Robotic process automation is coming and it has enormous implications for the financial sector. Here’s what it means for compliance…

We’ve all got used to stories of how the robots are coming to take all our jobs. But in finance, the arrival of robotic process automation could be something for everyone to welcome, from frontline staff to senior executives. Indeed, at a time when compliance is becoming more complicated, it can’t come fast enough.

Back in 2016, Accenture produced a survey which found that 73% of the people surveyed agreed that process automation, including increased use of robots, would become more common in finance. However, the truth is that so far, financial institutions have only really dipped a toe in the water. There has been plenty of talk about RPA, but all it’s really done is move money around a little bit more quickly up until now. If companies really get to grips with it, they could embed it into their fabric and unlock all sorts of exciting potential.

In simple terms, RPA uses robotic software to automate many of the tasks which would otherwise have to be performed manually. It works faster than humans, makes fewer errors and can analyse much larger quantities of data than mere mortals can ever hope to manage.

Key processes such as auditing, making transactions, managing records, managing employee compliance, and know your customer systems, can all be automated and processed much more quickly.

In the main, this has been sold as a labour-saving device, but that’s only part of the story. It increases productivity by accelerating processes and allowing you to deploy your human staff more effectively. It aids employee satisfaction by freeing staff from the more mundane and repetitive aspects of their jobs and it ensures higher quality of data by eliminating the inevitable mistakes humans make when they get tired or bored.

For the compliance team, though, RPA can be a massive bonus for auditability. It provides much greater data visibility making it easier to keep all the required data in place and to produce a clear data train to demonstrate compliance.

Automated processes are being used for know your customer, due diligence and transaction surveillance, as well as authentication and fraud prevention. For example, robotic software can identify threats or suspicious behaviour which humans might miss and it can ensure companies comply with their regulatory obligations to inform customers within a timely manner.

However, implementation is held back partly because companies are intimidated by the prospect, and also by their own lack of knowledge. This is a new and emerging sector and there are plenty of horror stories about RPA projects gone wrong.

The technology is also often misunderstood. The most common mistake is to view it as an issue of compliance. In truth though, it is something which can be embedded into the fabric of an organisation. It makes everything faster and more transparent and in the world of financial regulation, in which regulators want to see the steps companies have taken to fulfil their obligations, this is an enormous bonus.