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What banks will look like in 2050

Futurist Brett King on digital finance's upcoming golden age

AI-powered bank accounts will provide investment advice

A consultant to the banking industry and a keynote speaker at Huawei’s 2023 Intelligent Finance Summit, Brett King speaks with Transform’s Executive Editor-in-Chief, Gavin Allen, about the future of banking.

Gavin Allen: Is this a golden age for the banking customer?

Brett King: Smartphones have brought 1.4 billion people into the financial economy for the first time, just in the last decade or so, which is phenomenal progress considering that previously, half the population was still excluded.

There are still about 1 billion people or so that need to be included in the financial system today, and we need to address that.

But in terms of a golden age,we suddenly have AI and so forth. We can provide a bank account that can actually help you manage your money—a smart bank account.

The early wallet systems we see today, like Alipay and WeChat Pay in China, Paytia in India, and Kakao in South Korea, will evolve into AI-based bank accounts that help us with our day-to-day money management. I think this is probably the most positive development in banking we've seen in the last couple of hundred years.

Gavin Allen: Just expand on that. For example, in AI, what will be the impact? Everyone is talking about AI for a variety of reasons. What will it do for customers and banks?

Brett King: Right now, we're in a phase where we're using technology to reduce friction, making the accessibility of financial services easier. So that sort of started in the Internet era: faster, more ubiquitous delivery of financial services.

But what we're doing right now with ChatGPT and technologies like that is sort of creating this advice layer. So you've got banks like WeBank in Shenzhen, where 98% of customer service inquiries are handled by artificial intelligence.

How can AI help you today?

Now, this is going to be a trend we're going to see with banks around the world: using AI to give advice, augmenting human advice with AI. So, when you look at your portfolio as an investment situation, the financial advisor will say his advice is powered by AI.

You go to the doctor, and they'll say the same. We will get into this period where we rely more and more heavily on artificial intelligence to give us the best advice.

Gavin Allen: And personalized advice.

Brett King: That's the thing. AI will be trained on our personal behavior, tailored to our personal situation. So, when we get advice from our personal AI and a bank's AI, negotiating, if you like, it will be highly targeted, highly contextual, and much more personalized than we could ever get from a human.

You have to be quite confident as a CEO to say, “We know this future is coming. Let's get ahead of it.” And so, it really comes down to embracing this future and acquiring the ability to adapt, both individually and as a corporation.

Rose-colored smart glasses

Gavin Allen: In your keynote speech, you talked about smart glasses. How will they impact banking?

Brett King: This is the next major personal electronics or consumer device, and the next major re-vamp in personal computing technology: wearable, spatial computing.

If you look at the development of computing since the 1960s, we've been getting more powerful computers. But we've also been making them easier to use.

Now we have AI that can understand when we talk, AI with sensors that can observe our behavior, our eye movements, hand gestures. You don't need a keyboard, a mouse, or even a screen anymore. You can just use the glasses.

You're not going to have programs or apps like we have today. You won't have a mobile banking app that pops up on your screen. You'll have these chunks of functionality or moments of experiences where the smart glasses look at the context of the situation, interpret your need, and use the financial services layer to provide you with a solution, whether that's access to credit, helping you understand the impact of a spending decision, or whatever it may be.

 In-the-moment solutions

These are highly personalized, in-the-moment, contextual solutions based on a whole set of technologies that we've been developing. So, if you're still thinking about issuing a plastic card to make payments, you are really lost. This is a completely new paradigm.

Banks in this era are going to be so different from the banks of the 1990s and 2000s. We won't recognize them. You won't have any product departments. You won't have a credit card department, a savings department, or a mortgage department because all those things will essentially have become embedded experiences in this smart world.

Gavin Allen: Will you have anyone except technologists, then? What's the point of having banking advisers?

Brett King: Look at Alipay as an example. Ant Group [an Alibaba affiliate that owns AliPay, a large mobile payment platform in China] are restructuring at the moment, but 90% of their executives are technologists. I think that's sort of a template for the way banks have to be. I think you will still need some legacy knowledge, just because if you're translating the old systems and processes into the new way, you need to figure out where the old technology sits and so forth.

But ultimately, by the time we get to 2050, most of banking will run like a DAO, a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, or an AI-based corporation, and you may set policy and so forth in line with regulators in the code base.

There may be a human layer to that. But the need for branches, the need for signatures—all of that has obviously long disappeared.

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