The Time is Ripe for Digital Customer Onboarding

Enterprise AI
Conversational AI Solutions
9 min readSep 22, 2020


9 Ways AI Bots help automate customer onboarding under social distancing conditions.

COVID-19 creates Urgency for Digital Transformation

Before the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic hit across the world in late 2019 and early 2020, digital transformation was more than just a common buzzword. Businesses knew that they had to embrace digital operations and invest in the tools, technology, and processes that would be necessary for survival in an increasingly digital world. Led by CEOs, CIOs, and other C-suite titles with some form of digital or innovation in their title, digital-first strategies were being widely implemented across industries.

Then COVID hit, forcing businesses to close all office spaces, deploy staff to work remotely, and find ways to keep business afloat with a customer base that was equally disrupted. Many businesses found that their digital transformation efforts weren’t far enough along to help them cope sufficiently as everything suddenly needed to shift to digital and remote operations.

As Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella put it,

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

A stark illustration of the impact was also revealed in a survey that was circulated posing the question “Who led your digital transformation?” a) CEO, b) CIO or c) COVID-19 with a circle around COVID-19. The pandemic exposed critical gaps in digital operations overnight, leaving businesses scrambling for solutions that would help them survive.

Top drivers of digital transformation

A slow and steady approach towards digital operations gave way to an urgent emphasis on digital and AI solutions that could be rolled out to support remote operations as quickly as possible. For example, realizing that dependency on human workers interacting with customers and processing requests was problematic, many businesses embraced conversational AI solutions, deploying digital AI assistants as a means to automate how they engage with customers and fulfill their requests.

What Does Staying Open for Business Mean when Offices are Closed?

It means certain business processes that often lead a customer to meet with their bank manager, insurance broker, or mortgage provider break down or are seriously hampered. For businesses that rely on staff in a centralized office to handle incoming email or postal mail documents, sort and verify them, and input them to a customer’s record, office closures created major service disruptions.

The Dilemma of Customer Onboarding during COVID

According to a European consumer report published recently:

“Around 40% of European consumers responding to a survey claim that they’ve not been able to access new financial services because of lockdown measures enforced after the COVID-19 outbreak. Most of the survey respondents said that there should be 100% digital onboarding of customers.”

The more a business process depends on physical interactions with customers, manual and paper-based workflows, and office-based teamwork, the harder it is to stay open for business. For insurance companies, banks, and other financial service providers, customer onboarding processes suddenly became a weak link during the pandemic, as they exhibited many of these characteristics.

However, by shifting to a digital onboarding journey using an AI assistant business operations can continue uninterrupted and avail of the opportunity for greater automation.

Using an Onboarding Digital AI Assistant while Social Distancing

BEFORE: Why Customer Onboarding became a Problem Child

There are many reasons why traditional and regulated industries, like banks, insurance, and mortgage providers may have lagged in going digital on customer onboarding.

Here are the top challenges that they have faced:

  1. Missing Evidentiary Documents
Capturing Evidentiary Documents

One of the biggest challenges for these industries is that they have to gather so many different documents from a single customer in order to get them approved or to update their coverage or loan information. Many customers go to their nearest branch or broker office with these documents while many others send them via regular mail or email, where they are received and manually handled by office staff. With staff working remotely, customers unwilling or unable to do in-person onboarding, central processing centers closed and unable to handle incoming mail, onboarding workflows have been severely disrupted sparking an urgent need for digital onboarding.

Take the example of a European auto insurance customer providing proof of their No Claims Bonus (NCB) when they switch insurance companies. During COVID, with customers unable to easily submit their NCB proof, some companies found they were unable to capture or process these docs so they were forced to eliminate the requirement and take the risk.

Similarly in the US, where discounts are given on certain criteria such as insuring an honor student, without a means to submit the evidence some companies have had to give the discount while lacking proof docs. And even more relevant since the pandemic, a customer seeking forbearance on their mortgage needs to provide evidence that they are in financial difficulty. With centralized processing centers and local branch offices shuttered during the crisis, it’s easy to see how disruptive this was to onboarding and how organizations became desperate to provide a more effective and digital experience.

2. Chasing Incorrect Documents

Besides banks and insurance companies possibly needing to waive practices around gathering evidentiary documents and taking the resulting risks and financial hits, there is a huge cost and manual effort to gather paperwork and follow up with customers on missing or incorrect documents.

Chasing customers to gather the correct proof documents is a surprisingly frequent problem in onboarding. Mortgage providers need proof of income and request recent salary statements but often customers submit docs that do not fall within the required timeframe, resulting in the need to follow up. Likewise, a customer opening a new bank account may have to submit a recent utility bill and often will take the closest hardcopy of a bill rather than download the recent statement online.

The chasing and re-engaging effort is not only non-value adding but also represents lost revenue opportunities in delaying the completion of onboarding. Often there is a print vendor in the midst of gathering and chasing documents, sending reminders by mail. This is naturally a slow and costly undertaking. And with email open rates very low, using email as an alternative isn’t the answer with an average of only one in five opening emails now. Push notifications work better when chasing customers but when you’re onboarding new customers it’s unlikely that they will have installed the vendor’s app so this isn’t feasible either. The best alternative is to notify customers using SMS or messaging channels like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger where open rates of up to 98% are possible and response rates more immediate.

