Contracts, compliance, policies, bookkeeping - financial services has always been a sector burdened by administration and paperwork.
Even as the industry has moved from recording everything on paper to digital systems and face-to-face service to contact centres and online, the fundamentals have remained the same.
It might nowadays be via the click of a mouse or field entry into a database, but a huge chunk of financial service operations remain tangled in a complex web of repetitive, manual administrative tasks that consume labour hours and distract focus away from customer service.
But, where there is analogue inefficiency, technology finds a way to disrupt.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) reduces the burden on employees by letting intelligent software take over those tasks that don’t actually need the human touch. Whether it is for customer service representatives (CSRs) in the contact centre or back office staff, RPA runs and manages digital systems so the right information, the right platform, the right solution always presents itself as and when required.
RPA uses robots, or artificially intelligent software applications, to automate desktop processes and perform complex rule-based tasks.
What this means is that instead of a person having to navigate through several different programmes as they complete a task, looking up information from one and applying it in another, RPA robots will imitate the way a human would interact with the different processes.
They use cues from what happens as the person works to bring up the right application at the right time. Moreover, using rule-based algorithms - if X happens, then Y - robots can assist with decision-making processes, making recommendations that help tasks get completed faster with greater accuracy.
Whether it is in the contact centre, back office, IT support or compliance, RPA captures the spirit of ‘smart’ digital systems and applies it to achieving greater consistency and control over day to day business operations.
One of the key strengths of RPA is that it can integrate with virtually any business system. Any task that is completed on a digital system, you can assign a robot to do it.
With RPA your integration options can work with back office resources such as databases and web services, and can also work with front-end applications and desktop connections.
With back-end connectivity your automation is able to access databases or web services under the control of a process automation server.
On the front-end system there are a number of ways the automation can connect with desktop applications and other resources to complete the job. The automation has the ability to read and write data as well as capture events straight from the user interface, just as any employee would.
RPA recognises each element by its properties and technology family with its structure and hierarchy. Exactly where that element sits in the screen does not matter to the automation. The solution makes it simple to create automations within popular brand applications by establishing and updating connectors in products such as SAP and Salesforce CRMs.
Another way of connecting to desktop elements is via controlled user interface connectivity. This means its power can be enabled by hidden fields and controls customised by the application owner.
There are numerous ways that RPA solutions can integrate with your applications. The best implementation will depend on your organisation and the needs that the solution is going to address.
The case for RPA in financial services
Consider the example of a customer service representative handling calls that sell financial products to customers. CSRs may use up to six different applications in a single call. Although pressure is on to respond to queries and deliver fast and efficient service, this need to work across platforms inevitably creates a lag in handling times and creates room for errors.
Put simply, humans are not designed to juggle six different processes at once quickly and accurately. Robots are.
Financial service providers need to deliver high quality, fast, efficient service to customers. But at the same time, they operate in a data-heavy industry, with complex compliance demands and a need for immaculate record keeping. Any delay accessing the right information for each customer can affect the quality of service provided. Any errors in data entry or information provided can have implications for compliance.
Take the example of one global financial services corporation which handles over 100,000 calls per month from customers and brokers.
With calls relating to a wide range of products including annuities, life insurance and retirement plans, bosses became concerned that the challenge CSRs faced just handling and routing inquiries correctly was coming at the expense of providing ‘customer intimacy’. The company wanted to help agents focus on providing a more personal experience by easing the administrative burden involved in accessing the right information for each call and initiating all the various steps required. It turned to RPA.
Another example is a European bank which found that its virtual banking operations were creating a huge administrative workload for its back office team who had to process and record all the data that arose from every transaction. Manual systems were inefficient and taking up enormous amounts of time - about an hour per transaction.
The main issue was the fact that databases were having to be updated manually, including copying customer information to bank transaction forms. Errors were occurring, which would take up more time to resolve further down the line. Bank bosses wanted to automate the bulk of this work, and looked to RPA for the solution.
For financial services contact centre, RPA was set up to present accurate, relevant information to agents based on the context of each call, helping to make swift, accurate decisions that meet the needs of customers.
For example, if a customer calls to close an account, the robots prompt the agent to collect all the information that an asset retention specialist will need later. Each decision is based on analysis of all available data relating to the call, from historical customer information in the CRM to actions taken by the agent in the course of the conversation. Business rules are then applied to decide on the appropriate outcome.
During the pilot, agents using RPA were found to be 22% more accurate in the information they collected for the asset retention team than the control group using the existing system.
The European bank decided to implement RPA in its credit and loan approval process. Robots were deployed to mine and process loan and credit requests that come through the bank’s website and are initially stored in a dedicated database. The robots help agents identify new applications, and cross reference with previous applications in order to determine suitability for credit.
The use of RPA in such circumstances can reduce case handling time by up to 85%, meaning a job that took an hour is reduced to just 10 minutes. This frees up agents’ time to focus on upselling and customer service, while also reducing administrative errors.
In an industry where quality of service is increasingly the key point of competitive difference across all business sectors, financial service providers face a challenge marrying the demands of providing fast, convenient, efficient customer experiences with high levels of regulatory red tape, complex products and high data requirements.
Robotic Process Automation offers finance companies the chance to gain competitive advantage by squaring this circle. Used everywhere from the contact centre to the back office, the application of intelligent, rule-based automation to standard business processes not only eliminates the manual burden of administration, but improves standards of accuracy and efficiency.
Unlike people, robots can work around the clock, increasing throughput. They are designed to complete allocated tasks at four or five times the speed a person could, with ten times the efficiency and 100% accuracy. And with all of that support, your employees can focus on activities that add real value to your business.
Brent is a Workforce Process Optimisation Consultant at Business Systems (UK) Ltd and has been involved in the contact centre industry for over 20 years. To date Brent has worked with many customers, including Financial and the Public Sector, at various stages of their contact centre development to ensure they are maximising full potential as well as being fully compliant, robust and reliable. He is also responsible for providing all product training on Workforce Optimisation Contact Centre systems including Robotic Process Automation