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Hong Leong pioneers cognitive banking with the help of IBM Watson

AvantiKumar | Jan. 12, 2016
IBM Watson will power the platform behind the partnership signed in Kuala Lumpur between IBM and Hong Leong Bank.

IBM, Hong Leong launch cognitive computing 

Photo - (From left) Dominic Mascrinas, Chief Operating Officer, Group Strategic Support of Hong Leong Bank;  Edward Pinto, Chief Operating Officer, Customer Experience & Analytics of Hong Leong Bank Berhad;  Chong Chye Neo, Managing Director of IBM Malaysia;  and Hong Kok Cheong, Country General Manager, IBM Software Group exchanging agreements during the Signing and Document Exchange Ceremony.


Hong Leong Bank has signed a partnership agreement with technology solutions giant IBM to pioneer cognitive banking in Malaysia powered by IBM's open computing technology platform IBM Watson.

Speaking during the official signing ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on 11 January 2015, Edward Pinto, who is Hong Leong's chief operating officer, Customer Experience & Analytics, said the new initiative is a first in Malaysia and part of the Bank's digitisation blueprint, is to deliver better value added services and customer experience.

"Customers have come to expect higher levels of integrated and timely service, with an increasing need for exceptional phone and online experience," said Pinto. "We need to ensure that our systems are able to anticipate customer needs so that we may proactively provide solutions."

"The IBM Watson technology provides us this advantage by allowing us to understand the context of customer needs and preferences, which will reduce call waiting time and ensure greater consistency and accuracy of information" he said.

Pinto said, "Among the wins expected with this new system, which should go live in about four to six months in our card services business, is an enhanced credit card experience as the Watson system will provide anticipate customer needs and provide suggestions to give better and faster service."

He said that in the initial stage of this multi-year programme, IBM Watson cognitive technology will  function as an online customer self-service advisor with 24/7 support for cardholder enquiries, as well as an internal service supporting the Bank's call centre service advisors. IBM Watson will also help the bank's service advisors analyse large volumes of data, including research reports, product information and customer profiles; identify connections between customers' needs and weigh the various financial options available to the customers.

Machine learning and data

IBM Malaysia managing director Chong Chye Neo said the company's cognitive cloud platform business IBM Watson has taken a memorable step forward with the partnership.

Chong said IBM, which invested US$1B at the beginning and of 2014 in the platform, has used a different approach from the traditional rigid decision tree programming process with Watson.

"Watson learns from customer interaction and analyses tone of voice and emotion," she said. "This approach predicts changes in customer needs and makes suggestions to enhance overall experience."

IBM Watson already has had 6000 applications or enquiries globally to date, added Chong.  "Watson reads through data at a speed that no human brain can process. Watson makes sense of about one million books per second (500GB per second) compared to three seconds by normal computing methods."

"Cognitive banking builds upon the personalisation and digitisation trends in banking over the last decade," she said. "The future bank is knowledge driven and convenes operations and offerings around its customers and their economic choices. This strategic partnership with Hong Leong Bank Berhad allows them to anticipate and respond to the changing market; and transform the relationship between the bank and its customers."

"Data is the natural resource for the 21st century," she said. ´A cloud-based solution, IBM Watson makes sense of unstructured data and will consolidate the corpus of knowledge to make predictions and recommendations from an analysis of natural language and emotions.
Security and customer experience

"Watson does not replace humans but adds value with analytics," Chong added. "The evidence based approach to put data into context will actually enhance human expertise."

Hong Leong's Pinto added that in terms of big data, the credit card business generated the most amount of data for the Bank, which was this was chosen as the starting point for implementing IBM Watson.

When asked whether there was any link between current challenging economic concerns and the impetus of digital transformation, he said the primary reason for digitisation in the financial sector was to enhance customer experience and to keep pace with the increasing adoption of the digital lifestyle.

Pinto also said security was the primary concern behind all digital initiatives when asked about the balance between data security and customer experience. "There is no compromise when it comes to security."

He added that there were no plans to reduce staffing because of implementation of IBM Watson. "This new initiative will support humans, deliver better value and productivity as well as make customer experience better in every way."

Hong Leong Bank is a subsidiary of Hong Leong Financial Group Berhad, the financial services arm of the Hong Leong Group, with a history of more than 100 years. Hong Leong Bank has also been extending its footprint in the region, with branches in Singapore and Hong Kong and wholly owned subsidiaries in Vietnam and Cambodia.


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