The digital client experience: a communications boom

Covid-19 put connectivity and client relationship management to the test. However, many positives have emerged from this crisis, not least of which are that banks and their customers are making better use of digital channels to ensure that communication is not only as seamless as before, but even better. For BNP Paribas, having invested in a number of transformational technologies over the past few years, this recent period has spurred a greater uptake in new communication platforms.

In this article, we ask three experts for their views on communications and the digital client experience.

An omnichannel approach to client communication

Although mass working from home accelerated the transition towards digitalisation, banks recognise that clients have preferences for different communication channels. Paud O’Keeffe, Head of Digital Client Experience at BNP Paribas Securities Services, says the adoption of an omnichannel approach towards customer communications is vital. For instance, while some clients will want to receive operational communications via SWIFT, others prefer to share information through BNP Paribas Securities Services’ client internet portal – Neolink, APIs (application programming interfaces) or Symphony, the secure messaging platform. The same rings true for client meetings. Whereas a number of institutions have embraced online platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, others prefer to continue using more traditional telephone conferencing facilities. “There are a multitude of different tools available, and the challenge is to try and determine which ones clients want to use, and when,” explains O’Keeffe.

Real-time communication as a risk mitigant

With markets so volatile and unpredictable, access to information in real-time is critical for clients. This is something that can be facilitated through Symphony, argues David Gurle, CEO at Symphony. Others concur that clients need real-time information. “BNP Paribas Securities Services has accelerated its development of APIs in order to support client demand for real time information exchange,” says O’Keeffe. Global Markets at BNP Paribas are also rolling out dynamic solutions supporting real-time data sharing. Through its Insight Live algo tool, BNP Paribas Global Markets has introduced ALiX, a digital trading assistant for FX markets. Asif Razaq, Global Head of FX Algo Execution, says ALiX provides FX traders with real-time market intelligence and commentary during the trade execution process enabling users to react more quickly to market events, central bank announcements and liquidity changes.

Avoiding data overloads

Data is a commodity, but it is also one that is in abundance. By disseminating inordinate amounts of data, banks are sometimes at risk of overloading their clients with information, a scenario which can be counterproductive. It is a dilemma which ALiX is seeking to remedy. “To solve the issue of data oversupply, BNP Paribas took a leaf out of Silicon Valley’s book in that we gave ALiX a personality using artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology. Through this AI enabled algorithm, ALiX can talk to clients and warn them about potential market turbulence, and ask them if they want to take corrective action. All of this information is presented to clients succinctly in plain English,” says Razaq. As a result, ALiX has become very popular among a number of BNP Paribas’ clients including money managers, pension funds, corporates and increasingly even central banks, continues Razaq.

Preserving compliance through new communication channels

The ubiquity of new communication tools has presented a number of compliance challenges for banks and their clients. O’Keeffe says it is critical that banks ensure that all digital channels are fully compliant with existing regulations. “Compliance is something we manage in close collaboration with our digital teams. Whereas previously calls were recorded, firms must have an auditable track record of communications on platforms like Symphony,” he says. Gurle concurs, highlighting Symphony has in-built compliance features to ensure that privacy and confidentiality requirements are fully safeguarded at all times. Symphony, for example, also provides a number of functionalities to ensure adherence with guidelines outlined by the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, including the archiving of chat history and data loss prevention tools. This comes amid growing concerns about the spike in new communication platforms, with fears some of these tools could be used to circumvent regulations.

No compromise on security

The transition to remote working has exposed a number of cyber-security fault-lines, evidenced by the massive increase in phishing attacks and hacks. Home broadband simply does not provide the same level of cyber protection and encryption as what one would receive in an office environment. As a result, financial institutions are taking cyber hygiene very seriously. “Organisations have striven to ensure that they maintain high levels of cyber-security and our IT teams have worked hard to make sure that pre-Covid-19 cyber-standards continue,” says O’Keeffe. A core USP of any digital communication platform is its security. Symphony, for instance, has end-to-end message encryption between the sender and the receiver, which means nobody – including Symphony –   can access the content. Such built-in protections are pivotal given the sensitivity of the information being shared.

Innovation pays off

Innovation has been a huge enabler in helping financial institutions and their clients navigate Covid-19. Providers such as BNP Paribas are continuing to develop and beta test new technologies aimed at augmenting user experiences. Some of this work is also being carried out in partnership with fin-tech companies. O’Keeffe highlights that in addition to strengthening its API capabilities, BNP Paribas Securities Services has accelerated a number of AI initiatives in order to drive internal efficiencies, the benefits of which will ultimately be passed down onto clients. “We are also doing extensive work in the field of Blockchain and distributed ledger technology [DLT],” he says. While Symphony does not leverage DLT, Gurle says the messaging platform is continuing to integrate AI solutions including machine learning and natural language processing into its product suite.

Those financial institutions which put technology at their core will emerge from Covid-19 as the undisputed market leaders. Indeed, the banks that leverage disruptive technologies intelligently to communicate with clients will be the ones that thrive during this uncertain period.