Over the last couple of decades, members of the financial industry have been optimising costs by outsourcing or offshoring part of their middle and back office operations to Asia or Eastern Europe. While this business model has been fruitful for many years, it is now demonstrating its obsolescence which can be seen in the shrinking gap in labour costs, stricter oversight requirements, and new political pressures.
With increasing pressure on margins due to a never-ending regulatory avalanche as well as strong competition from disruptive new entrants, financial institutions need to reinvent themselves, be smarter in the way they work, and turn their labour cost-cutting strategies into process efficiency strategies.
In this context, the emergence of robotic process automation (“RPA”) and digital labour represent significant opportunities for market players to surf the wave of the future. The development of these technologies in recent years makes them now ready to support the transformation in a real way.
“In the next 15 years, it’s likely that 45%, up to 75%, of the existing offshore jobs in the financial services sector will be performed by robots, or more precisely, RPA,” says Cliff Justice, KPMG LLP Advisory Principal.
Digital labour and RPA undeniably bring many benefits to organisations, such as:
- improving quality by reducing error occurrences
- increasing employee satisfaction by taking cumbersome tasks off their hands, allowing them to focus more on value-added operations
- creating new onshore jobs: robots need to be designed, parameterised, maintained, monitored, and improved on-site
- enhancing productivity: robots can work 24/7 with unlimited scalability
- increasing cost efficiency: according to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA), a robot could cost as little as 25% to 30% of an offshore full-time employee (FTE)
The implementation of such technology has already demonstrated tremendous operating cost savings in an unprecedented payback period. For example, after deploying over 160 robots processing between 400,000 and 500,000 transactions on a monthly basis, Spanish telecom company Telefonica was able to redeploy one hundred FTEs, reach a three-year return on investment of between 650% and 800%, and amortise its investment in twelve months. Another success story is that of Danske Bank, which has implemented robots instead of offshoring several back-office processes.
Following the various promising market studies on digital labour, market players are questioning themselves on why such technology has not yet become widespread in the financial industry. The answer may contain several reasons:
- It was only a couple of years ago that RPA / digital labour technology became advanced enough to generate substantial cost savings.
- The concept of “robotics” has raised a resistance to change from management teams who are traditionally used to supervising large numbers of operational staff.
- The implementation of such technology requires investments which need to be packaged into a wider and longer-term digital strategy to get the buy-in from executives and shareholders.
Although the bright future of digital labour and its impacts on operating costs have already been proven, the challenge today for the financial industry lies in determining how to deploy initiatives and how to start developing a strong competitive advantage.
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