Dear readers, last week, I looked at the numerous positives of digitalisation – which has come to stay, but cautioned about the new challenges that employees and employers are facing when its implementation goes overboard and not blended to suit our local environment and community.
Technology has progressed to the point that it becomes more efficient than the people who made them. The real problem with this is that there is a very compelling case for a world based on machines. They are smarter, faster, less prone to mistakes and much more economically viable. For example, chatbots are becoming the norm for bank customers to interact with. An AI which evolves and gets smarter is something which is good on paper; but in theory, it both lacks a human touch and also renders a lot of people redundant. Someone once said: “Why pay an employee when a machine will work for less?”
Overall, there are many different ways that technology is altering the way that the finance industry works. Progress in any field is usually a form of disruption because the existing people and technology are rendered obsolete, and need to be upgraded or removed. Many businesses are concerned they will lose out to the innovators in this sector if they do not embrace these developments.
Managing the privacy of users, clients/customers
We live in a time when digitalisation is everywhere around us and it is happening so fast that it requires a lot to be able to adjust to the changes that the process brings to our societies. Among the many concerns and risks that have arisen from digitalisation, the biggest are related to the one matter that is the most sacred to all of us – our privacy. Unfortunately, the rise of the popularity of social media, where a lot of personal information and data are shared, exposes one to various threats, such as identity thefts.
Managing the human element
How are we managing the effect of digitisation on the human element? This is what is at stake now. The most significant factor is managing the balance between technology and manual intervention, and how harmonising this will further revolutionise the industry for both businesses and consumers. I am a firm advocate for technology and progress but also believe in blending the two for utmost benefits. While thinking global, we must act local. I do not mean that digital banking must not be sold to all citizens. I recommend that we do not operate with ‘one-size-fits-all’ products.
This is fundamental in all aspects of our lives. Once you communicate well, you have the backing of the people. Let us examine the electronic media space in Ghana, specifically radio and television. We have several radio and television stations, each with its own segmented markets according to language, literacy levels, cultural and religious beliefs, etc. Likewise, in banking, we treat all customers fairly and not necessarily equally. The keyword here is fairness. Let us assume that banks took advantage of the lockdown and COVID-19 protocols like social distancing to communicate to their customers to use the digital platforms. This message was sent to all the customers via bulk text messages. Did it mean that the message has reached all customers? Some are so busy with work that they hardly use their mobile phones. Did banks use the same technology to identify those who had actually received the messages since some customers might have changed their phone numbers without informing the bank? In some cases, banks had to resort to calling customers to enquire if they had issues and guided them through the process of on-boarding into the digital environment. Going that extra mile brings trust and loyalty from the customers.
Put people first
Technology involves doing more with less, yet that combination is effective only if it is paired with the right human skills. The technological disruption has generally led to automation and the elimination of outdated jobs, it has also always created new jobs. But the creative aspect of innovation is entirely dependent on people. If we can leverage human adaptability to reskill and upskill our workforce, then we can have the best mix of humans and technology. The most brilliant innovation is irrelevant if we are not skilled enough to use it, and even the most impressive human minds will become less useful if they do not team up with tech. The main implication is that when leaders think about investing in technology, they should first think about investing in the people who can make that technology useful.
Focus on soft skills of employees
Just as digital transformation is more about people rather than technology, the key technological skills are soft skills rather than hard skills. The recruitment market is hot for cyber-security analysts, software engineers and data scientists. How about identifying the most adaptable employee with a combination of both hard and soft skills as well as specialist skills. The best combination of staff is a mixture of people with good soft skills with those who are adaptable to changes to manage any hard skill that comes along. Technical competence is necessary, but always temporary. Employees should have an enquiring mind to meet all future challenges that come with change.
Involving all managers:
Change is more effective when the top-down approach is adopted. There are several cases of techno-phobic managers who pose problems when it comes to change management. In transformational leadership, greater involvement is expected from all change facilitators to drive it down the hierarchy. Digitisation should not be the baby of the Technology team alone, but for all unit and departmental heads.
Managing digital fraud
This is the time for bankers to do a self-audit to check if they are on top of the digital game. For example, review the operation of the indemnity form on electronic instructions/messages to the bank. Despite the indemnity, bankers can prove a duty of extra care by incorporating codes during electronic e-mail instructions, as well as during telephone conversations confirming cheques and other customer instructions. This will go a long way to prevent/minimise losses from cloned cheques, fake requests for transfers, call diverts and other e-mail scams.
Our duties as digital citizens
Let us all re-focus on the consequences associated with over-sharing personal information on social networks. When we are not careful about what personal information and data we share through online social networking sites, we can often become targets for undesirable attention. As digital citizens, besides obligations, we also have certain rights that guarantee our online presence and address the privacy concerns. We need to educate ourselves more and start acting in order to be able to guarantee these rights.
The benefits of digitalisation are huge, but so are the risks. And even if new technologies like blockchain is creating a better environment of trust, even a small lapse in security could result in huge losses and business collapse.
The balance of technical knowledge with people skills
Ethics cut across all sectors, jurisdictions, cultures, workplaces and so on. The ease with which artificial intelligence has facilitated jobs everywhere cannot be concluded without tackling the ethical dimension. The fact that transactions can be performed within a twinkle of an eye does not mean that we must use just logic to work. Banking should be delivered, taking into consideration the humaneness of the parties involved. In banking, the basic banking principles continue to be the foundation in both traditional and digital banking. Let us all remember that so long as the earth is still populated with human beings, the perfect balancing act is a combination of technical knowledge delivered with all the soft skills of respect, empathy, confidentiality, competence, emotional intelligence, responsiveness and professionalism. All these will engender trust and confidence from the customers.
About the author
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the author of three books: ‘The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner’ and ‘My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story’ and ‘The Modern Branch Manager’s Companion’. She uses her experience and practical case studies training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.