Does robotic process automation have a place in finance?

Does robotic process automation have a place in finance?
The technology is helping firms achieve faster, more accurate and more efficient processes

Elly Yates-Roberts |

Robotic process automation (RPA) may be a relatively young technology, but it’s already secured a firm foothold in the financial services industry. In the UK alone, 72% of banks, insurance firms and other financial institutions are using artificial intelligence (AI) technology, according to Microsoft’s report, ‘Accelerating competitive advantage with AI’. 

RPA is the rising star in that firmament: 44% of respondents in the Microsoft study said they are leveraging it in areas such as payroll processing and call centre operations. The technology is second only to predictive analytics and data interpretation systems as a key AI focus for financial firms, and it’s growing faster than any other AI application in the industry.

RPA’s attraction for financial services firms is manifold. For one thing, the technology enables vast reductions in security breaches caused by human error. According to IT security specialist Egress, in the first half of 2019 60% of reported personal data breaches across all industries were caused by human error such as sending data to the wrong recipient or in response to phishing attacks. Taking people out of the process can positively impact security while freeing those people to do tasks that create more value for customers. 

But the benefits go beyond simple efficiency and security enhancements. Many financial firms also have to work with multiple legacy IT systems that find it hard to communicate with each other. RPA can control and monitor the interfaces between those systems and processes, closing the gaps between them and enabling seamless transactions across them. In doing so, it can improve accuracy and efficiency – and reduce the potential for error to creep in – while helping firms to deliver the seamless experience their customers expect. As well as enabling more security, it helps ensure compliant operation by collating data from multiple systems and running validation checks to prepare it for detailed analysis.

Microsoft is leading the way with RPA, with a commitment foregrounded in products like Microsoft Power Automate (formerly known as Flow). RPA is included in Power Automate, enabling an end-to-end automation solution that spans AI, application programming interfaces and user interfaces (UI) on the Microsoft Power Platform.

“One of the biggest challenges organisations face is scaling and automating business processes – from digitising pen-and-paper processes, to automating complex processes that span legacy and modern applications,” said James Phillips, corporate vice president, Business Applications Group at Microsoft. “RPA has rapidly become a key technology to address many of these scenarios but generally requires a patchwork of automation services that need integration and management before the real work can get done.”

With Power Automate, Microsoft enables companies to simplify these end-to-end scenarios through a unified automation platform that can bridge the gap between API-based automation and UI-based automation. The latest addition to that platform is a preview of the UI flows RPA capability, which can be used to enable anyone to automate manual business processes across all the organisation’s on-premises and cloud apps and services.

“Creating a UI flow is a simple and familiar point-and-click, low-code experience that makes it easy for users to turn manual tasks into automated workflows by recording and playing back human-driven interaction with software systems that don’t support API automation,” explains Phillips. “Couple the capabilities of UI flows with Power Automate’s prebuilt connectors for more than 275 widely-used apps and services that support API automation, and you have an end-to-end automation platform capable of reinventing business processes for a wide range of workloads across industries.”

By eliminating the gaps that exist in manual, paper-based and multiple system processes, RPA is enabling companies across the financial services industry to optimise their operations and transform their business. “For example, let’s say you work for an insurance claims processing company, where clients fill out digital forms, paper forms, or communicate through email,” says Phillips. “The claim is processed on modern cloud services while staff also maintain cumbersome paper records and legacy applications. With Power Automate, this entire process can be automated. Digitised data from scanned paper forms is processed with AI that recognises forms, and old legacy systems can be automated with RPA – one platform that brings both worlds together seamlessly.” 

This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.

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