Improving Operational Efficiency in KYC-AML Using AI solutions

Regulatory scrutiny and growing cost pressures are severely impacting Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) operations of financial institutions. Discussions with several banks have revealed they are finding it hard to keep track of constantly evolving regulations, interpret and implement global regulatory changes at a local operational level, collect and refresh information from numerous sources and systems across different businesses and jurisdictions, manage and analyze growing volumes of structured and unstructured data to identify patterns, networks, and beneficial owners, while containing costs amidst a difficult economic environment.

Banks so far have looked to address the challenges by hiring more staff, as traditional rule-based KYC-AML technology necessitates significant dependence on manual efforts. But too much reliance on manual efforts can make the process costly, error prone, and inefficient. Banks therefore need to think out of the box and consider new and innovative solutions to alleviate operational and cost pressures.

Adoption of Artificial Intelligence-enabled solutions could be one way to mitigate current challenges, increase efficiency, and reduce costs, as they can not only automate significant parts of operations but also offer superior insights through advanced capabilities for analyzing structured and unstructured data. In a new report, Celent discusses several challenges plaguing financial institutions’ Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) operations, and proposes how Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled solutions can help in addressing them. This report was commissioned by NextAngles, an Mphasis Fintech venture, while Celent kept full editorial control. The report is available for download here.

How can financial institutions capitalize on viral marketing ?

Financial institutions are successfully using social media to promote their brands, but I am yet to see FS firms use viral marketing, a type of marketing that relies on consumers to spread information, often by social networks. Viral marketing is appealing because of the low cost distribution generated by individuals sharing information with one another.  However, it can be challenging to figure out what message will resonate with a target audience.

FS firms have dedicated social media teams to cultivate positive brand awareness.  Last spring, Morgan Stanley launched a program to spread the message that their work benefits society at large, not just their clients.  Twelve months since this program began, the Morgan Stanley brand has increased by 6%.

Persistent themes in social content disseminated by financial firms are: current events, innovation, charity, and nostalgia. Current events include the Olympics or #FriendshipDay, and let the customer know that the company is current and relevant today.  Twitter and LinkedIn are great forums to showcase new innovations in technology and by using social media, companies are inherently perceived as more tech savvy.  Financial firms, particularly incumbents, who may have received the brunt of the negative PR after the Great Recession, can casually mention their charitable efforts while still coming across as authentic.  Lastly, companies can create a warm and fuzzy spot in customer’s minds by making reference to a TV sitcom from yesteryears.

All of this is being done today, so what else can companies do? Viral marketing is a logical next step in a social media marketing strategy. Recently, I had several publications send me the same what-if scenario tool, which calculated the “true” cost of childcare when one parent chooses to temporarily or permanently leave the workforce. Given the upcoming elections in the United States and the fact that childcare costs are a topic of debate between the two candidates, the timing of the analysis tool contributed to its appeal.

It also got me thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if banks caught the attention of retail or mass affluent customers by way of viral marketing?” For example, if FS firms are trying to target millennials employed by start-ups, they could build a scenario analysis product that compared the value of a traditional stock option to the dollars sacrificed by taking stock instead of cash.  Or even a simpler mass-market tool, like one that showed how diversified a portfolio would be if a customer selected 12 stocks of their choice, would appeal to a generation consumed by gaming.  If the tool is initially shared with a select audience and proves to be likeable, it will hopefully gain traction and be spread from one individual to another. A share coming from a friend or via a publication that is credible in the eyes of the consumer is more authentic than social content shared directly from a FS firm.  The creation of authentic endorsements is the main benefit of viral marketing.

This idea of sharing a product for free via viral marketing entails a “freemium” pricing strategy, whereby a company offers an initial good or service for free in the hopes that a customer will be hooked and pay for additional products or services. In this case, a freemium tool spread by viral marketing may encourage customers to open a self-directed account. There does not seem to be much downside risk if these individuals would have otherwise kept their money in cash or gone to another self-directed platform or robo-advisory service.  The HNW/UHNW customers that would otherwise be paying for these what-if scenario tools would not feel slighted, because the full benefits to these tools are realized when they are used in conjunction with advice and with a holistic view of the customer’s assets and goals.