3. Manual or Part-manual Document Verification

Some evidentiary documents just need to be verified but not necessarily submitted by a customer as they onboard with their banking or insurance partner. Verification processes vary; some depend on human staff verifying an ID or proof document with a customer while some documents are digitized and verified on the backend system. With the lockdown resulting in staff working remotely the manual verification workflow broke down and became complex to manage.

4. Inputting and Uploading Documents

Where information from evidentiary documents needs to be manually keyed into a system or uploaded and assigned to a customer record, the office closures during COVID also led to disruption in completing customer onboarding. Despite some businesses having automated the backend processing for approving a customer, there are still many that rely on some form of manual gathering, collating, inputting, or uploading of files in order for the system to process them. Even at the best of times, this is tedious and labor-intensive but when workers are suddenly deployed to work from home, these weak links soon became detrimental to business continuity.

9 Ways in which a Digital Onboarding Bot adds Business Value

AN Onboarding Bot Demo

As the dependency on human workers in complex onboarding journeys became a hindrance, banks and insurance providers have quickly turned to digital AI assistants to help overcome the weaknesses previously discussed.

In doing so they have been able to move to more efficient digital channels with higher engagement rates, automate or even eliminate steps in onboarding journeys, and still escalate to live chat agents if required.

Here are 9 compelling ways in which a digital onboarding bot is indispensable to businesses with complex onboarding journeys.

9 Ways in which a Digital AI Assistant automates Customer Onboarding
9 Advantages of using Digital AI Assistants for Customer Onboarding
  1. CHASE: By reaching out proactively, a digital AI assistant can send as many reminders or notifications via SMS or other messaging channels such as WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger. This helps nudge customers to complete their onboarding without incurring the costs of using human agents. These channels also yield a higher action rate than email or letter mail, driving up engagement and increasing overall efficiency across onboarding journeys.
  2. UPLOAD DOCS: By capturing documents as either attachments or photos via the website or mobile device, a digital AI assistant can reduce a lot of the friction and delays associated with onboarding. By fully integrating it with the device features such as the camera, rich media exchange is enabled within conversations.
  3. CHECK DOCS: The onboarding AI assistant can perform basic document checks including visibility, type, and security. For example, it can conduct a virus check before passing it further along the process or it can check if it is the correct form of document required, informing the customer if they need to upload again or replace the file.
  4. VERIFY INFORMATION: In more sophisticated applications, a bot can also use a machine learning model to extract and compare data from a document with data held in a customer record. The information can then be updated automatically in the backend system or customer record. If the information is not validated, the bot can advise a customer accordingly and take the necessary process steps.
  5. PROCESS: The onboarding assistant can prepare documents for final presentation to a live agent via a secure Portal or direct to the customer account, depending on the preferred process that the provider has for final inspection of proof documents before they are attached to a customer record.
  6. RE-ENGAGE: An AI bot can also automatically re-engage with customers that have dropped off during an onboarding process and encourage them to continue toward completion, driving increased conversions without additional labor costs.
  7. ALWAYS ON: They can provide 24/7 assistance to customers so that they go through onboarding on their preferred time and schedule. By extending access out of hours, greater convenience and faster onboarding can be realized, all at a lower cost.
  8. SECURE: A digital AI assistant can support channel switching to support the necessary security measures that protect the business from breaches. Customers can be shifted to a more secure digital channel if PII information is to be exchanged, for example, moving them from WhatsApp to the business’s mobile app. Security is critical once customer data needs to be exchanged and verified. While common messaging or SMS channels are convenient for certain customer conversations when it comes to uploading sensitive documents many banks and insurance companies may prefer to switch the customer to a more secure channel such as their mobile or web app, where the digital assistant can continue the conversation.
  9. HUMAN HANDOVER: Last but not least, a digital onboarding bot doesn’t always have to work alone but can handover or escalate to a human agent when necessary. When the bot can’t fully automate the onboarding process, or when a customer requests speaking to a human, or when the bot can’t respond to a request, it can seamlessly handover to a live chat agent or gather the information from the customer and schedule an appointment with a live agent.

The argument for digital onboarding using AI assistants has become crystal clear this year, so much so that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as the inter-governmental task force set up to combat money laundering, advises.

“The FATF encourages the fullest use of responsible digital customer onboarding and delivery of digital financial services in light of social distancing measures.”

If your customer onboarding involves multiple steps with the need to gather and verify proof documents and you’ve been hindered by social distancing measures due to COVID, using a bot platform to build and deploy a digital AI assistant is sure to help. And once you see the benefits of being able to further automate customer onboarding while still enabling human escalation and involvement when needed you will never turn back. The digital onboarding genie, once released, is not to be put back in the bottle!



Enterprise AI
Conversational AI Solutions

Passionate about digital and AI technologies that advance how businesses engage with their customers and employees to create superior value for all.