Long reads

8 Ways Intelligent Automation Will Transform Financial Firms in 2021

Liz Benson

Liz Benson

Senior Director, Strategy , Kofax

Disruption was the key theme for 2020 across all sectors. But even before COVID-19, financial firms were focused on improving the customer experience, competing with new digital-only entrants, and closing the gap between front and back offices. The pandemic only accelerated their digital transformation plans by forcing them to rethink how, and where, financial transactions take place.

 Now that it’s 2021, what’ll emerge as the year’s main theme for financial services? Certainly, remote work and virtual business transactions are here to stay. Last year, financial firms leveraged advances in automation and artificial intelligence to reimagine organisational workflows. That trend is likely to continue. Further, we expect firms to scale and automate operations more broadly, taking advantage of key developments emerging on the horizon. Here are eight ways we believe intelligent automation will transform financial firms in the coming months.

1. From Individual Processes to Financial Workflow: In financial organisations, nothing killed employee motivation faster than the all-too-common task of monotonous, cut-and-paste data entry. With Robotic Process Automation (RPA), this task became a drudgery of the past. As a result, RPA caught on like wildfire in 2020. It made automating routine, mundane tasks fast and simple. But where does RPA go from here? It’s all about workflow. The new normal is accelerating the call for digital transformation—creating streamlined, frictionless experiences that delight customers and employees. To do this, financial companies increasingly are bridging their RPA expertise to higher-value initiatives—business workflow transformation. For savvy financial companies, 2021 is about harnessing their RPA automation expertise and leveraging it with complementary technologies like process orchestration and document intelligence to automate their mission-critical business workflows.

2. Digital Workers Become the Perfect Colleagues. Though people are working faster, harder and more efficiently than ever before, it’s still not enough in the highly competitive market for financial services. More to the point, it’s becoming tougher for traditional financial institutions to compete with new digitally focused entrants who aren’t bogged down by legacy systems and manually intensive processes. Enter the bots—long feared as replacing human workers. In 2021, digital workers will come to be more fully understood as the saviour of work-life balance.  As human productive capacity reaches its limit, employees increasingly will be provided with digital workforce support, increasing productive capacity while relieving humans of the dull, repetitive work keeping them in the office late at night and on weekends. Harnessing digital capacity at scale will drive the agility needed for competitive advantage in 2021. Digital capacity becomes the new differentiator.

3. High-Value Workflows Set Automation Priorities. Financial firms run on workflows—sequential tasks like customer onboarding, loan processing or document approvals—that are part of a complex business process. Workflows are a financial firm’s intellectual property—the DNA encoding how they do things smarter, faster, better, cheaper. But not all workflows are created equal. In 2021, financial companies will need to prioritise automations that’ll yield the most value, the soonest. Those are workflows whose ‘DNA’ has the following characteristics:

  • Document Intelligence: Workflows applying cognitive capture and artificial intelligence to unstructured data in order to automate and extract information and unlock data insights
  • Process Orchestration: Workflows involving orchestration of digital workflows in collaboration with users, systems and data
  • Connected Systems: Workflows involving multiple critical business systems—enterprise applications, legacy systems, mobile, chatbots and more—across internal and external business processes

4. ‘Citizen Developers’ Become the Drivers of Digital Transformation. As more intuitive intelligent automation platforms emerge, business-line leaders are becoming empowered to focus automation efforts to drive specific strategic business outcomes. In the past, IT largely drove automation efforts as technology initiatives. In 2021, business-line leaders will become ‘citizen developers’ and partner with IT in a federated model, harnessing intelligent automation to transform information-intensive financial workflows. Many organisations—in the financial sector and outside it—are excelling in the new normal through automations inspired by citizen developers partnering with IT. This new model creates agility, reduces technical debt and accelerates time-to-value. Financial firms seeking to accelerate their digital transformation efforts will emulate this model.

5. Virtual Collaboration Tools and Automation Platforms Transform the Workforce. Pre-COVID, organisations were obsessed with driving efficiency, collaboration and innovation through analogue strategies like smart office equipment and innovative office design. Remote work during the pandemic creates a new paradigm for the financial services workforce. Even after the pandemic recedes, many employees and customers will remain virtual. There’s now a premium on digital transformation as the vehicle for driving employee productivity and customer experience. Organisations mastering the digital landscape, from collaboration tools (Zoom, MS Teams, etc.) to automation tools (intelligent automation, financial process automation and enterprise output management) are thriving.  Financial companies stuck in analogue business models will fall farther behind. This trend will accelerate in 2021 and will continue even after offices open up again. Digital workflow transformation is here to stay.

6. Ecosystems Emerge to Fill Unique Requirements in Financial Firms. Integrated intelligent automation platforms were the preferred method for driving digital workflow transformation results in 2020. These one-stop-shop platforms with pre-integrated, complementary automation technologies provide all the capabilities and AI needed to automate quickly, drive rapid results and reduce technical debt. However, though platforms can automate 80 percent of operations, financial firms will always require customisations to automate processes unique to them. Ecosystems will emerge in 2021 as the go-to resource for filling that gap. Platform providers have developed vast networks of technologies, applications and services operating within their open, dynamic and integrated architectures – providing access to a network of services, pre-built connectors, templates and solutions. In 2021, financial organisations will increasingly rely on these ecosystems to buy the outcomes they desire, accelerating their ability to achieve desired automation results.

7. Financial Companies Will Learn to Surf a Tidal Wave of 5G Data. 5G is here and along with it, a massive wave of data. Learning to manage this wave will be a crucial undertaking for financial companies in 2021. 5G will enable them to transmit, collect and analyse exponentially more data than ever before to fuel business strategy and decision-making. Financial organisations with the capacity and ability to securely ingest this surge of data, digitize and transform it into business insights will be riding high. It all starts with having document and data intelligence technology necessary to convert unstructured data locked in 5G transmissions into structured data assets. Banks and financial institutions traditionally have relied on paper-based processes, which are riskier now that employees work from home. AI and Cognitive Capture will be key to achieving document/data classification, sentiment analysis and secure content extraction from key documents including customer communications, mortgage documents and loan applications. Organisations with data intelligence capabilities will be able to surf the 5G data wave and attain new heights of performance. Those unprepared will be inundated by a tsunami of unusable information.  

8. The Financial Sector Will Embrace Embedded AI. No longer the sole domain of data scientists within large organisations, AI use in 2021 will spread throughout the financial sector. Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Intelligent Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and Image Recognition embedded in intelligent automation platforms will empower citizen developers in financial organisations to achieve digital workflow transformation, dramatically elevating productivity levels and accelerating work throughout the enterprise.

As these trends show, AI and intelligent automation will enable financial firms to become more efficient. With automation of the back office, financial companies will support mobile banking and online financial services, making them faster, more secure and less intrusive. Likewise, as digital workers handle routine work, financial employees will spend more time providing higher value services to customers. Harnessing digital workflow transformation at scale will drive the agility financial organisations need to create a stellar customer experience and competitive advantage in 2021.

Comments: (0)