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Financial Services Forum Annual Conference 2018 Debrief

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Across town from the SXSW event at Google HQ, a very similar agenda was being discussed at the annual Financial Services Forum conference. Broadly addressing ‘The Future of Financial Services’, the agenda promised an insight into the role of machine learning and AI in the banking of today, let alone tomorrow.

Having always associated the mysteries of AI with the realms of Hollywood and the likes of Minority Report, The Matrix and Blade Runner, I may have been forgiven for thinking that I was taking a step into the realms of Hollywood (and not just the auditorium in the BT Tower!). Four hours, six speakers and a buffet lunch later, AI was no longer a far-fetched movie script but instead something much more real, and much more tangible.

What actually IS AI?

Naively, my perception of AI had previously been synonymous with robots. It turns out I was very much mistaken. Reassuringly (for my ego at least) it seems I was not the only one that had been somewhat confused by this portrayal – a common theme throughout the conference was addressing exactly that; what does AI actually mean? How quickly your perception changes when you realise that ‘artificial intelligence’ can quite simply be described as a loose term for a collection of services and techniques that have data at their heart.

Our world has already begun to collide with AI – virtual assistants such as Google Home and Alexa, cars connected with telematics and even getting an insurance quote online are all examples in which AI is already playing a role in many of our day to day lives. And okay, it’s old news that data is everywhere but never before had I considered that the utilisation of this data is widely considered to be a form of AI.

That’s not to be dismissive of the huge impact that technology has, and will continue to have, on us all. The rate at which technological progress continues to evolve is quite phenomenal. Take the floppy disk. Staggeringly, this once almost universal data format throughout the 70s and 80s would these days barely hold a single MP3. In fact, you’d need two million of those bad boys to hold the data generated in a single day by a car connected to telematics. F**K!

But what does AI really mean for marketing?

One of the resounding messages from all that spoke at the conference was that it is an opportunity – not a threat.

Put simply, AI makes us more informed. It provides us with insights that make starting a conversation that little bit easier. It gives us the information that means we can be more targeted, more personalised. As marketers, machine learning allows us to create a personal service through digital technology. It makes our marketing more effective by giving our target audiences better, more relevant adverts. Or at least, it should.

Often as marketers we make the mistake of putting ourselves in the shoes of our customers – but often those shoes are the wrong size, style or colour. Aviva has a mantra that simply states, ‘I am not the customer’. AI should be the bridge between those that design a product or service and those that buy it – its innovation must be relevant to the end user.

With Google predicting that in an AI world (which is, according to the tech giant, only a decade away), brands will be assessed as people with a distinct personality, a brand’s tone of voice, personality and most importantly, empathy, are still of vital importance. Customers want AI that enhances their experience but delivered with responsiveness and a big splodge of humanness. Sound familiar? If you’ve not yet read our debrief from this year’s SXSW, there was a common theme resonating from both events – AI depends on us. Humans.

While much of the hype around automation has been about cost reductions and operational efficiencies, as marketers, we should be considering the potential for automation to unlock the profitability of marketing.

We like talking about all things marketing so if you want to chat about anything from Financial Services to AI,  get in touch.