DJ Haskins is the Vice President of Strategy at SilverCloud, Inc., a banking-specific SaaS company that specializes in helping banks and credit unions deliver better support via their digital and employee channels. With SilverCloud support solutions, financial institutions can streamline support and product experiences, reduce support costs and complaints, and elevate employee confidence and productivity
1. Tell us about your role at SilverCloud?
I am the VP of Strategy at SilverCloud. My role is really focused around understanding the core problems our customers are trying to solve as well as focusing on market trends. From there I work closely with our product, product marketing, customer success group. In reality, if you work for a company with less than 75 people, you wear a lot of hats.
2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
I’m relatively new to the banking space – only a few years into it. I’ve always worked with technology and was introduced to Scott Cornell (SilverCloud CEO) in late 2017. We hit it off and I joined SilverCloud in the summer of 2018.
3. How do you think technology is upgrading financial sector?
The world has gone digital, especially in the midst of COVID-19, or Corona Season as my 7 year old daughter refers to it. We live in an on-demand world where we as consumers expect to be able to do or get whatever we want, when we want. In terms of banking, it’s no different. We expect to be able to do basic things whenever and wherever we want. The nuance with Financial Services, more so than “basic” services like Amazon, Netflix or even Uber is that we are talking about finances. Money is one of lives top stressors and can be highly emotional. So as an individual’s banking needs escalate (from basic things like checking balances or paying a bill to applying for a loan or reporting potential fraud) the need for real-time assistance is key. I often think about it like insurance – we all want cheap insurance until we need to actually use it. Then you realize how import service is and how saving a few dollars wasn’t really saving you anything. With the financial services, the nuance of technology is are you able to help me when I need it and then be able to seamlessly help me when I really need it for those high-value, high-emotion needs.
4. How has digitalization empowered credit unions?
It has helped credit unions tremendously, like it has all businesses. There is the efficiency perspective – just think how much easier it is for employees to do their jobs today than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Information is more easily accessible, and communication has become much easier. From the member’s perspective, they can do a lot of the basic banking needs remotely and digitally.
5. Can you explain in detail how does your banking chatbots helps financial institutions?
The SilverCloud Chatbot is unique. The majority of the chatbot market has focused on transactions – aka move $20 from my checking account to my savings account. While on the surface, this seems cool, it begs the question do we really need another interface beyond mobile and online banking to do that? Our approach has been to focus really heavily on content and knowledge. When a member is in mobile or online banking doing transactions, what they really need is support and service. We have been providing support and service to credit unions members for over 10 years and have the most robust database of member queries (over 20 million in 2019). This means that we truly understand what the members are looking for. But more importantly, we build out the content for our credit unions so when a member asks a question, they get a great answer. Also, because we work exclusively with banks and credit unions, our artificial intelligence is industry specific and constantly getting smarter. How one member might ask a question is different than how another might. The only way that chatbots get smarter is through those interactions. We have built a robust platform for capturing those queries and building out our intents library that is getting bigger by the day. So each credit union we work with gets to benefits from the interactions of 200+ other banks and credit union customers.
6. What features of your mobile banking solution differentiates it in the market?
Technically, we are not a mobile banking application, we just provide the support and service add-on that works with mobile banking applications. Our Customer Support solution is easily added to any of the mobile banking applications easily – via a chatbot or a simple link that pulls in a custom branded in-app page that includes a search widget, contextual FAQs widget. From the member perspective, they never leave the application, but they now have access to a robust knowledge base that answers hundreds of institution specific questions – from basic questions like what is my routing number to more complex decision trees like “what are your rates”. This allows credit unions to easily provide information and links to all facets of their services and drive them to the next step of the journey. Sometimes that is support (how to use mobile deposit) and sometimes that is product related (apply for a loan). That is why having the ability to provide support and service natively within mobile and online banking is so critical. Unfortunately, most credit unions have still siloed their digital approach – use mobile banking for transaction, the website for products etc. From the member’s perspective, they do not see it like that. They just expect that if I’m in mobile banking, I have access to everything.
7. What advice would you like to give to the technology Start Ups?
I love Steve Jobs quote, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” The hard part for technology start-ups is timing. Sometimes you are too early (most of the dot.coms that failed in 2000 were too early) and as technology founders it’s easy to see a vision that is just too early for the market. So having the balance of what are real problems or opportunities to improve the customer experience and what is practical for today’s world. Sometimes that requires slow playing your vision. Netflix is a great example of that – they knew that they wanted to be an online streaming company eventually – but in the early 2000s they knew there wasn’t the broadband coverage to support it and that consumers weren’t just ready to watch TV / movies on their laptops yet.
