Robotic process automation: A real boon for financial services organisations
Will Davenport looks back at software automation in 2019, its potential challenges and how to maximise the value from it for back office tasks.
2019 was a big year for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software. Analysts Gartner released their first ‘Magic Quadrant’ guide for RPA at the start of the year, revealing that this class of enterprise software is the fastest-growing application sub-segment it tracks, with year-on-year growth of more than 63% in 2018. According to one global study by Deloitte, having RPA will become “mandatory” in order to maintain competitive advantage, going forward.
And given that the research now estimates that global appetite for RPA solutions will reach $1.3 billion this year, it’s no surprise many large company chief information officers (CIOs) are looking at RPA’s potential. Indeed, some of the biggest adopters of RPA are banks and building societies.
Its growing popularity is down to the fact that RPA is a great tool for automating repetitive back office processes and so directly increases efficiency, accuracy and speed.
Even better, RPA allows financial services back office staff to focus on less mundane tasks and ones which are of greater value to the business. Financial services firms are under huge pressure, after all, and need to constantly evolve to provide the best customer experience to the users while simultaneously remaining competitive.
With massive competition from virtual banking solutions and entrants unencumbered by troublesome heritage IT, banks are also under immense pressure to boost efficiency and optimise resource allocation. Just to function, the average employee spends as much as 80% of their time on mundane, routine, repetitive administrative tasks — data entry, form filling, filing and archiving, checking compliance against policies and regulations, time spent searching for required information, answering general requests with generic responses, and so on.
This is necessary but time-consuming work, adding little by way of value to what really matters – customer interactions. At its worst, when unnecessary mistakes creep in, it can actually detract from the quality of the great customer experience (CX) brands are trying to achieve.
RPA helps here as it is ideal for managing any rule-based task, freeing human agents from routine, repetitive work so they can focus their energies elsewhere. Robots are also able to operate continuously around the clock, at high speeds, and with 100% accuracy. For example, where an application for a new product might have to undergo a series of statutory checks, with RPA this can be done so much quicker and more accurately.
99% accuracy in the handling of more than 8,000 fraud alerts a month
As a result, financial services firms of all sizes are adopting RPA to improve the efficiency, accuracy and timeliness of business processes and lower operational costs, as well as meet and exceed customer expectations at every point of contact.
That’s because banking actually offers a perfect example of an industry where complex and convoluted processes in the back office, often with a strong compliance element, have a direct bearing on the quality of the experience offered to the customer.
Carrying out background checks and following regulatory protocols when selling financial products are entirely necessary parts of the business of banking. But customers expect the process of setting up new accounts, applying for loans etc, to be as seamless and hassle-free as possible.
A good example of this in action is the case of an Italian bank that was struggling to meet service-level agreements (SLAs) under the sheer volume of calls it was receiving at its contact centre. 500 agents were handling around 650,000 calls a month, but spending too much time on follow-up activities after each call, mainly around logging job tickets and call details in relevant databases, as well as filing claim requests.
This was stretching resources to the limit and meant, for example, that operatives were finding it difficult to meet a five-minute response time target for fraud alerts. To ameliorate the situation, RPA was introduced which automated many of the manual post-call activities. In parallel, desktop automation tools were set up to guide agents through a complicated fraud alert process —and as a direct result, the contact centre now meets process SLAs 100% of the time, with average handling time of the wrap up phase reduced by 82% and 99% accuracy in the handling of more than 8,000 fraud alerts a month.
Understanding the challenges
Given how transformative a great RPA project can be, what are the roadblocks to RPA success? Employee resistance is often not as big as feared, as staff tend to recognise how much it can improve their work-life balance. Similarly, supposed disruption to operations during the implementation is also a bit of a chimera, as RPA takes the form of software designed to work on top of existing systems, so the majority of such risks are avoided.
That’s a key point, incidentally. RPA improves the efficiency of what you already work with, rather than trying to fundamentally change it. As Fabrizio Biscotti, research vice president at Gartner, has noted, “the ability to integrate legacy systems is the key driver for RPA projects as by using this technology, organisations can quickly accelerate their digital transformation initiatives while unlocking the value associated with past technology investments.”
Naturally, that is not to say adding RPA into your process mix is resistance-free. Deloitte says users report the most common settling-in issues centre around process standardisation and change management, but once a company reached implementation and beyond issues around system compatability and solution flexibility come to the fore.
What is the vision here?
In order to achieve excellence in automation, be clear about what you’re trying to do here. Realise that an element of orchestration may need to be tied in to the project to ensure you are directing the right work to the right resource – be it human or robotic. Define the roadmap to RPA as a process to fully understand how it impacts on and interacts with all other aspects of the business, with regular process reviews built-in.
It goes without saying you mustn’t neglect training, and you must maintain a regular assessment of methodologies, identification and promotion of best practices, and of course always be curious about how automation can be expanded into new areas of the business.
Through the levels of automation and improved accuracy RPA can offer, financial services brands can dramatically improve the customer experience and provide a faster, more seamless overall service. Summing up, RPA really is something worth investigating, in 2020 and beyond.
Will Davenport, director at Business Systems (UK) Ltd