DLT – Beyond the Buzz

We published our new report on distributed ledger technology (DLT) called Beyond the Buzz today where we take a look at a range of use cases for DLT within banking and capital markets in addition to profiling the state of play across this ever-growing ecosystem of financial institutions, Fintechs, Bigtechs, regulators, and industry consortia.

We bring together a framework for assessing the use cases identified in the report, specifically, their status: Announcement; Proof of Concept, Pilot, Implementation, or Broad Adoption versus whether a consortium is driving the technology or a more unilateral/ bilateral initiative is implementing it. The breadth of use cases and complexity of the underlying markets all point to a very mixed picture such that 2016 and 2017 will continue to be active on the news flow front as the number of use cases proliferates and learning curves are climbed.

Interoperability with legacy systems, regulatory clarity, and modularity of technology architecture will all be critical elements to generating the scale and network effects which are so critical to the financial markets. Parallel running of existing systems and markets versus new DLT-enabled systems and markets will present unique challenges. Consequently, we are excited by the opportunities for private market securities which will be a relatively easier breeding ground for testing and implementation of DLT than large, listed, markets. The risks around the inertia of incumbency as we call it will also be much lower.

Regulators have a very important role to play given the distributed nature of the underlying technology and the global nature of its possibilities which will demand regulatory clarity and consensus on a multi-jurisdictional basis. RegTech was a theme that we identified here at Celent earlier than anyone else and the RegTech benefits of DLT are likely to become clearer to regulators and financial institutions as testing and proofs of concept mature. This could become a very important and supportive dynamic.

While we have focused on markets and use cases which have a significant amount of incumbency, we are hugely excited about the potential of DLT to streamline business processes between organizations and the potential for new investable asset classes to emerge. We are also alive to the reality that so much innovation is taking place outside of traditional financial institutions that a broad lens of observation across the entire DLT ecosystem will be essential to keeping track of where viral adoption rates will occur first.

Our next research will focus on precisely that as we will highlight a DLT use case which seems to be significantly ahead of the pack already with full spectrum relevance to: retail and institutional investors; merchants and enterprises; developed markets and emerging markets; with a variety of use cases across finance…stay tuned.

A New Architecture for a New Age: Digital Transformation of IT Infrastructure in Investment Banking

Digital Transformation of IT Infrastructure

I recently wrote an article for CIOReview. A full copy of the article can be found here. In the article, I state that investment banks are transitioning their IT infrastructure to a new architecture based on a new vision: digital. The goal of digital transformation is clearly to simplify IT and operations, reduce cost, and thus improve ROE. Digital is driving demand for cloud-based infrastructure, BPO, and IT outsourcing with banks moving many applications to cloud.

But to create  A New Architecture for a New Age, the new architecture is about more than movement from analogue to digital. Emerging technologies like machine intelligence can not only drive efficiency, but also offer advanced analytics and insights leading to investing and trade ideas, superior compliance practices, improved customer engagement, additional revenue opportunities, and more.

Moving from Known to Unknown: Blockchange

To create this aggressive form of digital transformation, a new financial technology stack is coalescing around Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain, powered by cloud. The blockchain design pattern allows for cryptographically secured environments upon which to conduct wholesale and investment banking functions.

We believe financial institutions will deploy blockchain networks with distributed ledgers in increasing numbers. Smart contracts, which are agreements whose execution is both automatable and enforceable (according to Barclay’s CTO Lee Braine) will be powered by the networks and backed by digital assets, legal templates, and standards. IT and open source organizations will provide the fabric for blockchain networks, including cloud, while a number of technology firms will deploy and manage these networks to support applications atop this fabric.

