AI and RPA gain momentum

By Lachlan Colquhoun

Australian financial services providers are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as part of their digital transformation strategies. At a recent event in the FSC’s Technical Workshop Series an expert panel discussed the implementation of AI and RPA in Australia, highlighting both the value and the challenges of implementation.

At BT’s call centre a process which would previously take up to 30 minutes will be cut down to two or three minutes through automation.

Deanne Hurley, the Head of Transformation at the BT Financial Group, told the panel that currently, when advisers call into the centre asking for superannuation information for clients, the agent needs to log into “nine or ten systems” as they collect the data.

“There can be a lot of errors in this manual process, with advisers writing on bits of paper as they collate the information,” she said.

With the move to RPA, a bot will collect that information across all the systems and deliver that inside two to three minutes.

“We are actually providing a PDF back to the adviser so that it can be added to the customer file,” she said.

“So that is a really good outcome for the customers, the adviser and the agent on the phone.”

The FSC panel heard that although Australia may be up to three or four years behind countries such as the UK and the US in AI implementation, there were benefits in being a “fast follower” and learning from global leaders such as the Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK.

Within Australia, the data intensive nature of financial services meant that that the sector was a comparative leader in new technology, which was also being implemented rapidly in the finance function of leading corporates.

The Royal Commission into Misconduct into the Banking industry had created another impetus for AI and RPA in the area of compliance, with the panel agreeing that the solutions could deliver greater transparency for users, speed up response times and play a role in regaining consumer trust.

Another trend was for organisations to bring functions back “in house” with RPA and AI which they had previously sent offshore to Business Process Outsourcing providers.

“RPA and AI represent and opportunities and threats in financial services,” said panel moderator David Evers, Director of Client Experience and Solution Design APAC at RBC Investor & Treasury Services.

“Some of the questions are: Do I act now and potentially something better is around the corner? Do I have sufficient understanding of the new business risk which will be introduced? Or am I solving a client problem or just automating a bad process which needs re-engineering?”

From PWC, partner Nicola Costello said the best results from RPA had been in operational efficiency and compliance applied to “end to end processes.”

“Where things have gone a bit differently is where people have really seen RPA as the new sexy technology so everyone has wanted to implement proof of concept, rather than whether it is the best solution for the issue,” she said.

Costello also urged organisations to ensure that the foundation of their projects was “quality data.”

Simon Hicks, the Cognitive Artificial Intelligence and Business Development Director at IPsoft, said he believed proof of concept and pilot projects were popular because they “overcome fear” about the technology.

“If you want to test a talking machine you have to set yourself up with those top ten questions your internal IT desk answers every day, not the random questions,” he said.

“Our machine learns from observing humans in the field, so the most conversations it observes the more its speech proficiency picks up.

“If it sees 1000 conversations a day around those ten questions then it will learn very quickly.”

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