To drive growth, KBC Bank is always looking for innovative ways to attract and retain customers—particularly younger millennials. How could the bank engage with these customers effectively?
KBC Bank created a mobile app aimed at its younger accountholders, empowering them to make financial decisions with help from an artificial intelligence chatbot powered by IBM® Watson® Assistant.
Deliversservices tailored to the needs of younger customers, boosting engagement
Inspiresmillennial customers to engage with the bank, nurturing their loyalty
Helpsattract new customers and drive KBC Bank’s business growth
Business challenge story
Introducing young customers to banking
Opening your child’s first bank account is an important milestone on their journey to financial independence—but for younger accountholders, trying to use products and services geared towards a much older audience can be an alienating experience.
KBC Bank, a universal banking and insurance provider in Belgium, recognized an opportunity to engage younger customers with more tailored and relevant services.
Karin Van Hoecke, General Manager Mass Retail Customers Belgium at KBC Bank, begins: “To grow our business, we must add new customers and nurture the loyalty of existing members. New customers join us at all ages, but a significant proportion tend to be younger millennials. For many years, we’ve offered accounts tailored to young customers, such as savings accounts that can be opened by parents before their children are born, and pocket-money accounts with debit cards available from the age of 10.”
She continues: “For generations born on the web, using digital services is second nature. We realized that the mobile channel would be a perfect way to capture their interest—but our main mobile banking app was aimed at older customers.”
As a first step to solve the challenge, KBC Bank organized an “innovathon” to gather ideas and then ran a design sprint with two partners based on the concepts surfaced during the event. The success of these prototypes gave the organization the confidence to move forward with building a mobile app.
“Our market research showed us that although teenagers want to be treated like adults, their needs are quite different from our adult customers,” explains Van Hoecke. “We decided to develop a mobile banking app that delivers our instant, personal and all-in-one service in way that appeals to a younger audience.”
Building an AI platform for one-to-one engagement
To shape its new mobile app—named K'Ching—KBC Bank selected artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities from IBM Watson Assistant.
“With IBM Watson Assistant, we could enable users to interact with K’Ching in natural language via a chatbot,” comments Van Hoecke. “One of the things we like most about IBM Watson Assistant is how easy it is for non-technical users to teach it to answer questions. Today, our communications team is responsible for creating new chatbot content without any support from IT.”
Working with IBM, KBC Bank successfully launched its K’Ching mobile app to young users across Belgium. Offering the familiar newsfeed-style interface of many popular social media platforms, the app enables accountholders to ask the chatbot for help with banking, advice on reaching their savings targets and more.
“My philosophy is: if you have everything under control, you’re not going fast enough,” says Van Hoecke. “Our partnership with IBM offers us the expertise and resources we need to turn our ideas into working prototypes far faster than we could if we were working alone. Better still, IBM is always on hand to provide guidance on new features of IBM Watson Assistant that might be useful to us in the future.”
She adds: “Like any leading financial services provider, we pay close attention to incoming regulations and plan carefully to ensure compliance. To address European regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] and Second Payment Services Directive [PSD2], we have designed robust data governance structures to ensure that we have customers’ permission to use their data to deliver personalized services.”
Making long-lasting connections with millennials
To date, millennial users across Belgium have asked the K’Ching chatbot 180,000 questions—helping KBC Bank engage with younger customers and encourage their loyalty.
“Every time a customer asks the bot a question it doesn’t understand, our communications team reviews the query and builds an appropriate response,” explains Van Hoecke. “To date, we’ve added content to address more than 10,000 customer questions—ranging from transactional topics like: ‘how do withdraw money from an ATM?’ to more irreverent ones like: ‘can you tell me a joke?’. Banks usually have a reputation for being serious and boring, and by teaching our app to interact with our customers in a fun and engaging way, we’re successfully changing those perceptions!”
By staying in tune with the needs of its customers, KBC Bank is inspiring them to come back to K’Ching time and again.
“Some of our users absolutely love the chatbot and spend as much as 20 minutes at a time conversing with it—and we think the personalized support it provides is a key reason,” says Van Hoecke. “Our bot even allows us to support our customers in ways that go beyond the usual customer relationship. On one occasion, a user confided to the bot that they weren’t feeling well.
“We created a response that introduced the user to a support organization for young people—and that user later returned to the bot to say that they were feeling much better. We would never have anticipated this kind of question when we started the project, but we think helping our customers in this way is a valuable thing to do.”
Based on the success of its K’Ching app, KBC Bank is already planning ways to enhance the user experience.
“We want to empower our users to customize the look and feel of the app with different skins, as well as enabling them to ask our bot to tell them their balance or send them a replacement bank card,” comments Van Hoecke. “Every feature we add is aimed at making our service more interactive and relevant, and our partnership with IBM puts us in a strong position to achieve that.”
She concludes: “Our journey with AI is just beginning, and it’s a little like playing a video game; we’ve beaten level one, and now there are new challenges to face. Thanks to our work with IBM, we’re building a deeper understanding of our younger customers’ needs and adapting our services to inspire their loyalty.”
In 1998, two Belgian banks (Kredietbank and CERA Bank) and a Belgian insurance company (ABB Insurance) merged to create the KBC Bank and Insurance Holding Company, which later became KBC Group. KBC Group is an integrated bank-insurance group serving mainly retail, private banking, SME and mid-cap clients. With more than 11 million clients across Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Ireland, the bank operates 1,600 branches and employs over 42,000 people. The group strives to offer its clients a unique bank-insurance experience.