How SMS and voice services are boosting African banks
Since the turn of the millennium, mobile penetration in Africa has exploded. Outside developed hubs on the continent, huge expanses have not been covered with traditional fixed line telecoms. This has resulted in mobile services offering a practical alternative to what would otherwise be a major connectivity challenge. Mobile penetration is expected to reach 79 percent in Africa by 2020 (according to Frost and Sullivan) and as a result rapid growth in this region has turned Africa into a world leader for mobile service innovation.
Africa has become an ideal environment for the creation of mobile technology use cases, transforming multiple industries from health care and utilities to payments and banking. Banks are constantly on the lookout for communications solutions that enable them to communicate with mobile-centric consumers. Yet as LTE and 3G are still inaccessible for many in the region, data-led engagement is still not as efficient as banks would want it to be. SMS and voice messaging are reinventing themselves as powerful tools for reaching users instead. It’s no surprise that banks have adopted this technology en masse to cater for their mobile-oriented user base as a way of improving customer service and ensuring loyalty.
From early rollouts to professional platforms
Initially, banks used enterprise SMS technologies to send customers basic notifications. Research at the time reported a range of benefits, from reductions in overdraft charges to improved customer satisfaction. Even the simplest alerts led to a better relationship between bank and customer; increased interaction helped consumers to feel more in control of their finances simply by being able to access relevant account information when on the go. SMS notifications quickly became pervasive for consumer banking in Africa.
But early rollouts required a huge amount of technical infrastructure behind the scenes, making these initial deployments complex to deliver and difficult to sustain. Banks required multiple agreements with mobile network operators, which in turn meant connection maintenance and commercial relationships had to be handled separately for each operator. This was far from ideal, and overcoming the technical diversity of mobile network systems and connections led to additional challenges.
Later on, professional SMS systems became unified and integrated into banking IT systems. But even this approach was not without its flaws. Performance was still affected, with bank employees spending their time monitoring the text notifications service with minimal technical support available if something went wrong. Without a simple to use interface for management and reporting, incomplete service was commonplace. Banks had limited insight into delivery rates and speed, and without real-time SMS reporting it was impossible to understand the success rate of delivery to customers’ phones, as well as the impact the messages were having on the user.
Reducing technical complexity
Fortunately, the past decade has seen an emergence of professional SMS platforms and specialists that are able to develop robust and sophisticated solutions to solve many bank-specific requirements. This has included enhancing security, incorporating advanced database integration, and ensuring quality connections, delivery, and transparency. The rise of professional SMS solutions has not only addressed the various issues holding this technology back, but has also made it possible for banks to start offering consumers more innovative services via SMS. Integrating notifications with banks’ IT systems has become much faster and easier, requiring little effort on the part of bank employees.
Reaching several networks, even across multiple countries or regions, has also become a matter of connecting to a single SMS provider. By integrating their database with a messaging gateway, banks can send reactive SMS messages and meaning alerts. Also, notifications now give real-time updates on activity relating to a customer’s account. Systems have been improved and processing power enhanced, allowing them to deal with peaks in notification volumes. For a large majority of banks, a messaging technology specialist is a valuable partner when it comes to handling the underlying technical and commercial complexity. A once challenging process has been transformed into a simple one, with the added benefit of much greater connectivity, coverage, and service reporting.
Security aspects making a huge difference
It is true of any market: banking security is a top priority for customers. One of the advantages of SMS-based communication for financial services is its reputation as a secure and reliable channel. This is essential, as any message sent from the bank to one of its customers can potentially contains sensitive, private information about the person and their finances. Security provisions such as VPN tunnelling, IPsec protocol, data encryption or proprietary infrastructure are crucial elements in enterprise messaging flow. It’s hardly surprising that advancement in the enterprise SMS space has also resulted in SMS-specific security solutions. International certificates such as ISO 27001 are increasingly becoming the norm allowing SMS to function as a communication channel that marries security with convenience for the consumer.
Silvio Kutic is CEO and founder of mobile messaging specialist Infobip. Earlier this year, Infobip held events in Africa, focusing on SMS and how the technology can integrate with banking.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”