Can you safely provide financial services to your customers without the humans?

Retail Financial Services

John Hall

Bank and Brand Distribution of Retail Financial ServicesHumanMortgagesPensionRetail Financial ServicesTechnologyVulnerable

Many financial services products are sold online, and largely without human intervention...


Many financial services products are sold online, and largely without human intervention, such as, Home, Contents, Car, Pet, and Travel Insurance.  Mortgages are increasingly sold solely online but less so for first-time purchases.  Whether a financial services products is sold online and without human intervention, largely depends on the complexity of the product, the cost, and the size of the ‘consequence’.

First time buyers of mortgages are more likely to want human interaction.  For example, a large building society that launched online simple advice for mortgage purchases is now considering launching ‘assisted online journeys’ where a member of staff in the branch talks customers through the online journey.  There is an expectation that human interaction will increase conversion rates.

Pensions are complex and the consequence of making a wrong decision can be very significant.  Despite this, £3.2m was stripped out of pension funds in the last 6 months without the benefit of financial advice.  It is difficult to accept that all of this money was taken by consumers who had evaluated for themselves the risks of inflation, longevity, sequencing risk, and so on. 


My Pension Expert is the largest at-and in-retirement Adviser in the UK.  Half of the people who contact My Pension Expert take out a lifetime annuity as they have said that they do not want to take any risk with their retirement income.  However, very few people come to My Pension Expert asking for an annuity as they either do not know about the product or they have a negative view of annuities.  The benefits offered by an annuity are a good match to a high proportion of retirees, but the product name – ‘annuity’ – is widely unpopular.

Vulnerable customers are an increasingly discussed group and there is concern about how they will fare when human interaction is not present to identify them and to, potentially, offer a different experience as a result of their vulnerability.  AI is being developed to identify vulnerable customers, such as via voice recognition systems or via movements taken around a webpage.  However, vulnerable customers do not like to self-identify and there is a question over whether humans or AI will be able to identify vulnerability better.

The inconsistency in access to, and comfort with, technology amongst the population must not be ignored.  Age UK has pointed out that many older people do not own a smartphone, so mobile services will exclude them.

In addition, there is a growing mistrust of technology firms after various scandals involving the misuse of personal data.  In the future, some people may be more resistant to sharing personal financial data online with organisations.

Hybrid – or ‘blended’ – approaches are suitable for some products and for some people.  For example, even with pensions, technology can be used to take over data collection and simpler parts of the advice process.  It is more cost efficient and, therefore, potentially cheaper for the customer.  It was agreed that the one area where customers always wanted to speak to a human was when something went wrong or they wanted to make a complaint.


In conclusion, it is ‘safe’ to provide some financial services products to some customers without human intervention.  However, it is not right on every occasion and we should tread carefully when introducing technology.