In all industries, there are often many tasks that require the attention of employees but do not fully utilize their skills, such as archiving, entering data or replying to a routine email. Although these tasks are necessary for the day-to-day running of the business, they are often repetitive, time-consuming and ultimately an inefficient and costly use of human talent.
The introduction of intelligent automation, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI), has given organizations the tools to minimize these repetitive tasks and, thus, free up employees to make better use of their time towards more interesting, productive and valuable aspects of their work.
The major European banks have identified a wide range of operations and business processes in their automation opportunities, with major RPA and AI projects being implemented since 2017. Since then, banks have been able to automate a significant number of processes across the organization, leading to the drastic transformation of their functions. Some notable examples include:
- The complaints process - where applying natural language processing algorithms (NLP) in conjunction with machine learning classification techniques, robots read customer complaints received via email, identify language and emotion, evaluate the nature of the complaint and determine which complaints officer must take the case.
- Export of loan forms - Loans contain important information that must be archived for future use during their lifetime (credit), which means human labor to read, classify and archive this information. The use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), machine learning and NLP has been used to automatically scan loan documents, read content, extract and archive required data points.
After digitizing the simplest forms of customer interaction, how can banks make better use of the time freed up by their staff with smart automation, to improve the customer experience and ultimately create more value?
Service delivery is rapidly shifting from face-to-face experience within the branch to applications, electronic banking and call centers with customers being directed, as far as possible, to self-service channels such as call sorting and chatbots. This means that every case of human contact is an increasingly important opportunity to create value for the organization, which means that banks must make the most of these increasingly rare interactions.
Bank staff may need to further improve their skills in order to be better prepared to handle the more complex customer needs, for which personal rather than digital contact is often preferred or required. This becomes even more critical at a time when success in customer service operations is no longer based on the speed of managing their needs, but on achieving maximum value for both the customer and the bank.
As banking institutions leverage technology to improve their customer service, customers themselves have adopted the use of applications, web channels and other innovative services created by the digital strategy of banks. This was especially noticeable during the forced lockdown in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where customers had the opportunity to explore the range of digital options presented to them and therefore choose the bank that offered them the best service.
The fact that the banks started implementing this strategy before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, helped the industry significantly in dealing with the crisis. It also accelerated the changing culture of customers and gave impetus to the digitization of the vast majority of banking transactions.
As the challenges in the banking landscape increase, in a competitive market involving new banks and new entrants to the fintech sector, and despite the rapid development of artificial intelligence, robots will continue to face tasks that exceed their standards. For this reason, human experience and creativity will remain crucial to provide excellent customer service, in their constantly evolving requirements. Therefore, automation is what ultimately empowers human talent to create real value for business.
[by Antonis Iosisfakis, Director of the Audit Services Department and Head of Digital Security at EY Cyprus]