Banks are already experimenting with robotic process automation in areas like their compliance functions. But soon the technology could be used in nearly all aspects of running a bank.
As banks become more comfortable with relying on software robots to handle rote tasks, experts say they will be quick to deploy the technology companywide as a way to trim expenses and redirect employees to more crucial tasks.
"I think we're going to see it move from a few narrow functions to across the enterprise," said Alan McIntyre, the industry managing director for banking at Accenture. "It's going to become an indispensable technology for banks, rather than an interesting experiment."
This could include areas in finance departments that are heavily manual, such as managing and clearing payments. Human resources and administrative functions also could benefit. For example, robots could take over payroll and managing employee incentive programs.
And even if robots don't fully run these departments, they can be used to assist human employees during periods of heavy workloads, said Alastair Bathgate, chief executive and co-founder of Blue Prism, a robotic process automation firm, which has partnered with Accenture to help financial services and other industries implement robotics.
Austria's Raiffeisen Bank International AG is among the first to work with Accenture and Blue Prism to automate various business functions. It is also in the process of creating an in-house robotics center dedicated to experimenting with how the technology can be used in different functions at the bank.
Raiffeisen started out implementing robotic process automation - or RPA for short - in four pilots where the tasks had low-to-medium complexity; rule-based processes with a logical order of steps, and repetitive patterns with clearly defined process options, said Markus Stanek, head of group efficiency management at the bank.
RPA is a tool best deployed like a surgical intervention, automating specific process steps, he said. A project can be implemented in just a couple of weeks.
The technology also has potential uses for consumer-facing functions, not just back-office automation. The most notable use thus far has been so-called robo-advisers, which use simple, rules-based models to choose investment vehicles for an investor after that person inputs basic information about their risk tolerance and investing goals. But beyond robo-advisers and even more complicated wealth management services, the technology can be used to improve customer relationship management for banks, said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research.
After a major event that affects the stock market (such as Brexit), a financial adviser might have 30 clients with questions about how this affects their portfolio. Calling all 30 would be time-consuming for one person. But using robotics, the adviser could send a message tailored to each individual telling them how the event affects their portfolio, along with a "click to call" button if they do want to talk to the adviser, said Schwanhausser.
Similar ideas can be used to enhance personal budgeting and financial management tools, he said. For example, when logging onto mobile banking, a customer could view personalized information on their progress toward meeting their financial goals with insights into their spending and saving habits.
"It can provide very personalized service," without any human interaction, Schwanhausser said.
Neither Schwanhausser nor McIntyre believes the human element will be removed from banking - just deployed in smarter ways.
"It is a move to automation, but it's a move to automation that complements the human element," Schwanhausser said. "You may not want to talk to someone every time you have any financial question; [robotics] can provide you with a lot of daily information you wouldn't have thought to ask for to begin with. If it just represents an interaction that never would have happened anyway, then it's not a threat to any employee."
Regardless of how it plays out, Schwanhausser said, the move to using robotics in financial services has already passed the point of no return.
"What you are seeing now is the beginning stages of what is going to increasingly become the norm," he said.
This article was licensed through Dow Jones Direct.
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