Proactive business leaders in the asset finance sector should assess the impact of robotic process automation (RPA) and its potential to revolutionise traditionally manual processes.
RPA involves the use of software to replace business tasks that are repeatable, effectively mimicking the employee, who can then be deployed on tasks that provide more value to a business.
Roles suitable for RPA might include gathering data from different sources or producing reports; replacing manual work with automated processes helps to manage business process complexity, increase efficiencies, and dramatically reduce costs.
One of the challenges of employees completing repetitive, often mundane tasks is that workflow can slow down and mistakes can occur, but an effective electronic process can consistently manage almost unlimited levels of workload, producing a consistent, reliable outcome.
According to Deloitte research, the fully-loaded operating cost of a software robot is consistently and significantly less than the onshore or even offshore labour cost that it is displacing.
For example, after applying robotic process automation to 14 core processes, a business process outsourcing provider achieved 30% cost savings per process, while improving service quality and accuracy.
An additional major benefit for CIOs is the impact automation can have on making current technology more efficient, offering an effective, lower-cost alternative to major technology upgrades.
For companies that are managing the challenges of differing legacy systems, particularly after mergers or takeovers, RPA can provide benefits in the short-term to overcome the manual process work-arounds that often occur in this environment.
According to Deloitte, entire end-to-end processes can be performed by software robots with very little human interaction, typically to manage exceptions. It says RPA can be used to automate processes that are:
- Prone to error
- Rules based
- Involve digital data
- Time critical and seasonal
Research by Deloitte found that around 22% of companies have piloted or fully-implemented RPA.
After introduction, companies typically said that RPA meets or exceeds their expectations in terms of financial benefits, and reality tends to outperform expectations even further with non-financial benefits.
This is a view shared by Saleha Anwar, lead business consultant at GFT, a financial services consultancy.
Anwar said that RPA effectively “takes the robot out of the human” by allowing employees to focus on more complex, individual tasks, such as responding to exception reports.
GFT says some of the processes within financial services that may benefit from RPA may include:
- Client on-boarding (Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML)
- Performing data enrichment
- Reviewing transaction data
- Adding new securities to systems
- Resolving books and record breaks
Anwar said: “A key question to address is ‘why we use RPA rather than simply implementing new systems?’.
“The challenge is often that technology cannot be adopted at the speed which the business requires to meet its needs; people are used to bridge the gap between technology and processes by applying business rules.
“This is where the benefits of RPA come into play, by using a ‘virtual workforce’ empowered by software robots that allow enterprise organisations to automate mundane and repetitive tasks.”
RPA can utilise the existing software platforms that have already been rolled out to users - platforms that have been tested, validated and integrated into the existing processes of the organisation.
This approach also ensures adherence to the compliance and governance requirements of IT without undergoing the extensive analysis and testing required for new systems.
David McMahon, associate partner at Citihub Consulting, echoes this view. He said a key area of growth is the collection, validation and storage of documentary evidence for KYC, AML and Foreign Account Tax Compliance.
He added: “Through the introduction of key performance controls, RPA implementations are beginning to provide improved onboarding service levels delivered with the accuracy and traceability required.”
The adoption of RPA is driving significant efficiencies in the asset finance sector - a notoriously manual and document-intensive industry, according to Will Edward, chief commercial officer for automation-as-a-service provider Autologyx.
However, he points out that RPA is a relatively basic level of automation that is limited to replacing manual processes.
To take automation a step further, RPA needs to be enhanced with intelligent systems, such as artificial intelligence, so that robots can make decisions, in addition to performing basic tasks.
Edward said: “Once efficiencies have been delivered and all manual tasks have been automated, RPA’s ability to take financial organisations any further is limited.
“Financial organisations that are looking to innovate are increasingly adopting process automation, which can deal with multiple tasks in a non-sequential way - mirroring how business is conducted on a day-to-day basis.
“Many people think a process is sequential, but it’s not - and this is perhaps where RPA’s application is limited in regard to business transformation.
“Whilst RPA is undoubtedly driving significant efficiencies, business directors need to be mindful of thinking RPA is a panacea for improving the way they do business - it is an efficiency tool to eliminate or reduce manual tasks.
“If businesses want to innovate, they need to think beyond RPA.”
Anwar agreed, adding: “If the process is: ambiguous, unstructured, not rules-based, has high exception rates and complexity, or if there are large amounts of data, then artificial intelligence can be employed as this can manage greater variability.
“AI can improve over time, since AI robots have the ability to ‘self-learn’ whereas RPA capabilities are limited.”
So-called Cognitive RPA requires the largest investment of time and money, but it simultaneously has the greatest potential to transform.
Text recognition expert ABBYY says industries such as asset finance will benefit most from ‘cognitive automation’, as they have a high quantity of available data, are highly regulated and strive for continuous improvement.
Eddie Watson, operations director at Cortex Intelligent Automation, added: “The real challenge for financial organisations is addressing processes which are made up of more intangible aspects than just the task itself.
“Typically, these gaps would be filled with compensatory tasks supported by armies of spreadsheets; they require analysis and decision-driven actions that belong to the world of intelligent systems. For instance, using machine intelligence to generate insights that are hard for humans to spot.
“Although we are not there yet, it’s something that will increase as the traditional RPA market moves towards more intelligent solutions."
Benefits of Robotic Process Automation
Beyond cost efficiency, the non-financial benefits of robotic process automation include:
- Decreased cycle times and improved throughput: Software robots are designed to perform tasks faster than a person and do not require sleep, making 24/7 operations possible.
- Flexibility and scalability: Once a process has been defined as a series of instructions that a software robot can execute, it can be scheduled for a particular time, and as many robots as required can be quickly deployed to perform it. Additionally, robots can be easily reassigned when more important processes arise, since each robot is typically capable of performing many types of processes.
- Improved accuracy: Robots are programmed to follow rules and don’t make typing errors. However, because the robot only does exactly what you tell it, it won’t apply intuition to problems and anomalies that a human would.
- Strategic deployment of resources: The tasks and processes suitable for automation are typically the most onerous and least enjoyed by employees. Employees relieved of these activities can be refocused on higher-value activities that are often more rewarding.
- Detailed data capture: The tasks performed by a software robot can be monitored and recorded at every step, producing valuable data and an audit trail that can support further process improvement efforts and also help with regulatory compliance.