Automation Tools for Fintech Operations – Which Do You Need?

Luke Walker
April 2, 2021
6
minutes
"Fintech makes my life a lot easier."

It’s hardly a debatable statement when you stop to think about it.

Consider for a moment that you, the person who served your coffee this morning, and the bank which sent you a reminder of your monthly recurring transfer – you’ve all benefited from the simplicity and ease of financial transactions enabled by fintech. 

It’s so well-embedded in our daily lives, we fail even to notice. But the mental-chasm crossed is demonstrably massive – over 90% of Europeans are now interested in digital banking solutions.

But what about life on the fintech operator side? 

Few working in fintech would describe their professional lives as “a lot easier”. That’s because maintaining business operations in a fast-growing fintech business is really, really hard.

For some fintech companies, it’s the rat race of vicious market competition. For others, it’s a constant battle with regulatory compliance and “traditional” financial guidelines. Still more struggle with cybersecurity and maintaining the trust of their customers.

The list of operational risks facing fintech is daunting, and all of them correlate with potentially serious consequences. What’s worse: many fintech teams struggle with all of those things at the same time.

How do these teams get off of the hamster wheel?


The Potential for Automation in Fintech 

The golden mean of fintech lies between security and convenience – a difficult pairing to maintain in tandem.

To that aim, the recent boom in automation tools presents a huge opportunity for fintech operations to improve performance rapidly (added convenience), without compromising on quality, customer trust, or regulatory (increased security). 

Already, many fintechs have taken advantage of automation in their core processes, and as a result, have earned exponential decreases in cost, process turnaround time, and operational risk.

But not all automation is the same, and the exact application of automation varies from business to business, based on the individual requirements.

Choosing the right automation solution for your operations will depend on understanding the need, and knowing how you wish to address it. You might want to automate one or two tasks, an end-to-end operations processes, or maybe even automate your business decision-making.

No matter the process or function, there is an appropriate tool for it. The trick is knowing where to start. 

Whether you’re a fintech business leader, an IT engineer, or an operations manager in the middle, here’s an overview of automation options that might help you:

The “traditional” approach – bespoke automation

Building a bespoke automation system enables fintech operations processes to be fundamentally reconfigured. 

This is particularly interesting for fintech companies entering enterprise-level business operations, who have recognized that their processes and requirements are so unique that they warrant their own, bespoke system.

Successful bespoke automation projects start by designing the ideal process of the future, regardless of current constraints.

Instead of “how can this step be made easier?”, think “how do we shorten this process turnaround time from days to minutes?”. 

Once the future state of operations has been outlined, constraints (for example, regulatory compliance) can be reintroduced, checked, and validated within the new system framework. Fintech companies especially need to be careful to consider every potential constraint, which could present as possible problems for regulators, creditors, or customers. 

Then begins the work of product management and software engineering, which typically involves either in-house IT/engineering teams, external consulting, or both. Projects teams will conduct an extensive process of gathering requirements, prioritizing features, scoping, design interfaces – the same mandatory procedures of building your own software from scratch.

Project lead time, budget, rollout and onboarding time vary widely (from 6-18 months on average) depending on the scope of the automation project and IT/engineering team capacity.

For many fintech's (especially the earlier-stage ones), this type of automation will be both cost and time prohibitive. Thankfully, there are less resource-intensive approaches for those looking to go faster and cheaper.

Starting smaller – single step automation

In many fintech operations cases, it’s beneficial to automate singular application tasks, admin functions, or recurring process steps that involve exchanging data between systems.  

For this sort of automation, you might consider using an IPaaS (integration platform-as-a-service) like Tray.io, Integromat, Zapier, Automate.io, or similar.

With this sort of tool, you can quickly and affordably integrate two systems, in order to automate a task or step. For example:

  • Connecting a CRM to an email client to automate the updating of a banking customer record
  • Connecting your Help Desk software application to your team’s internal chat tool, to automate notification of new or modified vendor support requests

The scope of these examples might seem narrow. But depending on how repetitive the task is, or how prone it is to manual error, automating it can be extremely valuable.


