Robotic Process Automation in the Back Office – Where Might it Lead?

Artificial IntelligenceEvery day, in every industry, we hear about robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) — what they mean for the world as we know it and how society, industry, and humankind will all benefit. We’ve heard plenty about the potential pitfalls, the doom and gloom, the end of human ingenuity as we know it; all as technology leaders like Elon Musk and Bill Gates tell us how robots and AI will replace human beings at work.

In the industry and market space in which I spend the better portion of my days, I think about what RPA will really mean for financial services. In every meeting and product evaluation I attend, technologists talk about RPA initiatives. My question is, how far can fund administration take RPA?

Let’s start with a brief definition to set the stage. RPA is the use of software with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans. This can be as simple as software that identifies an error, runs analysis on that error, and then has the intelligence to correct that error with no human interaction. This type of automation can be extremely useful in many industries, including fund administration.

In the fund administration space, RPA has the potential to reduce reporting cycles from months to days, allowing investors to see and analyze trends more quickly, and for investment decisions to be made based on complex calculations and trends. Fund administrators see RPA as a way to streamline accounting and valuation operations as they onboard larger volumes of fund clients. Deloitte believes it is a route to better service, fewer errors, increased auditability, greater efficiency, and lower costs. It allows for a 24/7 workforce that is automated in any number of functions.

The old ways of relying on Excel sheets and macros are being replaced by more sophisticated tools. And with those new tools, functions like dashboarding, workflow, and proactive monitoring of systems and processes are becoming critical aspects of technology infrastructures. In addition, in many cases, these ‘new’ tools have to interact with legacy systems, which isn’t always possible. It results in human interaction to extract, format, shape, and distribute the data in a way that a downstream system can consume. RPA is being used to automate this process and do so in a more efficient, controlled, and less manually-intensive manner. In a very simple example, RPA bots can replicate human actions like opening files, inputting data, and copy-pasting fields, but in an entirely automated way.

RPA and AI will continue to grow as they provide the next logical step to further reduce costs. The move to outsourcing among administrators has hit a plateau. To further drive down their massive overhead, they will look at machine learning and automation to do tasks that once required people – such as making decisions as well as conducting and completing processes more efficiently.

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Some of the benefits RPA provides, especially as it relates to the repeatable tasks we see in fund administration both on- and off-shore, include:

  1. Increased efficiency and reduction of errors, which provides greater accuracy, and thus increased customer satisfaction.
  2. Ability for staff to focus on higher value-add activities and eliminate manual and low-value activities and overhead.
  3. More real-time data evaluation and analysis, which leads to cleaner and more complete data sets.

As the volume of unstructured data continues to grow, the need to quickly assimilate and analyze data, identify trends, and make decisions also grows. As technology, and more specifically RPA, becomes a more vital part of administrators’ service offerings, the ability to automate functions such as system health checks, and issue identification and prediction prior to data delivery will become a reality. All of this serves to create a stronger, more valuable workforce to service clients, and to do so with greater detail, more information, and increased capabilities that ultimately strengthen relationships.

So how far can it go? Does the personal touch of human interaction still play a key role in the client-administrator relationship? That dynamic continues to evolve. The client-administrator relationship is more than just portal access and immediate information. It is also one built over the years on trust that won’t necessarily be eliminated. Instead, it becomes better supported and even longer-lasting by what automation and RPA have to offer.

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