The financial services industry is facing massive disruption in the 21st century, but a 150-year-old bank can still thrive with technology like Blockchain and Amelia artificial intelligence. Nicholas Moch, Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Swedish bank SEB, spoke with industry analyst Michael Krigsman at CXOTalk during the IPsoft Digital Workforce Summit in New York about how SEB has transformed itself into a “service company” for 2025.

SEB uses the Amelia AI platform, calling it “Ida” for interacting with the bank’s Nordic customers and investors since December. Client responses have been polarized.

“One customer would think that it’s a “she,” and would be very happy to have something or someone that you can interact with 24/7, can answer the question in a very practical manner without disturbing any human. The other customer will look at it as an ‘it,’ and sometimes have an allergic reaction because robots trying to look human are kind of fake, and will generate a much worse customer experience. So, that’s something that … we’re trying to watch right now,” Moch said.

Experimentation is part of the digital transformation journey, but so is the risk. Moch encourages starting early – “even if it’s scary” – to learn what works and continually improve the customer experience.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: I’m Michael Krigsman, and industry analyst with CxOTalk. I’m here in New York City at the IPsoft Digital Workforce Summit and we’re speaking with Nicholas Moch, who is the CIO and CTO of SEB, a large bank in Sweden. Nicholas, thank you for taking a few minutes with us!

Nicholas Moch: Thank you!

Michael Krigsman: So, tell us about SEB.

Nicholas Moch: So, SEB is a bank in the Nordic region, in the Baltics. It's 150 years old. It has been focused historically, and it's still focused on, helping entrepreneurs in the region. Entrepreneurs in Sweden tend to be sometimes successful because they become the Erikssons of the world. So, there is a DNA for the bank of helping big companies, but also private individuals with ambitions.

Michael Krigsman: So the bank is 150 years old, which means it has undergone many transitions.

Nicholas Moch: Many. Many transitions from, basically the industrial revolution to the revolution and the cognitive revolution we’re facing right now.

Michael Krigsman: And what’s the transformation that you’re currently undertaking?

Nicholas Moch: So, currently, the whole banking industry and not especially our bank, is under a huge disruption. We have pressure on the infrastructure, on the way we do, for example, payments, with the Blockchain. We’ve had customers being much more fluid, which amounts to having a much better service. So, that has created a kind of burning platform for us to transform ourselves into, what we now call our Vision 2025, a world-class service company. Not a bank, anymore, but a service company, because that’s what we think is the best way to help our customers.

Michael Krigsman: So, why call yourself that? I mean, you’re still transacting business with money and providing banking services.

Nicholas Moch: Because, it binds us in the direction where we want to go. Because being a bank is one way to help our customers grow, and the fact that the banking sector is being disrupted, means that we may have to find some other ways of perfecting service, meriting service, ameliorating products, bettering the information we get to our customers.

Michael Krigsman: Using technology to help deliver that world-class customer service?

Nicholas Moch: Yes. We’re using a number of technologies. That’s why … yes.

Michael Krigsman: And what are some of those technologies?

Nicholas Moch: So, I mentioned Blockchain before. This is one thing where we invest. And there are three consortiums which some of you may know. We invest in data science and Big Data analytics to better understand our customers. And we, obviously, also use IPsoft Amelia, which we call “Ida,” for interacting with our customers to try to be worth our service in our customer interaction as well.

Michael Krigsman: So, Amelia or, as you call it, Ida, is an AI agent.

Nicholas Moch: Yes. She is, or it is. Whatever … [Laughter] word. Yes, so she is customer-facing since December, and you can talk to her in Swedish if you know Swedish, and she can help you with a number of processes, mainly informational. So I need to open an account, I need to book a meeting, and she will be better and better at different tasks in the bank in the coming months.

Michael Krigsman: Now you mentioned, is it an “it” or is it a “she?” In a way, that gets to the heart of the matter because you want your customers to feel that there’s a human agent on the other end.

Nicholas Moch: Yes. And that brings us to one of the findings that we had, is that, basically, our customers, in their reaction to that, are divided into two very polarized parts; polarized camps. One customer would think that it’s a “she,” and would be very happy to have something or someone that you can interact with 24/7, can answer the question in a very practical manner without disturbing any human. The other customer will look at it as an “it,” and sometimes have an allergic reaction because

Michael Krigsman: I’m Michael Krigsman, and industry analyst with CxOTalk. I’m here in New York City at the IPsoft Digital Workforce Summit and we’re speaking with Nicholas Moch, who is the CIO and CTO of SEB, a large bank in Sweden. Nicholas, thank you for taking a few minutes with us!

Nicholas Moch: Thank you!

Michael Krigsman: So, tell us about SEB.

Nicholas Moch: So, SEB is a bank in the Nordic region, in the Baltics. It's 150 years old. It has been focused historically, and it's still focused on, helping entrepreneurs in the region. Entrepreneurs in Sweden tend to be sometimes successful because they become the Erikssons of the world. So, there is a DNA for the bank of helping big companies, but also private individuals with ambitions.

Michael Krigsman: So the bank is 150 years old, which means it has undergone many transitions.

Nicholas Moch: Many. Many transitions from, basically the industrial revolution to the revolution and the cognitive revolution we’re facing right now.

Michael Krigsman: And what’s the transformation that you’re currently undertaking?

