Next Matter’s ultimate guide to financial services automation

Luke Walker
January 24, 2023
13
minutes

Banks and financial institutions are currently at the forefront of financial services automation and have historically also been early adopters of new and developing technologies, which have helped to revolutionize their industry. 

A few examples that we see almost daily are online banking, ATMs, and customer service bots.

So, what does automation look like in the finance industry, and why are banks and financial institutions the ones failing at it now?

1. How has financial services automation changed?

You might already know about the first wave of digitization in the finance industry, and how things like online banking, automatic transfers, payroll, ATMs, and other services were rolled out quickly, making financial transactions for customers and organizations a lot easier.

Over time, though, these advancements have leveled off, and many financial services institutions – most prominently banks – haven’t made greater investments besides improving their online banking experience. The problem with these improvements is that most banks — even neobanks — focus on that aspect alone, which ends with them scaling and growing operations teams to keep bank processes functioning smoothly (like ordering a new card or deactivating your account). 

This has developed into banks and neobanks alike accumulating more operational debt as they scale, and forcing a large portion of their workforce to focus on coordinating and executing repetitive tasks.

Operational debt is when an organization scales its workflows and processes without optimizing and automating them on a rolling basis. A business’s operations grow naturally in complexity, so without dedicated streamlining work, the added operational load can lead to consequences like longer product development cycles, higher overhead costs, siloed thinking, and other negative consequences. 

2.  Which workflows can be automated in financial services?

While a good chunk of the operations in financial services are standardized processes not unique to the industry, it’s still good to list them quickly, understand how they can be automated, and capitalize on the opportunity to make major efficiency gains on “low hanging fruit” operations.

Employee on-/offboarding

Because employee on-/offboarding requires different software tools and additional data privacy/security measures, the process can take a lot of extra effort and ad hoc coordination, with consequences if done incorrectly or slowly. When something falls through the cracks, this can cause major problems (like a former employee having access to a customer database). 

Automated on-/offboarding workflows help to decrease onboarding and offboarding time and prevent any missed steps from happening, while offering audit trails for compliance requirements.

Third-party vendor approval

If you’re looking to grow quickly, adding third-party vendors will be an essential part of your business model, but ensuring that your vendors are keeping up to date with current data privacy/security standards and communicating with them about requirements can be difficult. 

Workflows can be automated across different companies in different regions with Next Matter. 

Did you know that Next Matter has been used to automate hundreds of different workflows for financial service companies? Let us show you

Bank statement generation

You might not know this unless you’re in banking, but oftentimes bank statements have to be manually generated by someone each month (depending, of course, on the bank). If you’re getting statements in the mail each month, or you have to request them from your bank in advance, you know that they’re still behind when it comes to digitization.

Exemption orders for capital gains

As more people start investing, more requests for exemption orders for tax returns will come in. The highest amount of requests tend to happen around the same time of the year and are considered seasonal requests by the customer service team. Allowing customers to generate their own exemption order requests through a workflow automation software solution means faster reaction times and better customer service.

Data deletion requests

Now that data privacy is becoming even more important (especially in Europe), customers often ask for their data to be deleted. If these actions aren’t performed on time or are forgotten about, this can end up with costly lawsuits and organizations violating laws like GDPR. 

A traditional banking customer fills in a legacy data deletion request form

Know your customer (KYC) & customer onboarding

Regulations for financial services institutions are constantly changing with laws being updated on a continual basis. This means checking for credit scores, risk evaluations, and rating customer profiles comes with a lot of careful planning. If this is done incorrectly, it can mean hefty fines, bad press, and even lawsuits. 

Politically exposed person (PEP) & sanctions

Like KYC processes, PEP and sanctions checks need to undergo specific and careful checks to make sure a financial institution doesn’t accept customers who fall under sanctions or are politically exposed. If these checks are done improperly, it could mean damaging press, fines, and lawsuits.

Seizure & subpoena management

Seizures and subpoenas are unfortunately inevitable for those in the financial services industry, so having a plan in place to evaluate and justify the request from authorities will help adhere to the appropriate laws in the specific country the request is made while avoiding fines, penalties, and lawsuits.

Customer support operations

Customer support is a major deciding factor in someone’s decision to choose a bank or a financial institution. Still, if requests or complaints aren’t handled properly or in a timely manner, it means that bad reviews might accumulate and the organization gains a reputation for not responding to customer requests. This can also result in potential lawsuits from customers if certain requests aren’t fulfilled in the appropriate time frame. 

Mass customer communications 

Sometimes, customers need to get information quickly and accurately to be able to make the best decisions about their finances. This includes information about corporate actions, which can result in a lawsuit if a customer is not informed in time or has monetary losses if the information isn’t sent out at all. Many tools also make it hard for customer support teams to handle customer instructions after these mass communications go out, so having a system in place to automate these actions can radically reduce mistakes or things slipping through the cracks. 

Audits

Everything we mentioned above can end with a potential lawsuit for a financial services organization, which is why workflows become extremely important for this industry. On top of these lawsuits are regular audits to make sure that all of the processes in place are following strict regulations. Workflow management and automation provide an audit trail to help track these processes and provide proof to authorities. 

