Financial Services Companies Need to Embrace the Digital Workforce

Traditional financial services organizations have had to ante up their efforts to remain competitive, finding ways to satisfy both digitally-savvy consumers and to keep pace with non-traditional banks. Banks and lenders have made great achievements in offering products and services that make life easier for customers (such as online banking, remote check deposit and mortgage lending apps). Technology is moving at breakneck speed, and organizations are now integrating AI-enabling technologies for applications ranging from financial spreading and predicting fraudulent activity to intelligent chatbots — applications that also make life easier for staff. The adoption of AI and human-machine collaboration is expected to enhance the customer experience, improve operations and, according to Accenture, boost revenues by 38 percent by 2022.

Banks and lenders are looking to digital workers (robots) to reshape their workforce and do more of the heavy lifting to enable human staff to focus on more complex and value-added functions. The following are top reasons financial services organizations need to embrace the new digital workforce.

1. Digital workers augment staff

At the core of the digital worker technology is robotic process automation (RPA) which automates manual, repetitive and structured tasks with software robots. These digital workers augment regular staff, who possess human strengths such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Alternatively, digital workers can incorporate new skills that represent computational strengths such as machine learning, statistical correlation, rapid search, content analysis and repetitive task execution. 

One skill robots contribute is the ability to interact with applications, extracting and inputting data for the purpose of automating rules-driven transactions. Digital workers can also be enabled with additional skills like identifying a document or image and reading the text. These digital workers satisfy staff’s expectations in the new digital age. According to a research study commissioned by ABBYY, employees want robots to do their most-hated work tasks like data entry, tracking time, reviewing long documents, electronic filing and processing documents such as payroll and invoices.

An example is when a leading French bank digitized the processing of all credit applications. This process involved tens of thousands of credit records containing documents related to investigations, loan applications, insurance reports and property purchases and sales, which amounted to more than five million pages per year. Automating the manual, repetitive processing tasks for staff improved work efficiency and augmented the team’s performance, which also contributed significantly to improving customer service at the bank. 

2. Content continues to create significant business challenges

Massive amounts of data will remain a constant in financial services organizations. Likewise, customers continue to demand timely engagement that is accelerated with digital capabilities. In fact, customers have come to expect it. According to a PwC survey, customers expect a digital experience from financial services providers. Just think about all the processes involving engagement and content that are now enabled digitally. Opening a new account, applying for a loan and filing a claim are examples, to name a few.

One leading financial services group in Asia optimized its mobile app capabilities by enabling users to apply for loans on the go. It was beneficial to both its users and employees since it accelerated and simplified the loan application process. Beyond the convenience of applying for loans on the go, its main goal was to relieve customers of the tedious task of manually inserting personal data into application forms. Customers now only have to snap a set of photos as guided by the app — such as their ID and paystub — and the app auto-populates the required fields. The entire process takes only three simple steps that can be completed in less than seven minutes.

Staff, too, are expecting digital automation for tracking logistics and shipping, processing and paying invoices, receiving purchase orders, reviewing contracts and responding to customer inquiries. These content-heavy processes use a combination of platforms (BPM, ECM, ERP and RPA) and require streamlined operations to be more cost effective and compliant. They require an advanced intelligence level, or content IQ, for structured and unstructured content use cases that empower the new digital workforce to understand and process content everywhere. This is where cognitive skills for understanding content consisting of classification, extraction and learning capabilities enable digital workers to tightly integrate into automation platforms and support transaction-oriented processes.

3. Digital workers are a step toward artificial intelligence (AI)

Analysts estimate that AI will save the banking industry $1 trillion and shave 22 percent off costs by 2030. The term AI has become an umbrella term to describe anything from automating simple tasks to handling complex thinking assignments and decision-making. In financial services, digital workers can be the backbone of delivering AI capabilities in the form of advanced cognitive skills. Digital workers with advanced cognitive skills use technology like OCR, machine learning and NLP in combination with RPA to enable understanding and liberate meaning from data trapped in documents. They also automate tasks involving decisions, judgment or problem solving, essentially mimicking human intelligence. Content IQ at this level analyzes and understands text and can be an assistant to an employee and/or customer.

At the front of the office, this technology can look like chatbots, voice assistants and authentication and biometrics. In the mid-office, this can include anti-fraud and risk assessment, know your customer (KYC), anti-money laundering (AML) and steering through complex legal documents and compliance workflows. In the back office, AI applications can include uses in credit underwriting, alternative data in trading and asset management, risk underwriting and smart contracts infrastructure.

Bank of America, for example, introduced its virtual assistant, Erica, to its 26 million mobile banking customers. Using voice commands or touch, Bank of America customers can instruct Erica to give account balances, transfer money, send money via Zelle and schedule meetings with real representatives at branches. Erica is being positioned as an AI-driven virtual financial assistant that helps clients tackle more complex tasks and provides personalized, proactive guidance. Bank of America claims, for example, that Erica has helped customers save a significant amount of money when it has alerted them of unwanted subscription charges.

4. Easier to introduce digital workers to staff

The deployment of AI-enabling technologies is no longer reserved for the IT department. The more common users and supervisors of the digital workforce are staff in specific business units and Centers of Excellence who are looking for a self-service model that provides a quick ROI for simple point solutions. 

Financial services organizations can now easily attain a digital workforce directly from the RPA ecosystem. There are many RPA vendors and emerging ISV partners that specialize in deploying digital workers as point solutions as well as throughout the enterprise. Some vendors such as Blue Prism and UiPath have introduced digital marketplaces where the use of RPA and the digital workers being deployed can be made more intelligent by applying pre-built AI skills that can be downloaded and applied to a digital worker. 

But the advantage of digital workers that financial organizations will benefit most from is their extensibility — they are able to build and deploy robots for many content-centric processes across the entire organization.

Computer Services Inc. (CSI) polled over 200 bankers on their priorities for 2019. They noted five key areas critical to their organizations’ success: customer acquisition, digital banking, cybersecurity, regulatory compliance and lending. Each area demands better understanding of the client base and content they own within their systems to be intentional in how to market products and services. To gain this content IQ, financial services organizations need to embrace and enable the new digital workforce with the necessary skills and understanding to make intelligent business decisions.   

While the days of customers relying on personal bankers to help with day-to-day transactions are fading, and technology improves and machines become smarter, faster and cheaper, a new era of a combined human and digital workforce has begun. A smarter digital workforce will make room for the adoption of new technologies that will drive the creation of new products and services, and therefore elevate staff to higher-value work. It’s imperative for financial institutions to not be at a standstill and to continue their digital transformation journey with a digital workforce.   

Bruce Orcutt is the vice president of product marketing and management at ABBYY.