Smart contracts will be enabled by confidentiality, security, and digital identity. The underlying technology will incorporate cryptography, programmable digital assets, distributed ledger technology (DLT), and interledger protocols. Yes, getting to smart contracts requires a lot of organizational change. Fortunately, blockchain creates some first mover advantages. So it’s not just cost reduction, but actual revenue opportunities that will encourage change.

Moving Ahead

Slow to move incumbents will be uncomfortably exposed to an unforgiving environment. Some will seek partnerships with fintech firms, a kind of hedging against the future (not a bad strategy, but an incomplete one), only to become hamstrung by the next quarter's results.

A better strategy is to decide what the future industry architecture will look like and then work toward becoming a leader by offering a new model for the future. Getting to the new architecture will take a minimum of three years, but most likely closer to 4 or 5. ‘Run the bank’ still overshadows ‘change the bank’ massively. To get from a known architecture to an unknown one requires courage.

Human and Machine-Rise of the Cyborg: The Cycle of Voice Trading

Celent has explored voice trading in Human & Machine-Rise of the Cyborg: The Cycle of Voice Trading, published yesterday. In this piece, we look at the power of voice trading as well as the business drivers, challenges and forces that are driving change in voice communication, collaboration and voice market engagement.

Celent believes that voice is a key channel that will remain relevant and will work more seamlessly with electronic and data channels in the coming years. A move toward unified communication approach and advances in technologies, combined with a challenging business environment, are reshaping the modern trading desk. Cost cutting, front office effectiveness, gleaning better insight into customer behaviour combined with digital automation are pushing this frontier forward. Voice trading remains the major channel for transferring risk, across asset classes, yet remains a challenge due to the difficulties in leveraging this unstructured data set.

Advances in both preparing and leveraging data for advanced analytics are creating a demand for business insights-the demand for better data is ever growing. Firms are beginning to leverage advanced data tools for not only risk mitigation and regulatory requirements, but are creating front office opportunities for better counterparty engagement and communication.

Fintech continues to advance in the capital markets and the implications are profound for incumbent players. Firms that effectively leverage the full spectrum of innovation available are becoming more streamlined and more effective. The overarching need for business model evolution and the importance of technology in the markets continues to ramp up. As one example,last week alternative dealer Citadel Securities hired Microsoft COO to be the new CEO of it electronic market making business.

We are surrounded by advances in voice technology for interacting with machines in our life in general. We are getting comfortable with Apple’s Siri on mobile, and Amazon's Echo in our homes. Similar technologies have advanced in areas outside the capital markets, but leading firms are trying to leverage voice data for better insight, engagement, and automation. While we are nowhere near Robotic Stingray Powered by Heart Cells from Rats published in last week’s WSJ, in merging machine and biological elements we are heading more into an era of the cyborg-where capital market participants will increase their direct engagement with machines via voice interaction.

Balancing the effect of automation on workforce

In the spirit of the recent Brexit discussions, I would like to shed some light on another matter of broader economic and social significance that will have repercussions for the financial services and capital markets in the long run as well. The ever-increasing emphasis on automation and use of artificial intelligence will help companies streamline their operations and economize on scarce resources. But there is a flip side to the coin that is possibly getting sidelined in the rush to 'robotize' the workplace. I am referring to the need to retrain and absorb the  workforce that is getting replaced due to automation. 
There has been some mention in the media recently of the lack of relevant skills in the Spanish workforce at a time when the rate of unemployment is above 20%. Companies are struggling to find workers with the right training. Similarly, in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia, the high rate of population growth and the high proportion of younger people means that there is an urgent requirement for jobs, and before that for the right training to make the youth employable. Spain's example shows that emerging markets cannot take employment creation for granted. The rate at which the population of India is growing means that it needs to create employment at a rate only China has been able to match in human history. China grew on the back of a manufacturing boom over three decades. India is mainly a service economy that is now dealing with the after-effects of the global financial crisis and growing automation. Its struggle to encorage the manufacturing sector and provide employment opportunities has been evident in the last year. Other emerging markets such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan are in a similar quandry. 
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