Banking, with Artificial (and Real) Intelligence

Can traditional banking get a lift from conversation – specifically, chatbots?  One firm, Kasisto, thinks so, with its KAI Banking, a  conversational AI platform acting as a bridge between customers and financial management. In the latest iteration of the PYMNTS Commander in Chief series, Kasisto CEO and Co-founder Zor Gorelov weighed in on innovation, and how it can help banks and other financial institutions engage in real-time, mutually beneficial dialog – literally.  

PYMNTS: How would you define your company’s approach to innovation?

ZG: At Kasisto, innovation is one of our core values, and this mantra is woven into our company culture:  “We embrace and foster innovation, and we’re not afraid to make mistakes.”

We created and licensed a conversational artificial intelligence (AI) platform, KAI Banking, to global retail banks and credit card companies. Every day, we work at the intersection of the innovations in AI and conversation as a user interface to empower banks to create a more predictive, contextual and personalized banking experience for their customers.

As a platform, our approach to innovation is centered on empowering financial institutions. We zero in on the problems they are trying to solve – whether it’s reducing customer care costs or increasing the lifetime value of their customers – we enable them to use AI-driven conversations to achieve these goals. Sometimes, innovation is a solution looking for a problem, but that’s not the case when you leverage AI to create human-like conversations. Financial institutions have a gold mine of data about their customers, often siloed, so when we innovate we look for ways to unleash the data to feed a powerful AI brain.

We have a team of deep and diverse experts in AI and finance, and given that we’ve created a culture of listening and learning. Each perspective and insight makes us stronger. We innovate for the long run by employing the latest technology gains in AI and the near term with a disciplined product roadmap process that incorporates 360 feedback and insights from our customers, financial institutions, and their customers, consumers engaging with KAI-powered bots and assistants. Together, it’s a pretty well-oiled machine of innovation.

PYMNTS: Where do you look for innovative ideas, and why?

ZG: Consumers expect the same smooth and seamless digital experiences from their bank that they have every day with other companies. For innovative ideas, we keep our pulse on how tech giants and challenger banks are creating breakthrough consumer experiences.

Beyond keeping a pulse on the giants, we used our own platform to create a consumer banking bot, MyKAI. Even though we are a B2B company licensing an enterprise platform, we thought it was very important to create the B2C experience as a source for ideas coming directly from real consumers and as a testing ground for our new features and capabilities. Of course, all of the learnings and innovations we glean from consumers are woven back into our platform and available to banks.

PYMNTS: What is the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?

ZG: It might sound self-serving to say, Kasisto, but it’s true. It’s beyond a natural progression of my career creating companies in the RPA and customer self-service solutions space. It’s a quantum leap because, for the first-time, AI is ready to power human-like conversations. It’s like I’ve been waiting for this. My co-founders come from SRI International (where Siri was created) and IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, and we’re convinced the pieces have finally come together for the conversational user interface to go mainstream.

PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?

ZG: I spend a great deal of time with our customers, but if I could add more hours to the day, I’d spend more time with them. They are inspiring as they embark on digital transformations with all of the constraints that come with the territory – legacy systems, regulation, and more, and never taking their eye off customer-first centered solutions with business results. I have the pleasure of working with smart, visionary and inspiring executives embarking on big changes.

PYMNTS: What do you think that most people underestimate about innovating in finance?

ZG: People innovating in finance know the constraints – siloed data, legacy infrastructure, regulations, compliance, to name a few. What they might underestimate is the time it takes to sell solutions into financial institutions. We’ve found that once a bank makes a decision, we can move fairly fast and agile, but getting there is time-consuming.

PYMNTS: What keeps you up at night? What concerns you most in the finance solutions space?

ZG: Anytime there is category creation, there is confusion. I think conversation as a user interface powered by AI-driven virtual assistants is an entirely new category. What worries me is the noise and often-times misleading claims surrounding the “AI for everything and anything” products that confuse our customers and set unrealistic expectations.

There is a plethora of solutions from simple bot frameworks and generic AI toolkits to banking-specific platforms. We’re not all created equal and the results will vary widely – from what it takes to monitor, maintain, train and enhance a system to provide superior consumer experience as well as high accuracy and performance.

PYMNTS: What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?

ZG: We’re closing, watching and participating in the trend of banks transitioning from helping their customers move their money to helping them manage their money. Our role is helping banks to increase their customers’ financial literacy and well-being with data-driven insights and actionable recommendations across a variety of banking segments. Banks are rapidly moving beyond just telling customers their account balance to engaging them in conversations about actionable and relevant insights into spending patterns, helping them manage financial goals and more.

PYMNTS: What product has had the most impact on finance in the last five years and why?

ZG: I think that in the past five years the products that had the most impact on finance are AliPay and WeChat Pay. These digital wallet services grew rapidly and acquired hundreds of millions of customers by first simplifying payment and merchant transactional experiences for the consumers and are now expanding into other banking products like loans. These two companies are by far the largest disruptive competitive threats to banks in Asia. And this is bound to happen in the Western markets as well. Is Amazon not a bank today? One can get a debit card and even loans from Amazon.

PYMNTS: What person or company do you think “gets” innovation and why – and, conversely, who or what has missed it and why?

ZG: Companies that have innovation in their DNA and don’t even have innovation departments are the ones that get it. Amazon definitely stands out. Their innovation not only disrupts, but their execution is flawless. They walk the talk when it comes to platforms and creating amazing ecosystems. When they enter a market, both the ecosystem and the consumers win.

PYMNTS: What advice would you give a young innovator in this space and why would you tell them to heed it?

ZG: Be brave, but remember innovation is about evolution – it»s a series of small gains wrapped into a big game-changer. That’s why you need to keep an open mind and toss some assumptions out the door.  You’ll be learning what works and what does not in the doing, and you need to be agile and open minded enough to see the signal through the noise.