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By 22 October 2018 | Categories: interviews

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If there is one industry that has been caught in the digital transformation siren’s call, it has been financial services. TechSmart’s Ryan Noik (RN) chats to Vuyo Mpako: Chief Digital & Data Officer at Old Mutual (VM) to find out how the financial services company is adapting to a changing world, and the role Amazon Web Services (AWS) has played.

RN: How has Old Mutual assured that its offering provides its customers value?

VM: Our customers are evolving every day which is why our brand needs to evolve. Within the financial services space, we are seeing increased use of newer technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring greater efficiency to existing processes and to extract deeper value from data sources in the industry. Traditionally, banks and insurance companies found making effective use of AI and ML models challenging. Today, customers can use AWS AI/ML services to create new insights from data or achieve process efficiencies in a much simpler way. This is why the AWS collaboration, along with many other digital projects we’re currently running, is central to our digital transformation journey.

The chatbot we launched leverages Amazon Lex, a service for building conversational interfaces into any application using voice and text. Powered by the same conversational engine as Alexa, Amazon Lex provides high quality speech recognition and language understanding capabilities, enabling addition of sophisticated, natural language ‘chatbots’ to new and existing applications. Going forward, the new chatbot will allow for the automation of many of our digital propositions. We will also be responding to the needs of our customers in real-time. This ultimately results in a better user experience for our customers as we work towards helping them do great things every day. In addition to benefiting from AWS’s scalability and flexibility, we expect significant cost saving due to a reduction in time-to-market and efficiencies

Today, we are the advice champions, helping our customers better manage their money, work toward their financial goals and dreams and protect their families. This is how we create ultimate value for our customers – through enabling their positive futures. Technology helps us deliver this additional value to our customers through a number of avenues:

Firstly, we’re driving digital engagement, sales and servicing to ensure customers are able to purchase core products and enable simple servicing needs using digital channels.

Secondly, we are digitising key end-to-end customer journeys to deliver a superior customer experience allowing customers to save time and effort while increasing convenience.

RN:  What role is AWS playing in helping Old Mutual leverage emerging technologies like AI to further its innovation?

VM: In line with our company’s vision, we strive to be our customers’ most trusted lifetime partner, passionate about helping them achieve their financial goals. This means, amongst other things, that we reach out to customers to make it easier for them to do business with us.

This is why the AWS collaboration, along with many other digital projects we’re currently running, is central to our digital transformation journey.

Speech recognition and natural language understanding are some of the most challenging problems to solve in computer science, requiring sophisticated deep learning algorithms to be trained on massive amounts of data and infrastructure. Amazon Lex democratises these deep learning technologies by putting the power of Amazon Alexa within reach of all developers. Harnessing these technologies, Amazon Lex enables to define entirely new categories of products made possible through conversational interfaces.

Some of the benefits include ease of use, with Amazon Lex providing an intuitive console to guide customers through the process of creating their own chatbot in minutes, building conversational interfaces into their applications. Customers can supply just a few example phrases and Amazon Lex builds a complete natural language model through which end users can interact using voice and text, to ask questions, get answers, and complete sophisticated tasks.

A second benefit cost effectiveness, as there are no upfront costs or minimum fees. Amazon Lex’ pay-as-you-go pricing and low cost per request make it a cost-effective way to build conversational interfaces anywhere.

Going forward we will see the automation of many of our digital propositions. We’re also responding to the needs of our customers in real time through accelerated delivery enabled by the automated delivery into AWS. This ultimately results in a better user experience for our customers.

RN: Are there other technologies that the company is enlisting aid from AWS to that end? If so, what technologies and how are they being used?

VM: Currently the new chatbot and upcoming converged digital experience across all our customer, employee and intermediary digital touch points enlists the AWS capability. We’re also exploring additional solutions which may make use of the AWS capability. In line with our new brand reposition, we have refreshed the look and feel of our digital platforms to enable to consistent brand experience.

