Voices from Accenture Public Service

In a previous blog, we looked at the impact that chatbots will have on the experience pension organizations offer members. But chatbots are just one manifestation of a much broader transformation powered by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).

Scare stories around AI are hard to avoid. Talk of the “robo-apocalypse” suggests a future in which machines replace people in nearly all occupations. But let’s rewind. The introduction of enterprise computing in the 1980s and 90s was greeted with a high degree of skepticism. People would manually check the results it provided, unsure of a machine’s ability to provide accurate and trustworthy information. That seems extraordinary to us today. Work has changed so much that we can’t imagine life without enterprise computing.

I believe the same will be true of AI. Fears about it replacing people will give way to the reality: it’s going to help all of us work smarter, more efficiently and make greater use of our talents. AI’s transformational impact will be felt across all industries, in the public and private sectors. So, what does all this mean for retirement systems? First of all, AI will augment people, not replace them. With 24/7-365 customer care delivered by virtual agents (VAs), front-line contact center staff will have more time for providing value-added services like helping a member understand their retirement benefit options. From our experience, AI yields, on average, a 60 percent reduction in handling time.

Virtual agents – smart assistants that use AI to interact with people and other systems – will provide members with more accurate, consistent, and reliable answers to a wide range of routine enquiries. But that’s not all. Using the Netflix model of algorithmically-driven personalized recommendations, AI in pension systems will offer new forms of coaching and mentoring. That non-financial advice will apply across the spectrum from hire to retire and beyond. AI will tailor recommendations and make relevant suggestions drawing on everything pension systems know about their members, as well as the choices they’ve made at every stage of their working lives.

We’re not talking about a distant future here. We’ve already seen the results from our virtual agent deployments: up to 80 percent increase in user satisfaction and positive user experience.

Of course, AI can and will deliver enormous benefits to pension systems. It’s already happening. But it’s important to think about the right way to train and implement AI in order to make sure it’s used responsibly. That’s the principal theme running through Citizen AI, the first trend in our 2018 Technology Vision.

With such broad access to people’s personal and financial information, pension organizations must ensure they’re transparent about what their AI does and how and when they use it. Members need to know whether they’re talking to a virtual agent or a person. Failing to make that clear can undermine trust. In addition, pension agencies’ duty to keep member data safe provides another clear use case for AI. This is backed up by Accenture research, which shows that more than half of respondents support pension agencies using AI to protect against hacking of information (59%) and to detect fraud (55%)[1].

If they haven’t already started, pension organizations need to embrace AI as the next big wave of technology change sweeping over the industry. And rather than seeing it as a series of specific technologies applied to individual use cases, organizations must look at AI as universally affecting everything – like electricity or the internet.

Gartner expects 85 percent of all customer interactions to be managed without a human within two years. In pension systems, AI will affect every aspect of today’s operations, from member services to employee enablement. But what it won’t do is remove people – and the trusted relationships they build – from the heart of the experience members value and increasingly demand.

I’d love to hear your views on how you see AI playing out in your organization. Please get in touch or leave comments below.

To learn more, visit accenture.com/pension and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

[1] Accenture Citizen Survey 2018

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