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Financial innovation in the digital age


By J. Albert Gamboa

More than 700 financial executives from all over Asia-Pacific converged in Singapore for the 2018 Asian Financial Services Congress (AFSC). Now on its 14th year, AFSC is an annual event presented by the International Data Corporation (IDC), a global research advisory firm headquartered in Massachusetts, USA.

In his keynote speech, IDC Asia-Pacific Head of Research Michael Araneta discussed how regional institutions are winning or losing in the hunt for new value that they can bring to their customers. He explored how long-standing businesses of advisory, customer experience, and network building can unlock success in the great effort of remaking financial services.

According to Araneta, 2017 was the year of fintech innovation and collaboration with banks.  It also marked the rise of cyber-insurance and invisible banking as well as the concept of connected core, with the engine supporting traditional banks becoming a pure transaction engine that would need to be modernized.

Among his predictions for the financial services sector starting 2018 are: customer data integration with a single 360-degrees view; deployment of data virtualization and visual analytics to the front line for real-time validation of intuition in a face-to-face with clients; harnessing artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things for authentication and data protection to ensure fraud-free transactions; and acquisition of data from third parties to augment customer knowledge.

The sports-themed conference covered a diverse range of topics during the plenary sessions, focus group discussions, and breakout tracks. There was even a financial workshop conducted by Lego Serious Play to develop metaphors and understand organizational roles, team identity, and corporate values by using Lego materials to create, build, and embed meanings into selected business models.

A very interesting session dwelt on the journey toward intelligent automation in financial services. Moderated by IDC Senior Research Manager Sneha Kapoor, it focused on robotic process automation (RPA) and key lessons from early adopters. Twenty financial institutions from Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand are leading in the adoption of RPA across the Asia-Pacific region.

Kapoor explained that RPA is a software code that automates and assigns standardized, rule-based, repetitive, and high-volume processes involving several interoperable systems – which were formerly executed by humans – to a robot. This leads to cost savings, quicker deployments, valuable analytics, and less costly mistakes since bots do not commit human-like errors. She foresees that by 2020, RPA will be used in 40% of Asia-Pacific banks and insurance companies, of which 25% will deploy cognitive technologies for intelligent decision-making.

Capping the two-day conference held at the Marina Bay Sands convention center was the Financial Insights Innovation Awards (FIAA) for 2018. Sixteen winning flagship initiatives were chosen for setting technological and business precedents to drive new, successful practices within their peer ecosystems.

Taiwan’s CTBC Bank won the award for “Best Bank in Asia” while Union Bank of the Philippines was cited as “Asia’s Leader in Omnichannel Engagement.” Other FIAA winners include Singapore’s UOB and OCBC; Malaysia’s Maybank and Hong Leong Bank; China’s Ping An Bank; Thailand’s Bank of Ayudhya and Siam Commercial Bank; Indonesia’s PT Bank Danamon; and Australia’s MLC Life Insurance.

FIAA Program Director Jon Ho disclosed that some 150 entries from 14 countries participated in the research-centric competition. Criteria focused on five broad categories, namely: technological angle, responsiveness to market needs, implementation of product development timelines, market response as measured by key performance indicators, and utilization beyond product design via big data dashboards and apps.

Ho said the winning entries were selected not only because they have acted on the disruptions in today’s economy, but also for taking viable first-steps in creating a future-proof business model to ensure their relevance in tomorrow’s world.

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