As electronically driven workforces become a reality, employees ask themselves at what rate will their job sector be affected. Brickendon CEO Christopher Burke considers the future impact of automation on jobs in the financial sector and the areas where human input will still be essential.
The image of a robot sitting at your desk doing your job is both amusing and concerning at the same time, as is the constant flow of media articles claiming that robots are coming after your job. Only recently, a senior Bank of England economist warned that large swathes of the current labour force will disappear as AI takes over.
While the idea of a robot apocalypse is slightly far-fetched, there is no doubt that advances in technology are accelerating the process of replacing some functions with various forms of robotics and automation. This revolution, however, isn’t about removing humans from the workplace, but rather enabling organisations, financial or otherwise, to make the best use of their employees in areas that add value to their operations by delegating repetitive, routine tasks to machines.
In reality, this is nothing new. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and robots (bots) are already commonplace inside many financial institutions and work very effectively alongside humans to achieve a collective end goal. This does not mean, however, that the banks’ headquarters are full of large shiny metallic people.
RPA is the evolution of complex business rules, processes and decision matrices that have evolved within financial services over the past few years. From automating middle and back-end business and management processes, through to delivering
technical capabilities in support of end-users and customers, we are now moving towards software that has the ability to automatically run robots that mimic human actions via front-end User Interfaces
24-7, 365 days a year.
This doesn’t mean we’ll see a sudden seismic shift in the make-up of the financial service sector’s workforce. A team comprising solely of robots working round the clock without making mistakes or taking a break is unlikely in the near term. Instead, now that the potential benefits have been recognised, the adoption of RPA and new AI-related automatic processes, is expected to slowly increase.
Again though, there is no need for panic. Rather than eliminate jobs done by humans, this evolution is expected to require additional human input, at least in the short term. Decisions will need to be made as to exactly which processes robots can carry out, as not all activities will be appropriate for automation.
Ill-defined processes will generate not only inefficiency but also lead to mistakes, and the initial outlay in terms of financial cost and human time will need to be weighed up against the future benefits.
Questions about whether the input has a defined structure, the process is standardised, and whether it can be replicated in multiple geographical locations will need to be considered, along with the need for 24/7 support. After all, it is important to remember that robots only demonstrate intelligence, or in fact carry out any tasks, within defined parameters, usually set by a human. The day that a robot has evolved enough to operate outside such guidelines is not yet on the immediate horizon.
In a bank, there is an array of situations where RPA could be effectively used. Banking systems are full of processes. Whether it’s client onboarding, due diligence, or any other step in the process of running a bank, there is always information to gather, store, interpret, review and transfer in order for the business to continue operating effectively. Many of these processes require a series of actions that often take up a lot of manpower. Given that banks have tens of thousands of customers and clients, these processes are not only repetitive, but also extremely inefficient and costly.
The idea of handing these standardised, repeatable tasks over to robots is obviously attractive as it frees up individuals to carry out other higher-value tasks. In effect, the intention behind RPA implementation is to improve efficiency. The optimal outcome would be to utilise both robots and humans in the workforce, employing the humans in areas that add value to the firm’s operations and delegating the repetitive tasks to automated machines.
Even once the automation is set up and the robots are in action, the role of the human is not obsolete. Just as an employee requires a mentor or a boss, robots require support and supervision to ensure any issues which may impact the process – such as network failure, a bot crash due to error, or exceptions in the operations – can be dealt with.
Even functions of businesses – such as procurement, supply-chain management, accounting, customer service, HR and purchase-order issuing, which all involve manual, repetitive, standardised, rule-based tasks using structured data – could benefit. In IT, RPA can be embedded within support and management operations such as network monitoring, service-desk operations, and automated customer assistance. Typically, these operations are essential to keep organisations operating effectively, although they are often overlooked when it comes to funding because they do not necessarily generate revenue.
One last thing to consider is that robotics is not a panacea. It cannot be used to paper over the cracks of ill-defined or badly-created business or technology architecture, and without the correct planning, implementation and ongoing support, any automation is likely to fail.
So, while the media reports of a robot apocalypse are, without doubt, an exaggeration, there is definitely a shift taking place. After all, automating even just a few of the vast number of processes necessary to make a bank function would enable organisations to improve their operational efficiencies and reduce costs – and in the end, cost and efficiency are what matters most to businesses.
As already established, the robotic revolution won’t involve a takeover. In reality it will be a collaboration, with robots working alongside humans to achieve a combined goal efficiently and effectively, in turn improving profitability whilst reducing costs and manual errors. This is how we see the future – a collaborative robotic revolution.
Christopher Burke, Brickendon Consulting
CEO & 2018 The Telegraph’s Ones to Watch
Named as a preferred supplier for the UK government’s G Cloud-10 and Dos-3 digital platforms and 2018 finalist in DevOps Industry Awards, Brickendon Consulting delivers cutting-edge intel and solution to help financial institutions and bank increase their competitive edge in the following sectors: Strategy, Data, Risk & Regulatory, Digital and Quality.
Prior to joining the firm, Christopher worked with HSBC, Standard Bank Group, Crédit Agricole, RBC and UniCredit.