The Times They Are a-Changin’: Automating Workflows in Financial Services


By Michael Partnow, Head of Wealth Management,

Traditionally, workflow automation in financial services has been limited to two aspects. First, the front office is where automation is usually deployed – e.g., an automated chatbot to solve customer queries or marketing automation to increase customer engagement. Second, automations are implemented in silos to optimize individual tasks, without integrating into broader associated or contextually surrounding workflows. This leads to a host of missed opportunities, which you can address by reassessing underlying workflows and leveraging automation holistically.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Business processes change frequently, and your existing workflows and older approaches may be completely out of sync with today’s demands, causing missed opportunities.

  • In addition to the front office, mid- and back-office processes like manual data entry could hugely benefit from automation. Particularly in the new normal, reduction of manual effort in such workflows makes a lot of sense.
  • Digital transformation is an ongoing process and the upheavals of 2020 have significantly accelerated transformation initiatives. Pre-pandemic workflows, task-focused bots, etc. should be revisited and firms should look to leverage true end-to-end, integrated automation.
  • Automation technologies are constantly evolving – for instance, intelligent automation uses AI/ML with rules-based automation in a hybrid model to be able to address the widest possible variety of scenarios. Existing systems and processes that got you where you are today may not be suited to unlocking these opportunities.

Meanwhile, the financial services industry has rapidly evolved to become digital-first, which further widens the gap between industry leaders and laggards. For instance, NVIDIA’s 2021 survey found that 1 in 3 firms plan to use AI to increase revenues by 20% or more. This calls for a well-articulated automation roadmap, starting with a reassessment of your current state.

Starting the Automation Roadmap: Considerations and Use Cases

Financial service firms starting out with mid and back-office automation must first ask themselves the following questions to understand the current state of workflows and what needs to change:

  • How long ago were the workflows created and what problems were they intended to solve?
  • Where are the gaps and roadblocks in the workflows that require manual intervention?
  • What systems were used?
  • Are the workflows adequately structured or well-defined?

It may be necessary to first transform the process and workflow map at your mid and back-office before you get started with automation. Ideally, workflows that are low in complexity and high in volumes are the best candidates for automation, which will be revealed through a careful assessment.

The top three use cases for workflow review, transformation, and automation in financial services include:

  1. New account opening – Account opening activities involve structured and repeatable workflows that can be automated by integrating key enterprise systems.
  2. Data migration/entry – Data migration between systems and data entry from unstructured documents to digital forms take up thousands of person-hours every year in a typical firm. Bots combined with AI technologies (OCR, ML) can perform these tasks automatically.
  3. Anti-money laundering (AML) and fraud detection – AML workflows rely on a predetermined set of signals and data thresholds to detect risk and alert stakeholders. Through automation, you can improve detection accuracy and auto-alert stakeholders without delay.

New Priorities for a Reimagined World

Workflow automation is just another step in the holistic journey towards making financial services workflows more efficient and effective. And remember, this journey is never “done” or “over.” A new approach to automation is required that looks beyond siloed savings towards:

  • Improved engagement and brand reputation by creating delightful experiences for customers and employees alike
  • Holistic effort savings and hours freed up for value generation across the front, middle, and back-office
  • Business resilience and scalability through a reduction in costs, risks, and technical debt

It all begins with recognizing that the workflows that got you here won’t get you there and identifying the precise strategic and technological levers needed to reach future growth milestones.