From robotics process automation (RPA) to chatbots and virtual assistants and machine learning, the spectrum that makes up intelligent automation (IA) is starting to transform jobs, workforces and organizations in the financial services industry.

Our Financial Services (FS) People Innovation Forum, held quarterly in London, brings together executives from leading institutions to discuss the latest digital trends impacting the industry and provides an opportunity to brainstorm on innovation. The most recent forum held in May brought together dozens of senior HR leaders to explore the topic of ‘The Impact of Robotics and AI on the Workforce and Enterprise.’

Debraj Dutta, who leads our FS Robotics practice, talked through the range of robotics that is available and the potential applications.

In the back office, RPA is already impacting at scale through two key applications: 1) Assisting through integrated desktops and scripts (agent assistance guiding operations through day-to-day operations by consolidating data from multiple sources), and 2) Replacing with process automation (theuse of advanced software to replicate human activity. A virtual workforce providing easy, straight-through-processing).

Front-end automation is also starting to come into play with: Digital/virtual assistance (virtual agents with direct customer contact that builds competence through learning and observing), and cognitive computing solutions(systems that are able to provide decision intelligence and support through extensive data gathering and analysis).

There are also early applications of RPA and machine learning into HR services.Mel Lee, Accenture’s Senior Manager in FS T&O practice, talked through some processes in HR that could be automated. These are typically around high volume stable processes, such as hire or exit, to speed up service and lower cost to serve.  

Peter Cheese, co-host of the forum and Chief Executive for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, acknowledged that there was significant change landing in HR through robotics and highlighted three key ways: potential savings, organisational impacts and wider workforce impacts 

“IA brings great potential efficiency savings for the HR function, however, we need to consider to which processes the robots are applied,” he said. “The logical and repetitive processes get the most value from inclusion of robots.”

As for the organisational impacts of robotics, he emphasised culture (how do we manage a team made up of robots and humans); governance (what kind of controls need to be in place when robots are making decisions); and training (organisations need to be equipped with the knowledge to develop robotics while looking to re-train the existing workforce).

And while many are concerned with the wider workforce impacts of robotics (the loss of jobs of lower skilled workers), Peter Cheese reiterated that there is considerable opportunity to improve the types of jobs that people do by taking away the mundane and repetitive tasks and allowing people to focus on the higher value-add activities.

It was clear that many participants of the forum were feeling the changes already, while others were questioning whether this is a false dawn.

As FS leaders contemplate how to maximise the benefits of robotics, the critical point to consider is what will jobs look like for the human part of the workforce and what skills do we need to be equipping them. HR professionals should be leading this debate and design, not be passive recipients.

The next innovation forum will focus on ‘Cybersecurity: How to turn people from being your greatest security vulnerability into your strongest line of defence’ and will be held in London in September. For more information, please contact Carys Foster (carys.foster@accenture.com) and Jess Sturgeon (jessica.e.sturgeon@accenture.com).

To learn more, register to read our full report: “Intelligent Automation In Financial Services: An Unprecedented Opportunity for HR to Drive Digital Transformation

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