Driving efficiency through automation

Asset managers and owners continue to face pressure to transform their operating models and find greater efficiencies as they look to adapt and thrive in today's highly competitive business environment. A new focus on automation is driving some of those efficiencies, eliminating repetitive and time-consuming tasks. However, successful implementation of automation projects requires careful planning, technological innovation and simple regard for affected workers.

Accelerating the focus on automation

Automation has been driving efficiencies since the beginning of the machine age. Why is that process accelerating in the financial services sector now?

Tech solutions are less costly and more widely available today

“In part, it's because technology and tech solutions are less costly and more widely available," says Vera Gligoric, Director of Fund & Pension Accounting at RBC Investor Services. “It's also because, 10 to 20 years ago, data engineers, data scientists and computer specialists were being absorbed by technology-first companies like Google, IBM and Microsoft. Those skills are now in high demand across all sectors, and colleges and universities have responded by developing a workforce that can support organizations that want to automate."

Remote work experiences during the pandemic also opened the door to interest in new automation opportunities, including how to distribute documents more efficiently or how to add electronic signatures to documents.

Identifying automation opportunities

Gligoric notes that the financial services sector offers considerable opportunities to automate tasks that require human effort to complete. Working with the data management office at RBC Investor Services, she's currently identifying candidates for automation and implementing new efficiencies within the organization.

Bottlenecks are often identified by employees themselves

“We have instances where people are required to take information from one system and plug it manually into another," she says. “We also see manual translation and standardization of information from one format into another, so it can be shared between systems. These types of bottlenecks are often identified by employees themselves and are ripe for automation—where we replace human input with a more efficient robotic process."

The benefits of automating these tasks include reduced labour costs, 24-hour service and a lower risk of error. With faster throughput, organizations are also increasing their access to real-time information, enabling them to make quicker and better decisions. And with a greater number of tasks being automated, companies can grow their businesses without hiring new employees.

Establishing goals and objectives

However, identifying the goals and objectives of an automation project up front is often more important than deciding on a way to achieve automation. While tools such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms might prove useful in complex automation projects, Gligoric believes that starting with smaller changes and gradually scaling up will increase the likelihood of success.

Starting with smaller changes increases the likelihood of success

“I think of it like self-driving cars," she says. “Drivers cannot yet close their eyes and start a trip. But they can be comfortable with existing features that work well, allowing them to maintain the right speed and stay within the lane. Automation is an iterative process that begins with fundamental goals and often works best by achieving incremental value over time."

Automation projects require consideration of data privacy and cybersecurity issues as part of the planning process. Does the new method of processing data respect corporate privacy rules? Who has access to the data? Should the data be anonymized or aggregated? Is the system being checked regularly to protect data from cyberattacks? Each of these questions requires an answer.

Paying attention to change management

Automation efforts also raise concerns about job security. Effective change management can help ensure that affected workers understand the project and have a voice in its implementation.

“A strong message is that we're not replacing people, we're replacing tasks," Gligoric says. “We can upskill and redeploy many of those people to tasks at which machines simply aren't very good. We look for champions in management and other levels within the organization who will help deliver those messages, implement changes to the workflow, and encourage others to support these changes as well."

Choosing the right partners is key

Finally, automation projects require more than a one-time investment. New regulations and compliance requirements, changes in client preference, or new investment products and strategies may all require adjustments to automation protocols. “It's important to carefully choose partners, vendors, suppliers and service providers," Gligoric says. “They can help a business to achieve continuous improvement and support an automation journey over the long run."

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