and OCBC has big plans going forward.
It wants to continue to develop its ecosystem to make banking services more available to customers in their day-to-day lives. To help drive innovation, the group launched The Open Vault at OCBC initiative three years ago. Wong explains: “At The Open Vault we aim to be innovators and agents of change for business units to help accelerate the innovation journey.”
The team does this by working with the different business units within the bank, helping to map out problem statements, and then facilitating search for external fintechs that could provide a solution.
This team has evaluated more than 1,500 different fintechs since it was first set up, and it won the ‘Best Innovation Centre by Financial Institution in Singapore for 2018’ award at the Asian Banker Financial Technology Innovation Awards 2018.
Last year, The Open Vault started the AI Lab, which Ken heads. This unit is currently focused on three key areas where it thinks AI can have an impact.
Firstly, it wants 75% of all customer service requests to be AI-assisted in five years’ time. Secondly, it thinks AI could augment many of the manual jobs that are currently being done by staff, such as answering customer emails about bank opening hours, and enable them to instead focus on higher value tasks. The final area involves using AI to harness external insights and triggers that will enable the bank to provide better advice to its customers.
Ken explains: “As a bank, we advise our customers on 800 different types of investment vehicles. We have an obligation to inform them if something happens, but it is difficult to monitor them all. As a result, we are trying to use AI to spot when something significant happens in the market, so that our wealth management team could inform customers about the news and what action they should take.”
With all the different initiatives going on, Ken is looking to significantly expand his team from just 10 people now to 20 or 25 by the end of the year. He is predominantly looking for data scientists, and he wants people who are really passionate about using data to solve high impact real world problems.
“They should be technically strong and comfortable working with data. They should also be naturally inquisitive, always looking to solve a problem in multiple ways,” Ken says.
He adds that most importantly, they must be a data storyteller with the skills to translate numbers into real insights which they could explain to the business.
To anyone interested in joining his team, Ken says: “OCBC is at the forefront of digital and data innovation. How we do things are equally as important as what we do, and we make great efforts in developing our people for the future. If you are passionate and you feel that you have what it takes, just reach out to me. I look forward to a conversation with you.”