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FIs of All Sizes Can Harness the Transformative Power of AI with the Help of FinTech Partners

"The meteoric rise of data and performance-intensive workloads like generative AI is forcing a complete rethink of how data is stored, managed and processed,” said Nick Patience, senior research analyst at 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence. According to S&P Global's new 2023 Global Trends in Artificial Intelligence (AI) report, the adoption of AI by enterprises and organizations seeking to create new value propositions is accelerating, but data infrastructure and AI sustainability challenges present barriers to implementing it successfully at scale.

Indeed, the financial services industry wants to hop aboard the artificial intelligence train, too – but does the risk outweigh the rewards? In banking, AI can overhaul internal operations and elevate the customer experience (CX)…but the sensitive data that powers these evolutions must be properly handled. While the importance of this challenge cannot be understated, small banks and credit unions need not miss out on the technology’s transformative power.

For too long, smaller banks and credit unions have been challenged by unequal access to AI technology. From conference agendas to marketing materials, community financial institutions with less than $500 million of assets have been segregated and treated differently.

But financial institutions of all sizes need AI. It increases productivity, reveals the drivers of key performance measures, improves risk and fraud analysis, and powers the next generation of digitally driven products and services. And with financial institutions vying to retain and grow market share in a fiercely competitive landscape, AI enables banks and credit unions to set themselves apart with seamless, modern customer and member service. Of interest, AI has shifted from simply being a cost-saving lever to acting as a revenue driver, with 69 percent of respondents in the S&P Global survey saying they’re now using AI/ML to create new revenue streams.

Many community financial institutions are trailing behind their larger competitors in AI adoption, because they have either been overlooked by fintech vendors, who don’t serve them at all (due to their asset size), or because they assume they can’t afford the technology. But cost doesn’t have to be a barrier. Some fintech providers are reaching smaller institutions through channel partners who help banks and credit unions of all sizes compete by harnessing the latest technologies. Community banks and credit unions should reach out to their trusted technology advisors to inquire about AI vendors who price their solutions on a sliding scale. Some understand the important role that smaller institutions play within their communities and within the industry overall and, thus, bring next-generation technologies within reach for all institutions. Even though the delivery of the solution may be different, the technology itself doesn’t have to be.

Another hurdle that many community financial institutions face is lack of a big budget for R&D or a large IT staff. Thankfully, banks and credit unions can rely on the expertise of FinTechs, who specialize in designing technology to solve problems. Through synergistic partnerships, financial institutions can gain access to the latest technologies without the burden and headache of operations and infrastructure sustainment.

In the same vein, FinTechs can help financial institutions overcome the previously identified data infrastructure challenge. Banks and credit unions have long struggled to enhance the quality of data and create seamless, secure access to it. Siloed data, multiple data connection hops and antiquated back-ends that haven’t been modernized to today’s standards can prevent banking outfits from harvesting the value of AI; access to quality data is what unlocks AI’s potential. Handling sensitive data is also a risk, but it’s one that fintech experts are able to help FIs manage. Through partnership, banks and credit unions can tap into the technical expertise needed to elevate their operations and offerings.

So, banks and credit unions, regardless of your asset size, climb on the AI train – you don’t have to be left behind. As McKinsey & Company concluded back in 2020, before ChatGPT skyrocketed AI to popularity, “Banks that leverage AI and analytics to deliver smart servicing and superior experiences stand to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty,” which we all know is integral to survival in today’s competitive financial landscape.

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