Nicholas Moch: So, currently, the whole banking industry and not especially our bank, is under a huge disruption. We have pressure on the infrastructure, on the way we do, for example, payments, with the Blockchain. We’ve had customers being much more fluid, which amounts to having a much better service. So, that has created a kind of burning platform for us to transform ourselves into, what we now call our Vision 2025, a world-class service company. Not a bank, anymore, but a service company, because that’s what we think is the best way to help our customers.

Michael Krigsman: So, why call yourself that? I mean, you’re still transacting business with money and providing banking services.

Nicholas Moch: Because, it binds us in the direction where we want to go. Because being a bank is one way to help our customers grow, and the fact that the banking sector is being disrupted, means that we may have to find some other ways of perfecting service, meriting service, ameliorating products, bettering the information we get to our customers.

Michael Krigsman: Using technology to help deliver that world-class customer service?

Nicholas Moch: Yes. We’re using a number of technologies. That’s why … yes.

Michael Krigsman: And what are some of those technologies?

Nicholas Moch: So, I mentioned Blockchain before. This is one thing where we invest. And there are three consortiums which some of you may know. We invest in data science and Big Data analytics to better understand our customers. And we, obviously, also use IPsoft Amelia, which we call “Ida,” for interacting with our customers to try to be worth our service in our customer interaction as well.

Michael Krigsman: So, Amelia or, as you call it, Ida, is an AI agent.

Nicholas Moch: Yes. She is, or it is. Whatever … [Laughter] word. Yes, so she is customer-facing since December, and you can talk to her in Swedish if you know Swedish, and she can help you with a number of processes, mainly informational. So I need to open an account, I need to book a meeting, and she will be better and better at different tasks in the bank in the coming months.

Michael Krigsman: Now you mentioned, is it an “it” or is it a “she?” In a way, that gets to the heart of the matter because you want your customers to feel that there’s a human agent on the other end.

Nicholas Moch: Yes. And that brings us to one of the findings that we had, is that, basically, our customers, in their reaction to that, are divided into two very polarized parts; polarized camps. One customer would think that it’s a “she,” and would be very happy to have something or someone that you can interact with 24/7, can answer the question in a very practical manner without disturbing any human. The other customer will look at it as an “it,” and sometimes have an allergic reaction because robots trying to look human are kind of fake, and will generate a much worse customer experience. So, that’s something that […] we’re trying to watch right now.

Michael Krigsman: And how are you managing that? And what are the ultimate results that you’ve seen so far?

Nicholas Moch: Well, we are managing that by having the choice… I mean, we see her as one channel, so the dream I’m having … You know, one interaction, one point of entry that would be Amelia is something that probably is going to look different. It’s going to be an interaction between humans, Amelia, and some other channel. So that’s one where we are managing it. And in terms of the results we see, we see it more as a learning journey. How do we, together with our customer, create the best possible interactions so that they are served the best way? So, that’s a little bit of the journey we’re on. So there’s no definitive conclusion, it’s more of the start of a journey where we learn and, “We’re okay. We tried that, and that didn’t work.” But it’s … We learn a lot about our customers as well through the journey, and what behavior they have in different situations. So that’s a very interesting and enriching experience for us.

Michael Krigsman: So, it sounds like this digital transformation journey is really about, as you say, experimentation and trying new things and learning as you go.

Nicholas Moch: Well, it’s experimentation with a little bit more risk, I would say. There is a part of skin in the game when you go out with a completely new interface that roughly hasn't been tried before in this environment and goes out. So, I would classify that as maybe experimentation-plus. But, I think that starting small in a transformation is a good thing because you don't really know where the end goal is. We have an idea, and the idea is going to be very different the month after. That was our experience, both in the Ida-Amelia case and in the other technologies I was talking about.

Michael Krigsman: You decided to expose it externally to our customers.

Nicholas Moch: Yeah, yeah.

Michael Krigsman: Why did you decide to do that as opposed to …

Nicholas Moch: Because that’s the only way to learn the truth. I mean, you always have a lot of ideas and opinions about how things will pan out when the rubber hits the road, but when it’s a new technology, there is no opinion that has better value than the fact that, “Okay. Let’s try it!” There are so many factors playing in the industry or in the brand you have, the country and the culture that it becomes impossible to predict how people will react, so we decided to try.

Michael Krigsman: As we conclude, can you share with us any thoughts on what you’ve learned so far?

Nicholas Moch: What we’ve learned is that you have very new behaviors and new customers. On the one hand, you have new customers who like that channel and would probably not be customers of the bank without this type of interaction. And on the other hand, you have customers who don’t like that channel at all. So, the key learning is that this is one channel among others. One we have communicating, and it has to represent the bank in the best way in order to service the customers better.

Michael Krigsman: And I need to ask you one last thing, which is what advice do you have for other companies that are maybe looking to learn from customers and go through this experimentation process you’ve just described?

Nicholas Moch: One advice is that you should start early, even if it’s scary. And, you should make the pain, the customer pain that will inevitably happen because you’re experimenting, something that is also a positive thing for the customer by “You’re helping us.” You’re not disappointed and you’re not angry at the bank because it doesn’t work, you are helping us; how can we help you to have that dialogue become more constructive?

Michael Krigsman: Wonderful! Nicholas Moch, thank you so much!

Nicholas Moch: Thank you, Michael.