Financial services counting on AI for a productivity boost

AI set to take on customer help, pricing and transaction monitoring — leaving some workers to find alternative roles

Finance has always been a sector that has thrived on innovation, and artificial intelligence offers further opportunity to shake up the industry. Armed with cutting-edge technology, companies hope to explore new ways of working, and boost productivity.

“There are a number of areas of finance where we are seeing AI starting to have an influence,” says Peter Weston, associate director for financial services at recruiter Harvey Nash. “For instance, in investment banking and investment management, we have seen a change within IT where AI is being used increasingly as the first line of support for help desk functions.”

At the same time, insurers are turning to the technology to help with underwriting and pricing premium quotes. Last year, UK insurer Hiscox unveiled its own AI model, which it built in collaboration with Google, a move hailed as the first in the London insurance market.

“This is really having an impact, as cutting seconds off the time it takes to respond to a query can make the difference between securing a deal or not,” says Weston.


Michael Conway, partner and AI transformation lead at IBM Consulting in the UK & Ireland, says a number of factors are driving the change. Among the most important is that customers want a high-end digital experience when handling finance.

“Changing customer expectations, competitive disruption, the emergence of business ecosystems and platforms, cybersecurity threats, operational resilience, and regulatory actions are all accelerating the pace of transformation in financial services – and quickening the adoption of AI,” Conway says.

Employee efficiency and productivity are key areas, he adds, with virtual assistants going from novelties and useful accessories to potentially transformative tools.

“Any complex workflow, from financial crimes detection and evaluating regulatory compliance to payments processing, can benefit from a virtual assistant that generates actionable outcomes to assist a human agent,” he says.

Data from Nash Squared, owners of Harvey Nash, reveals that a majority of companies plan to use the technology. In a survey of financial services firms last year, more than 60 per cent said they were actively considering, piloting or implementing AI. Levels of take-up varied by task: ranging from 70 per cent for creating or testing code to 46 per cent for creating graphics or images.

“Many technology leaders view this as just the beginning of a journey whose final destination is not yet clear,” says Weston. “While AI could prove truly transformative, that may not be in the way – or ways – people are currently expecting.”

Although there has been significant focus on where jobs will be lost, Conway is confident that AI will augment human roles, rather than fully replace them, with new jobs opening up to help push the technology.

“We expect that financial institutions will bolster their technology teams to include generative AI experts, including prompt engineers,” he says. These teams will “train staff across a range of functions, to become familiar with generative AI as it will be used to enhance their day-to-day productivity”.

Akeesh Khokhar, a senior consultant in Harvey Nash’s financial services and banking division, is similarly sanguine that AI will support rather than threaten human workers. He points to the use of co-pilot systems to help reduce mundane tasks in financial services as in other areas.

Among the specialised examples is Lucy, a co-pilot developed by Icelandic anti-money laundering fintech Lucinity. It helps staff in financial institutions who are looking for potentially suspicious transactions to reduce the time they spend on each case.

Cybersecurity would benefit from AI, he says, with analysts and engineers increasingly turning to high-tech systems to help keep networks secure, as criminals and other nefarious actors look to use artificially intelligent systems.

“Those cybersecurity professionals specialising in AI will also be responsible for detecting and mitigating AI-related security threats, such as adversarial attacks and data breaches, to safeguard sensitive financial information and maintain trust in banking services,” he predicts.

Khokhar singles out AI ethicists as another growth area, a job speciality that has been a facet of Big Tech companies for years. It is now spreading as more advanced AI embeds across industries.

“As AI becomes more integrated into banking, there will be a need for professionals who understand the ethical implications and regulatory requirements surrounding AI usage,” says Khokhar. “These individuals will ensure that AI systems are deployed responsibly and comply with relevant regulations, such as data protection and privacy laws.”

At the same time, Weston is clear that some changes are happening that could affect technology roles, with IT team sizes shrinking because of increased automation. Helpdesk and support roles are most at risk, although that could give these workers a chance to upskill and specialise.

“We anticipate that specialist coders and programmers will also come under threat,” he adds. “It will become increasingly important to have a wide skillset that enables coders to understand broad logic and utilise AI from this.”

But the extent of its use remains unclear, as governments around the world race to bring in new legislation to oversee the technology. Issues range from how much energy AI servers might use to how it combat its use by scammers.

In the UK, the government is taking a “pro-innovation” approach, with the stated aim of making the country more competitive. In a paper released in February, it called on regulators to publish their planned approach to AI by the end of April, with the Financial Conduct Authority among the bodies involved.

“Whatever the variation in individual views, there is a common belief in the industry that regulation and security need to be fully in place before real change can occur,” says Weston. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024