Barclays’ Director of Digital Design, Noel Lyons, enlightened AI Business’ Finance event attendees about applying human-centered design thinking to AI practices and designing AI for humans.

Barclays is a British multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in London. It is a universal bank with operations in retail, wholesale and investment banking, as well as wealth management, mortgage, lending and credit cards. It has operations in over 50 countries and territories and has around 48 million customers.

Noel Lyons heads up Barclays’ Digital Design team, focussed on creating beautiful and useful digital experiences for millions of customers. Noel was previously Founding partner of London-based award winning design agency KentLyons. He has previously worked with BSS and the BBC: Noel produced the first proof copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by a then-unknown J.K. Rowling during his time at Bloomsbury publishing.

With a customer base of 24 million customers in the UK, Lyons explains how their CEO is fond of saying that everyone out of two adults in the streets of UK, is a Barclays customer. “With this comes a huge impact and responsibility as well”, he explains, saying how their central aim and unified purpose is to help people achieve their ambitions. “We ask ourselves, how can we help our customers deliver what they want?”, and their aim is to connect people and finance, making them work for human beings as well. So the question is, how can AI help Barclays achieve these goals:

“One of the things that we think that AI can really help with is to make the experience of banking completely personalised”, Lyons said. “At the moment it is to a certain degree, but how do we actually present our services in a way that is completely unique to you and your personal circumstances? How can we reflect our system to support you in a completely tailored and personalised way?”, Lyons said.

As a business, Barclay’s is extremely data rich, as every transaction is data, Lyons explained. The question is what to focus on, and this is where AI comes to play, allowing them to understand the data and make sense of it. However, the question is what they should be looking at first? Lyons believes the most significant task is figuring out “where it hurts”, what are the customers’ problems, and how can they present useful solutions to their problems?

“We do huge amounts of research and analysis on the data that we have and feedback that we get, constantly processing that on a daily basis”, Lyons explains. “In addition we do a lot of field research and ethnographic research to figure out where we can smooth out elements of pain”. This involves a lot of prototyping and proof of concepts, Lyon said, following with: “It helps us get closer to our customers’ core needs by doing this research, and one of our customer core need that spans across all over our customer base is this idea of wanting to be better off. This is a core fundamental need that drives all of our customers, and we hear again and again: how can we be better off?”

“And as a bank, we should be excellent at this!”, Lyons said. “We should be really really good at making our customers better off, and that could be by avoiding overdraft fees, it could be by encouraging savings, pointing out insides and habits, investment, robot-banking, it could be all manner of different things, but we should be really really good at this”.

So Barclays asked themselves: “How do we help people achieve their ambitions, and how can AI help us?”

Lyons explains that one of the first concepts they looked into was how people outside of banking is doing this, and they turned to fitness-apps. By testing the apps themselves they saw what worked well for them, and decided to implement these aspects into their own app.

One thing we looked at really early on is, how are people doing this outside of banking? One of the really interesting areas are around physical health as there is a huge number of apps and devices and services that can help people get more physically fit. “So we’ve got physical health, but what about financial health? How can we create something that encourages greater financial health?” Lyons asked, saying: “It is again this idea of financial health like physical health. We wanted to make sure we made something that was really personalised, what data can we actually infer? What does behavior economics tell us about financial health?”

By applying NLP and AI, Barclays explored over four weeks, how this chatbot-technology and NLP decision-tree could help them provide their cutomers with what they wanted. They developed an app that can talk to you and show fairly mundane, normal information, and present it in a slightly different way, providing the customers with more information into their daily spendings. “What is the data we need to access in order to deliver this information, and what is the most timely way of doing it? How can we actively make people save money?”

Lyons explained how it had to do with timing and delivering smart decisions and suggestions at the right time, such as suggesting payday-savings the day of your paydate, and not the week before for instance. Barclays then tested this technology through their launchpad with a range of customers who then provided feedback about what they liked, and didn’t like.

They have also expanded the project to overseas customers who they want to talk to about anything from investing in Britain, studying here, working or investing in property. This is usually a time-consuming tasks that  goes through their relationship managers, but now this can be done through AI

“So what have we learned?” Lyons asked. “A lot of the feedback around the assistant that we got on Launchpad is that it is great and people are charmed and delighted with the experience, it feels nice and easy and easy to use, but it needs to do more”. Lyons explained that all in all they gathered very useful data that can be applied to improve their services in the future.


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