8. What is the Digital innovation in sales technology according to you that will mark 2020?
This isn’t really my area of expertise, but I would have to say it revolves around personalization. Where I really look towards for inspiration and motivation is what brands outside of Fintech are doing. Think about how good Facebook is at targeting and personalization – personally at least once a week I’m seeing a native ad for something that is so specific to what I like, what I’ve been looking at. I know I’m being advertised to, but I can’t help myself and actually appreciate the level of personalization. If we think about how we as consumers behave today – no one likes to be sold, but we love to buy. Personalization – aka serving up the right offer at the right time is big part of that.
9. How do you prepare for an AI-Centric world?
AI is really such a broad and misunderstood topic. There are so many levels to AI – from machine learning, to natural language processing, to customer sentiment analysis and on and on.
The reality of AI is that you need a pretty large data set to really make it work and there are so many ways that companies can take it, it’s easy to spread yourself too thin.
Our focus has really been to focus on core areas of AI (like natural language processing) and really invest in that area. Get good at that, get the processes in place and then move on to the next.
10. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent time?
Our big focus is really on APIs and building out our library of NLP intents. We are working with a lot of other Fintech vendors to connect our solutions, so it provides a seamless member experience as well as operational efficiency for the credit unions. An example of that is working with live chat and video chat. A member starts in chatbot and needs agent support. One of the biggest frustrations from a consumer perspective is having to switch channels and start over. So we have APIs that allow a member to start in chatbot, switch to live chat without ever leaving the chatbot interface, but more importantly the agent receives the members search history and is able to pick up the conversation seamlessly, without ever leaving the tool they already work in. Then that information is captured and stored in the CRM, so the next time that member is in the branch or on the phone, there is a history of the conversation. That is just one use case, but there are endless examples of how leveraging open APIs and AI can help both the member experience, as well as the operational efficiency of credit unions.
11. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
We are not a big company (about 60 people), but really have a great team across the company and a lot of collaboration. I work with a lot of the different departments – customer success, sales, marketing, product and development. We all support each other in terms of sharing what we are hearing and learning. The challenge, like it is for most companies, is understanding the real issues and opportunities vs. just one-off requests that are not universal challenges or opportunities for all of our customers. Our team is passionate and want to help our customers, so sometimes those can be tough to filter out.
12. What movie inspires you the most?
I used to be a big movie person, but the older I get, the less time I have to watch movies, so I’m going to have to dig into the way back machine. My favorite movie of all time is Good Will Hunting. I’m a big underdog guy, so love the underdog aspect, the struggle to step outside of his comfort zone and the realness of it all. I realize not many people are geniuses, but I think it does a great job of telling the story of how easy it is for all us to stay in our comfort zones and take the easy way out. But when you do that, you miss the real opportunities.
13. We have heard that you have a very joyful work culture, so can you share with us some of the fun pictures of your workplace?
We do have a good work culture and it’s something that we really try and focus on. We have a fun committee that gets both the resource and budget support to plan fun activities. We recently (before COVID-19) did a murder mystery dinner, and we do monthly team activities that the fun committee plans – things like company potluck lunch competitions, bringing in food trucks, gym days etc. We also have a philanthropic committee where we do monthly sponsorships of local organizations. So we allow employees to volunteer, we do company sponsored charity drives (last month it was a challenge to see which department could donate the most peanut butter and jelly that we gave to the local food pantry). The company matches all donations. We also sponsor a local women’s shelter and had employees go and paint and fix up different rooms. Currently, the company has sponsored a family at a local women’s shelter and each department is given a budget and wish list so we get to shop for what this one family needs. It is really great to work for a company that has a bigger mission than just profits.
Our company page has some great pictures – https://silvercloudinc.com/company/
14. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
The apps I use the most… currently with the COVID-19 its Seesaw. Seesaw is how the school communicates and assigns work for my youngest daughter. But I also use the Twitter, LinkedIn, Audible and podcast app. I consume a lot of content and those are my four favorite ways to consume content – my areas of focus are technology, inspriration and sports. I try not to focus on the news as its too depressing and divisive. I recently downloaded the Dark Sky weather app, which is really good.