Who's ready for their annual audits?

3. The benefits of automating financial services workflows

Of course, it isn’t just speed and lower overhead costs that workflow automation can help with. There are also a number of other reasons why many financial services organizations have started to shift to workflow management and automation software in the past few years. 

Auditable workflows for compliance

By planning each workflow in advance with a tool like Next Matter, it means each person who participated in a workflow is visible, including the times the steps were completed, which can be used as evidence for audits for institutions like BaFin in Germany, AMF in France, DGS & CMNV in Spain, FCA in the UK, and FINRA in the USA. Each institution also offers compliance certifications, tools, and guidelines which can all be found on the websites linked above by searching for “compliance.”

Improved and faster KYC processes

Because of how digitized the world is becoming, customers no longer need to go to a bank to create an account. Instead, strict KYC practices are put in place in online workflows to make sure each person’s identity is checked to prevent risks like fraud from happening. 

Workflow automation is especially useful when it comes to handling and tracking all of the edge cases the financial services industry faces. This can even include more advanced scenarios that need to be taken into account for different countries and their respective regulations, background checks for each person who needs to be onboarded, and can even be as complex as entity onboarding. 

Prevention of money laundering

Improved digital KYC processes can include integrations in a workflow to verify government documentation and collect information like a person’s name, birthday, address, employment status, annual income, investments, and personal identification documents before opening an account. Once this information is verified and approved, an account can be opened. Under new Anti money laundering (AML) laws and regulations in Europe and the United States, these processes are even harder to follow without strict and auditable workflows in place.

Improved customer support

One problem that many neobanks face is that their workflows are managed by managers who manage the managers of teams. If it sounds complicated, you’re right. Mapping out digital workflows and providing a single source of truth for many different steps in a process creates faster and more efficient customer support (so less management is needed on all levels). CRM automation alone won’t provide the set of strict standards needed in the financial services industry to ensure that all departments (compliance, business operations, legal, customer services, etc.) remain compliant and also capable of serving customers quickly.

Ready to see your financial services workflows operate on autopilot? We’ve developed the perfect solution for your organization. See it in action

4. Workflow management and automation vs. robotic process automation (RPA)

Workflow management and automation include processes that are repetitive and consistent with clear structures, expectations, and outcomes. These tasks can be as simple as an approval workflow or as complex as bankruptcy proceedings. Here, some humans might be needed to do things like input information, but sometimes steps can be completely automated, like adding data to a database. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) comes in for tasks that are fully automated by AI or basic automation. This can be for just one step in a workflow, on top of legacy systems, or for decisions that have a low level of complexity. 

An example of that would be copying and pasting data between legacy systems written in COBOL or other legacy frameworks that do not allow for easy API integrations. Robotic process automation tends to be harder, slower, and more expensive than workflow management and automation as it requires dedicated RPA engineers, centers of excellence, and significant upfront investment with continuing maintenance costs. 

RPA also begins to make economic sense in combination with workflow management and automation for businesses with about 1,000 or more employees because of the intensive costs associated with it. 

To help you decide which kind of automation is right for your financial service company, check out our deep-dive article on the subject.

Find out which automation format is right for you

5. Recent problems with robotic process automation in the financial services industry

While robotic process automation has been adopted more quickly in the financial sector than any other (making up nearly 30% of the entire market), there are some disturbing disadvantages when it comes to RPA compared to workflow management and automation. This mostly has to do with implementing AI in important decision-making processes that can end up with significant consequences. 

An example that many of us might be familiar with is when our bank accounts are blocked because we’re traveling abroad or we’ve made too many purchases online simultaneously. These cases are just a bit annoying, and we just need to contact customer support at our bank to have them fixed, but what happens when something goes wrong in the background? Who is going to spot it?

The problem with robotic process automation comes from a lack of human oversight. On average, it takes nearly 279 days to detect a cyber attack, which can get even worse with machine learning and AI-based processes since humans aren’t present in fully automated models to check to make sure the processes are functioning well on their own. 

6. Operational resilience through workflow automation and management

By having workflows that mix robotic process automation with actual humans performing more complex tasks like workflow approvals, it means potential mistakes can be spotted quickly before they become exponential, while RPA can do a majority of the grunt work with humans looking it over in key moments. 

Automation within a workflow like data transfers can be set up while humans come in to decide the hard parts, like if a passport needs to be verified by a machine before being accepted. Maybe this initial acceptance through RPA is acceptable, but when it comes to agreeing to sign a contract, a human needs to double-check everything that has been accepted by a computer.

Approval steps in a workflow are common and tend only to take a few minutes out of someone’s day when they’re set up correctly. 

Prioritizing an automation roadmap for financial service workflows in Next Matter

7. Strategic investment in workflow management allows for a higher ROI

One major part of workflow management and automation is that it needs to be used across an organization for the full value to be seen. If the software only is used in one specific process, it means that only one specific process is being implemented at peak efficiency. 

The real value comes when an organization evaluates all of its business processes and decides on which ones are happening on a repetitive and regular basis with exact standards for how each step should be evaluated. 

Do you know which processes you’d like to map? We’ll put them into Next Matter and show you how they could work for your organization.

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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.

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