Advanced automation – multi-step RPA click automation

RPA software lets automatic processing – or a “robot” – take over tasks in a digital system that would normally be performed by humans. It’s designed to reduce the burden of administrative tasks by removing the human involvement entirely. 

Fintech operations teams can definitely increase their productivity and efficiency by using RPA to augment their core processes - specifically, those processes that involve heavy data leverage, and less real-time human interaction. There are also risk-mitigation benefits and fewer errors committed via manual copy-pasting, etc.

RPA is a fantastic substitute for certain human actions, however not all operations processes or tasks can be automated as they often require human intervention. Many processes in fintech specifically will always require an element of human evaluation, discretion, and decision-making. In that sense, RPA is not typically intended to replace operational roles entirely, but augment them.

Like bespoke automation, the implementation of RPA software is resource-intensive, and may be time-prohibitive for growth-stage fintech businesses. It entails a learning curve of training and onboarding for operations teams, and may also involve in-house IT teams directly because of necessary adaptation to existing systems.

Lead time on RPA projects can range depending on complexity of the processes to be automated, and ROI can take up to 9 months. For these reasons, the application of RPA in fintech is best suited to enterprise timelines and budget.


For high-growth fintech – workflow process automation platform

So what about a middle ground option for growing businesses?

When it comes to business operations, process automation platforms are the strongest option for growing fintech businesses. That’s because, they enable end-to-end automation of operations processes without the overhead investment and lengthy lead-time of other automation solutions.

Process automation tools offer a balanced range of functionalities that enable teams to capture and automate almost any unique operations process.

Put more concretely, they help teams to take their manual business processes and create digital, automated versions of them. 

The processes themselves work through rule-based logic. Automated processes follow a series of predefined rules, and respond to triggers or actions that teams can tailor to fit the exact operations use case requirement. Once configured, a process automation platform can handle the single-step automations for simple operations use cases, as well as automate complex, multi-step and multi-stakeholder processes, and everything in-between. 

An important differentiator from RPA or IPaaS, Process Automation tools are both automated (tasks and actions are completed automatically) and interactive (human process stakeholders collaborate and execute tasks directly in the process interface). This is highly relevant for fintech operations processes, which can benefit from manual task automation, while also enabling the required human interaction with as little friction as possible. 

For example, with processes like fraud reporting or compliance auditing, fintech teams can save loads of time on data processing (copy-pasting between systems and forms), while also automating coordination of the “human steps” required to review fraud claims or sign-off on audits, streamlining task handover without email or phone, and communicating with customers or regulators automatically – again, without copy-pasting.

Above all, for high-growth fintech’s who don’t have the luxury of time and infinite resources to invest in automation projects, process automation platforms are ideally suited. There is generally no up-front investment, no consulting required, and no need to involve internal IT/engineering teams. Automated processes can be built in minutes and rolled out to teams in the span of an afternoon, with little or no-coding required.


Automate for the present and the future

Fintechs have every reason to invest in greater automation. Their customers, competitors, and regulators will soon demand it, if they haven’t already.

There are many inroads to automation for fintech operations teams. While there is no, pure right or wrong approach, fintech businesses should focus their automation efforts on addressing both immediate and long-term objectives.

Though not always feasible, a “quick-win” approach is generally advised, as it provides operations teams with the necessary morale and momentum to rally around broader-reaching automation initiatives. This tends to work better than the multi-month/multi-year lead time initiatives, which bog down teams in overhead work and oftentimes never achieve desired impact. 

For teams with engineering support, bespoke automation could be the way forward. For  enterprises with deep pockets and time to spare, RPA could help you better. For single contributors and teams looking to solve a task problem, an IPaaS tool could offer that quick win.

For everyone else in fintech, process automation platforms are the best choice for operations automation. It's affordable, capable of automating your processes end-to-end, and you can start automating today and see results tomorrow.

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About the author
Luke Walker is the Product Marketing Manager at Next Matter. He is a longtime process hacker, and writes about marketing, business digitization, leadership, and work-life balance. When he's not at work, you can find him listening to records or climbing rocks.