Orange CEO Stéphane Richard took to the stage at yesterday's Hello show to try and underline more than ever that the telco was looking beyond telecoms in its ambition to provide services as a digital, user-focused company.

In a keynote at the annual tech-heavy event in Paris, Orange’s CEO stressed the company’s ambition to “put users at the core of systems”.

The headline announcement was the launch of Orange Bank, which Richard said is the result of “digital experts thinking about banking, not banking experts thinking about digital solutions”.

Richard said the banking sector's digital transformation hasn’t started in earnest yet. Thus far, banking has limited itself to moving their physical branches online and forays into mobile.

Orange's own mobile banking service will launch in France (for now) on 6 July, with the offering including a current account, a debit card, overdraft protection and a savings account.

Additional products, such as credit, mortgages and insurance will be added later, while contactless mobile payments, “instant” balances, the ability to send money by SMS and an AI-based virtual assistant are included.

The virtual adviser, built with IBM’s Watson big data engine, can respond to customer queries and offer advice.

Richard said it would even understand emotions through a keyword recognition system. However, customers can also speak to a physical customer service assistant within five minutes if they’d prefer.

“People are at the core,” Richard said. He claimed Orange would offer the first “learning bank”, which would respond to customer needs and develop its offering accordingly.

Bold ambitions from the Orange CEO included the credit card being reimagined as an extension of the app, with all management being conducted through a mobile phone. This can include, for example, being able to block or unblock a lost card with a single click.

The telco will look in the future at bundling or combining banking with its telecoms service, but has chosen to initally  focus on the basic launch.

After France, the priority markets are Spain and Belgium. However, Orange said this would probably not be before the second half of 2018.

“Orange is here to stay and is now a bank as well,” said Richard.

On the announcement, Kester Mann, Principal Analyst at CCS Insight, said the telco “should be applauded for stepping out of its comfort zone”.

He said the company, like fellow large telcos, has several attributes that could bring it success in financial services.

“These include billing relationships with millions of existing subscribers, established distribution and strong branding," he said.

Mann added the experience gained with Orange Money in Africa and the Middle East “should give it an advantage over rivals contemplating a similar move”.

However, he said Orange’s journey into banking “should be considered a long-term project".

“It will take time to garner wide-scale appeal and it is unlikely to deliver tangible financial payback for quite some time.”

Alongside the launch of Orange Bank, the telco aimed to cement its position in the Pay-TV market, with a string of announcements led by the launch of eSport.

Available in the fourth quarter of this year, the portal will be offered free with Orange TV. It will allow customers to access a variety of content including live sports as well as exclusive events and promotions.

It is offered across all channels, TVs, smartphones and tablets.

The Orange Network Recorder will also be expanded from Romania to countries such as Spain in the fourth quarter of 2017 and into France and Poland during 2018.

This allows customers to record TV and store it in the cloud to access from any device.

Orange also debuted the TV Stick, a new portable device that can be plugged into an HDMI port and controlled by a smartphone via Wi-Fi or by a small remote control.

Gervais Pellissier, Deputy CEO of European Ops at Orange SA, said the company wanted to use its existing relationship with customers to “enrich more and more services for the public.

“The key is connectivity and security, but if you take [Orange Bank], it is based on connectivity and security.”

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