Let’s talk automation

Nina Muhleisen | 26 April 2017


We are living in an automated world and we love it. Automated windows, automatic doors, wipers, taps and soap dispensers and thermomixes to name only a few. These things are taking the repetitive tasks out of our day and enabling us to focus on the things that add value to our lives.

This expectation of automation, simplicity and increasing value is also changing the way we want to interact with our services and products. We want it in one click, in one phone call, in one interaction and finance is no exception. Similar with many industries, the difficulty that finance faces are we are usually well-established organizations, with a multitude of different systems built up over time which complicates the necessary straight-through processing to deliver quick and easy delivery of products and services.

Automation provides a tactical and affordable solution. Providing the illusion of a digital process, it is able to ingest information and/or data provided by the customer and transpose this into core systems. Automating tasks that were previously manual, time-consuming and therefore error-prone.

This provides a multitude of benefits to our customers and therefore our business.

Automation ensures every action is performed identically and therefore we are able to increase the quality and the consistency of outputs ensuring that we are reducing the variation of our service delivery to customers.

Automation saves time, as they are able to process requests faster than when manually completed. Increasing the volume of requests that can be delivered in the same time period.

Automation enables greater value add activities, by reducing the number of tasks an employee is required to complete therefore enabling them to work on greater value add activities

Automation reduces turnaround time for our customers, by processing faster, reducing errors, rework and focusing our people on further value add activities we are able to process a higher quality service outcome at a faster pace for our customers.

Before we begin we need to remember that just because you can automate doesn’t mean you should.

We had one process whereby we automatically populated a PDF smart-form with customer details. The form was then printed, the customer signed a copy, and it was sent off for processing. We were trying to automatically scan all the customer information that had been printed onto the form, and we were asked to help improve the accuracy. The question had to be asked – we’d already captured the customer’s details once, why didn’t we keep those details stored, and then when we receive the validated signature we just cross-reference the two? 100% data consistency

Automation is only one tool in the process re-engineering tool kit. Some tools, like Automation, make waves and look very attractive for any number of reasons, but simply because it appears to be an attractive option with a lot of buzz around it, doesn’t make it a silver bullet.

Identifying Opportunities for Automation

Before you automate ask: are your processes standardized? If so you will be able to implement automation across functions.

Ask are your processes simplified? Therefore that you are not automating processes that should not exist and do not add value.

Ask what is the best way for our customers to interact with us? Good customer service demands that you don’t lose valuable face to face interactions.


You also need to understand your risk appetite, what are you willing to automate? Automation is often viewed as the big-ticket item “we can reduce 50% of our workforce through automating our processes”. Well, this may be true you will need to be mature in your organizational process hierarchy and standardisation to support this approach. Knowing and understanding what similar processes are completed across the organization and developing a consistent format that can then update the individual systems is the key to success here – although you will need to be prepared to handle the exceptions since automatons don’t learn.

In reality, it is easier and far less risky to automate singular processes, which still have a benefit but lack the big bang often associated with the idealized image of Automation.

A good example of a process that can be easily automated would be processing customer requests for a point-of-sale terminal. Merchants running convenience stores, restaurants or coffee shops need to submit their details to provide a point-of-sale terminal – a portable device for charging credit cards for those of you, not in banking. Strategically, we deployed a platform to capture this information that some of you may already be familiar with – Adobe Experience Manager. You can build beautiful forms that capture rich, validated data from our customers.

But, and a big but, what do you do with this data once it’s been acquired?

A strategic fix would link it directly into core systems and have the form processed without the need for anyone to touch it – straight through processing or STP, the holy grail. However, this would take a lot of time, money, and would have its own set of organisational overheads and challenges like steering committees & funding drives.

We were able to build automation for that process over the space of a couple of months that takes the data the customer provides, validates it, and then does all the actions of an operator who would typically do this process manually. We were able to repoint half of the team onto other value add activities with a couple of months’ worth of effort from one developer.

Ensuring successful programs

Once you start identifying opportunities to automate you will soon have a pipeline of work greater than your team can handle. Prioritization is therefore critical – what are the key processes that will make a difference to our customers, our people and then our business? Which of these processes have the ability to be used across multiple different teams? What people/ teams have the best skills to deliver the required automation? Having a visible and prioritized list will help you implement the most valuable initiatives, with the best-skilled resources for the task.

Finally, governance is key, especially if you have automation being built across different business units and/or geographic locations. You must ensure that there is a standard to coding, this will help with the quality of your automations, reducing failures or bugs. And that you have all automations documented and logged so you can track, manage and maintain them not just at launch but on an ongoing basis. Whilst automation decrease your manual error risk they will increase the complexity of your technology and therefore need to be well managed.

As a tool, properly managed and correctly deployed, we know that automation will enhance the customer experience in the financial industry – our job as Change and Transformation agents is to have the insight to see where and how it can best deliver meaningful value to both the organization and its customers.


All thoughts are my own.