Thursday, May 09, 2019

The Real Benefit of Intelligent Automation

Fifty percent. That was the odds I gave myself when calling my health insurance firm regarding changing my date of birth. Fifty percent chance I could get this done in one phone call and a reasonable period of time.


Isn't that sad?

It did take 15 minutes to get the relatively simple task done. Making me wonder: shouldn't this be easier?

And easier is what me and my colleagues hunt for when we do process improvement projects at community financial institutions. Because there are a lot of complex, manual, outdated things happening in the bowels of your institution. Believe me.

In comes artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, chatbots. Mostly buzzwords to bankers. But it's growing on them. I recently attended a state bankers' convention where Fabio Sant'Anna of SRM delivered an interesting presentation on Intelligent Automation (see slides). 

One important slide was to distinguish some buzzwords and acronyms. RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, is a script or "bot" that executes repetitive tasks that are currently done by humans. Artificial Intelligence is the ability of a program to analyze data. To actually solve business problems. 

I'm sure readers can think of several use cases for their institutions. Balancing your card providers daily report to your core system? If it requires a checklist, you can automate it. Performing CIP diligence? Online banks already use automated processes. 

Think of the saved hours!

But let me tell you the real benefit of Intelligent Automation. The ability to deliver community banking services in the manner desired by your customers.

It's no secret that customers want more from their bankers. Efficient and accurate transaction processing is passé. Customers already voted with their smart phones and laptops on where they like to execute transactions.

But bankers have changed at a slower pace than customer demands. Much slower.

Take branch staffing for example. Survey after survey indicates that customers want branch bankers to help them solve more complicated problems, apply for loans, and assist them with financial tools that are available. Can your branch bankers do it? 

I'm skeptical, based on my experience. We still have efficient and accurate transaction processors. We skinnied branch staffing to achieve cost savings and improve profits. But we haven't translated less staff into more capable staff. Same skill set. Less people.

If you look at the support center expenses branches must absorb for operations, technology, compliance, etc. you would think that support functions also skinnied their ranks. Oh contraire. 

In 2013, when the median branch deposit size in our profitability outsourcing service peer group was $47.9 million, support center expenses were 1.12% of branch deposit balances. In 2018, when the median branch deposit size was $62.2 million, support center expenses were 1.02%. 

So you may think, "See! It went down! Economies of Scale!" 

But wait! In 2013, each branch had to absorb $536,000 of support center expenses per year. In 2018, each branch absorbed $632,000, an annual increase of 3.3%. Support functions got bigger!

And that, my readers, is why branches (and in most cases, lending functions) have been so slow to transform their capabilities to meet the modern customers' needs. We reduced branch staff to offset declining net interest margins and boost profitability. And we never reduced back office staff to invest in the collective abilities of branch staff.

Automating back office processes to reduce the resources needed to execute them can transform our workplace into what customers demand.

How long can we wait?

~ Jeff



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