Innovation

How business process automation could make FIs more agile

  • Rather than taking away jobs, automation has the capability to increase job satisfaction and make things go faster for everybody involved.
  • The road to fully automated business processes is winding and long. However, firms that focus on employees' needs and deliver easy-to-use interfaces have a head start.
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How business process automation could make FIs more agile

55 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Commission on Technology, Automation and Economic Progress, declaring that rather than being a job-killer, automation “can be the ally of our prosperity if we will just look ahead.” Five decades later, data is strengthening his claim. Recent research by a leading low-code process automation provider, Bizagi, shows that far from fearing losing their jobs, employees welcome automation and AI. Around 70% of employees stated that they wished their company offered tools like digital bots and business process automation (BPA).

This is because AI-driven process automation can ease things for both the organization and its employees – especially if they choose the right partner. In 2021, Forrester’s report on digital process automation found Bizagi deeply rooted in highly regulated environments (think: banking), with its low-complexity UI strategy allowing more teams to work together to ensure compliance. Gustavo Gomez, the CEO of Bizagi, describes the company’s solution as an “end-to-end process layer that connects all different systems and silos together. This provides a unified experience, for both employees and the customers.”

While overhauling may look like the most straightforward solution to outsiders, within the financial industry, it is rarely an option. An overarching layer of process automation can help legacy systems developed in isolation stay connected and updated in real time. “You cannot ask these banks to throw away all existing legacy systems. That’s where they keep their core information! They’re good systems, they are scalable and reliable, but the problem is that they are too rigid,” Gomez said.

Balancing reliability and rigidity is difficult, and finding the right balance for your firm can look different depending on where you’re starting from.

Banks in focus

With an asset size of $205 million, Clear Lake Bank & Trust Company in Iowa approaches rigidity less as an issue of operations and more as a concern of strategy. “We were motivated to launch a BPA due to our strategic plan. The plan called for improved efficiencies and consistencies as well as reduced employee manual tasks. This would help our bank improve employee job satisfaction and allow employees to spend more time on banking and less on necessary but time-intensive tasks,” said COO Matt Ritter.

To achieve this, the firm partnered with Jack Henry’s jhaEnterprise Workflow, CRM solution, and Synapsys. Ritter adds that although the process started back in 2017, the involved parties don’t think “deployment” is ever complete. This is because the firm is developing new automated processes with these solutions on a monthly basis. That speaks to how well BPA adapts to changes and new products/workflows in comparison to legacy systems.

Since process automation can be an ongoing company-wide activity, there is merit to making your automation software friendly to non-developers. By focusing on low-code automation, Bizagi ensures that the barrier to entry to their products is very low, allowing even those with limited coding expertise to participate in automating business processes that depend on cross-functional teams and workflows.

Hence, to choose the right partner, FIs first have to look inward to examine the full breadth of employees’ needs, demands and expectations from such a technology before procurement can be settled. Moreover, the firm must also determine which employees need to be a part of the automation processes and interact with them daily. Knowing the answers to these questions simplifies the problem statement early in the process.

ConnectOne Bank, based in NJ/NY with $9 billion in assets, takes focusing on employees one step further. Earlier this year, the firm announced a partnership with Nymbus to begin a company-wide move towards the cloud, and CEO Frank Sorrentino ensures that the changes go much further. For example, the bank has hired Siya Vansia, a long-time employee at the bank, to be its chief brand and innovation officer. “[It’s] not a pure technology role, nor is it a pure operations role. It’s really a strategic role about what’s possible, what’s available in the marketplace, and how we can use such relationships,” said Sorrentino. 

Automating efficiency

Once the automation technology is chosen and is in place, businesses can ensure that they run smoothly whether their employees are in the office or working from home. Similarly, mapping out processes end-to-end helps teams identify areas of improvement and unexpected bottlenecks. With a bird’s eye view, end-to-end process automation can help eliminate excessive technological interventions and save companies and employees’ valuable time. Speaking of time, more than two-thirds of the workers surveyed by Bizagi said they were frustrated by the amount of repetitive manual work they have to do, which is another indicator of how automation can help improve efficiency from the bottom up.

Although dedicated attention can keep legacy systems humming, unforeseen events like pandemics have the power to bring things to a screeching halt. “When the pandemic hit, suddenly many people couldn’t pay back their loans. A customer of ours saw a 100-fold increase in requests to defer payments. We went and digitized the process very quickly, and they saw a 90% increase. The customer is called BKB, which is a German bank,” said Gomez, who thinks something similar is about to happen in the current market due to the interest rates going up. For banks, this means they have to prepare and establish a single layer of truth, before their legacy systems capitulate under increased demand and a lack of on-premises employees.

Since Bizagi operates globally, it encounters different compliance and regulatory challenges in every region. Interestingly, though, Gomez states that barring these differences, banks and FIs in Europe and America alike struggle with similar issues of rigidity, stagnancy and technical debt, in the face of rapid technological advancements. Furthermore, thanks to their big budgets, large FIs are often assumed to be more adept at resolving such technical hurdles, but according to Gomez, most of this money is spent on keeping the lights on. Hence, regardless of size, all FIs need to deliver a blazing fast customer experience with a much more restricted budget than before. In this context, low-code automation can get in quick and allow banks to get work done fast.

A year ago, Bizagi made the “conscious decision” to become cloud-only. This is because they found that the cloud allowed them to work a lot faster, allowing for off-premises deployments in the blink of an eye. Gomez reports that contrary to popular opinion, many banks in America are starting to embrace cloud-friendly architectures. To complement this speed, the company also works on deploying data governance frameworks that establish a single layer of truth, by obtaining and comparing data from disparate and isolated sources. Rather than taking on a huge data cleaning and governance task in the start, Bizagi “progressively cleans data”, which means the process model retrieves, compares, and updates data in real time to establish a single layer of trust for the concerned FI.

The company’s blend of low-code implementations with progressive data cleaning strategies allows it to offer a product that can empower FIs to save a big chunk of time and resources with few growing pains. For example, after an integration with the company, Citizens Bank was able to cut down its customer onboarding time by 85%, while also allowing its employees to answer questions in real time with a 360-degree view of customer data. In cases where banks don’t have the requisite architecture in place to kick off the integration, the company brings its partners to the table, allowing the FI to choose which one fits its needs best.

Gomez says that in his experience, far from fearing losing their jobs, employees are delighted to use an easy interface tailored to their needs. To achieve this, his company must tailor its approach for each client. As Gomez puts it: “You don’t do process automation to customers. You work together with them to digitize their processes and to create a new culture of agility. It’s a new way of working.” 

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