Tough regulations have always made it difficult for super funds to adopt new technology, but that isn't stopping some funds taking a close look at AI, writes Willis Towers Watson’s Rick Body.
Long criticised as a laggard in digital technology, 2017 marks the year the super industry got serious.
Since 2013, we’ve surveyed superannuation funds on their use of digital. Four short years ago, the rate of uptake was slow and funds didn’t allocate significant budget to invest in technologies aimed at member education or engagement.
In 2017, our study showed 94 per cent of funds are increasing their use of digital – and their budgets – with a focus on developing new technologies and refining existing ones.
Nonetheless, the increased investment is still being stretched across a wide range of tools.
The big jump in this survey was in the use of social media – 88 per cent of funds in 2017, up from 47 per cent in 2015 and 35 per cent in 2013.
The reason? Members are driving the platforms that funds are using, rather than the other way around.
Social media is proving valuable to funds to leverage sponsored content and build brand awareness and trust – even if they aren’t talking about superannuation specifically.
It’s a big step forward to making super more approachable and relevant to the widest possible demographic.
But social media is not new – Facebook was founded 13 years ago, while Twitter launched in 2006. How funds embrace innovations that leverage social media platforms is something they need to address on a biannual basis at a minimum. This is a dynamic medium where a set-and-forget strategy will not work.
Innovation means different things to different funds. Compared to previous surveys, fewer funds consider themselves to be laggards. Early adopters of digital technology grew from 24 per cent to 31 per cent in 2017.
No-one is denying the clearly visible benefits of digital in creating personalised and targeted communication. But funds are questioning what needs to come next.
Regulation and compliance have always been issues with super funds in adopting technology and while some funds have started to use chat bots and are actively exploring AI, how exactly this may be used is still something for the future.
Problem solving a member’s simple queries using a chat bot seems like an effective use of technology but the industry remains convinced there will always be a need for human interaction.
Other financial services industries have embraced aspects of AI. StartUpCover, a joint venture between Willis Towers Watson and insurer CGU, launched a world-first Facebook Messenger chat bot this year.
It provides 24/7 insurance information and indicative quote within five minutes of messaging.
Clearly the technology is there to be leveraged, and its application for the superannuation industry is being worked through.
The 2016 Global Mobile Messaging Report, published by US communications company Twilio, showed that 46 per cent of consumers would like to learn about new products through messaging, while 85 per cent of consumers would like to reply to a message from a business or engage in conversation, noting that messaging is not a one-way communication channel.
Further research from the Centre for Generational Kinetics shows 41 per cent of Millennials would describe themselves as ‘truly satisfied’ if they could use messaging or SMS to connect with companies where they do business.
So, are super funds ready to support two-way communication via messaging? It’s another important question to be addressed.
Is there a digital saturation point?
We hosted a roundtable with fund marketing officers, heads of member engagement and digital experts where they talked a lot about following digital trends more broadly and using this as a way to influence their own future direction.
This means funds need to utilise their internal resources to be watching, learning and trialling new technologies that become popular and to assess what sticks with members.
Following the broader digital trends can be beneficial. It allows funds not to need to invent their own technology but rather adapt technology that is already being utilised.
But technology can’t just be used for technology’s sake. Like the debate over the use of apps by super funds, it needs to contribute to a fund’s member experience and create positive outcomes for their retirement strategy to assist funds to justify their investment in a new technology.
Do members want to check their super like they check their bank account balance?
With so much development in the digital space over the past five years, it makes sense that funds are continuing to test a number of digital options to see what works best for their members.
It’s a challenge for funds, servicing a huge and diverse group of members with varying attitudes, habits and priorities.
We know that superannuation isn’t like other services. You don’t need to check your super account daily or weekly like you do with a bank account.
With an ageing demographic, and more members in retirement spending their savings, we’ll see a change in this behaviour.
However, long-term engagement, trust and loyalty are all things funds crave. So finding the right balance of tools that provide this to members is critical. A social media strategy is particularly crucial here.
Personalising super communication will continue to grow to a point where it is the norm rather than the exception.
Will data analytics have a greater role to play?
Data analytics will feed funds’ knowledge to understand the best tools to use for their members and where to focus their budgets. The use of data analytics can only increase.
The more funds can learn about how the digital tools their members are using are driving member outcomes, the more they can target their communication to make it more personal and engaging. Data analytics can reveal what is working already and what can be improved.
It will also assist funds in managing resources and budgets.
Digital tools can also be used in a more targeted manner, as we have seen with social media, which tends to be used for brand awareness rather than as a member education tool.
Do we have to be everywhere for everyone?
Consolidation of digital tools will come – it has to. However, this will bring a greater focus on an omni-channel approach to ensure a more consistent and co-ordinated member experience.
In the short term, funds will continue to explore a range of digital tools, but longer term, given limited resources, only those that drive member engagement and contribute to a fund’s overall strategy will survive.
What will this look like? AI, chat-bots or something we haven’t thought of yet? Watch this space. What we do know is there will be more to come.
Rick Body is head of digital solutions Australasia and Asia for Willis Towers Watson.
Uncertainty and market volatility tend to increase during the run-up to US presidential elections, but the 2020 campaign seems more divisive...