As banks become more comfortable with the relying on software robots to replicate the actions of a human interacting with machines 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 accruals and managing and clearing payments. Human resources and administrative functions is also an area where robotics can be deployed. 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 when workloads get large, said Alastair Bathgate, CEO 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.
“When used to help with large or temporary workloads, [robotics] can reduce costs,” since additional temporary employees wouldn’t need to be hired for that period, he said.
Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International AG is among the first to work with Accenture and Blue Prism to automate various business functions. Additionally, it is 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.
The bank started out with four pilots implementing robotic process automation in tasks that had “low-to-medium complexity; rule-based processes with a logical order of steps, repetitive process patterns with clearly defined process options,” said Markus Stanek, head of group efficiency management at the bank.
With the center, Raiffeisen will experiment with how to implement robotics in in a whole host of banking functions.
“RPA allows us to introduce automation where expensive and heavy IT solutions do not pay off,” Stanek said. “RPA as a tool and as we understand it, is to be deployed like a surgical intervention, automating specific process steps…given the speed of implementation it should allow us to start thinking and implementing automation in a couple of weeks rather than months.”
Of course, the technology also has potential uses for consumer facing functions, not just back-office automation and staff efficiency. 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 enhance and improve customer relationship management for banks, said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research.
Think of a human financial adviser, said Schwanhausser, after a major event that affects the stock market (such as Brexit). The adviser may have 30 clients to call who have questions about how this affects their portfolio, a major task for one person. But using robotics, the adviser could send a message tailored to each individual client telling them how the event affects their portfolio, along with a “click to call” button if they do want to talk to the adviser more in depth.
Similar ideas can be used to enhance personal budgeting and financial management tools for customers, Schwanhausser said. For example, when logging onto mobile banking, a customer can view personalized information on how they are doing achieving their financial goals with customized insights into spending and saving habits.
“Maybe [robotics] could even take your financial information and boil it into a useful infographic,” he said. “It can provide very personalized service that can be delivered without interacting with a human.”
But, like Accenture’s McIntyre, Schwanhausser believes this doesn’t mean the human element will be removed from banking, but rather deployed in smarter ways.
“It is a move to automation, but it’s a move to automation that complements the human element,” he 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.