We’ve recently consolidated our USSD services into one (*120*6672#). Customers are now able to apply for a personal loan, request funeral cover or a call back and be serviced, all on one USSD string. We’re rolling out an updated Old Mutual app which will include biometric facial recognition. This innovation will allow any smartphone user with a front-facing camera – regardless of whether their phone has facial recognition or not – to access a complete view of their Old Mutual portfolio on MyPortfolio.

Furthermore, we are  working on a solution for the stokvel and investment club industry - a complete end-to-end digital stokvel experience. The solution will help members of the R49bn stokvel industry to create a custom stokvel, manage calendars, increase ease of communication and enables cashless settlement.

RN:  Why did Old Mutual choose AWS particularly to assist them?

VM: Without a doubt our world and customers are becoming more digital and connected. That is why there’s a need to make our products and services available from anywhere to meet the needs of today's consumers. The cloud allows us to leverage best in class solutions, from industry leaders like AWS, that enable Old Mutual to focus on what it is good at – enabling our customers’ positive financial futures.

In the world we are living in, speed is becoming a key currency. The cloud gives us great levels of agility and scale across the continent. Collaborating with industry leaders like AWS allows us to focus on the evolution of our solutions to best need the needs of our customers.

RN:  What is your perspective on Cloud? In some ways it seems like the polar opposite of a traditional bank, with cloud’s emphasis on making resources available from anywhere while traditional financial institutions have offered customers security through fortifying their investments in a heavily secured environment.

VM: The internet enables access while the cloud is more infrastructure and software as a service - i.e. they have become commodity products. Modern cloud based solutions are built with security best practices in mind from the ground up.

Services like AWS are used by leading global companies which when rolled out to customers provides them with peace of mind when it comes to security and access. Cybersecurity remains paramount and the continual improvement of security on cloud services offer unrivalled speed with regards to tackling new security threats and vulnerabilities, as well as in implementing new ever evolving best practices.

This doesn't mean Old Mutual outsources security to third parties, in fact Old Mutual employs more security experts than ever before who are focused now on staying ahead of the curve.

RN: How has Old Mutual evolved and how is it dealing with the disruption that is rife in so many industries?

VM: We are increasingly working with both local and international Fintech and InsurTech companies to deliver change and innovation in Old Mutual – not only for product, but across many elements of our value chain. This ecosystem of Fintech partners ranges from start-ups that we source through our partnership with Startupbootcamp and other accelerators, to more mature technology companies, depending on the complexity of the problem statement.

We continually evolve our view of what the business of the future should look like, and pro-actively engage with the right partners to deliver this over the short, medium and longer term. Our aim is become a leading digital financial services company in the markets within which we operate and leading with digital in new markets we enter. It’s important that we create a consistent customer experience for all users and across all touch points, and create a seamless omni-channel experience.

A more connected business needs to enable shared capabilities that can be leveraged across the digital landscape and enhance the value of digital touch points for the customer and business.

Our customers’ needs are changing and we understand their need for ease of use, especially for a new generation of digital first, tech savvy consumers.

Sustainability is key and as a Responsible Business we need to ensure that we innovate and change to meet the demands of customers (Responsible to our customers) and attract, develop and up skill our employees to face a new, exciting future (Responsible to our employees).

Finally, Old Mutual has a history of staying ahead of the competition through innovation in our products and services and we’re building on this tradition.

RN: How has the competitive landscape changed for Old Mutual – is it still the familiar players that Old Mutual is aiming out-innovate, or are small, agile fintech start-ups now the main concern from a competition point of view?  

VM: There’s no denying that the financial services landscape has and is changing, while the idea of a traditional competitor is fading. Startups both locally and abroad have the ability to disrupt not only our existing markets but they also have the potential to create new markets entirely by creating demand (think Airbnb, SweepSouth etc).

As a financial services giant, we therefore have to consider all players in the market and ensure that we stay ahead of the curve, identify new opportunities and structure our business so that we can innovate and deliver in an agile manner.

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