The future of automation depends on human interaction

By George Ralph, RFA – As many firms in the alternative investment sector, and certainly many of our clients, look for new ways to improve investment strategies and drive efficiencies in their businesses, against a backdrop of strict regulations and compliance requirements, investment in technology and innovation continues to rise. 

Whilst automation of workflows and business processes are not new concepts, the introduction of robotic process automation (RPA) is fairly new and is gathering rapid pace in the media.

RPA utilises software bots to automate routine and repetitive tasks to increase business productivity, challenging how businesses operate. It sounds incredibly technical but in fact involves a bot which can interact with application UIs that humans use, in a pre-set and pre-ordained way. RPA becomes really exciting and futuristic when it is combined with machine learning or artificial intelligence. If a bot could analyse unstructured data for example, and learn from the way an investor behaves, and match this against a risk profile, then it could become really interesting. If a fund manager could streamline their data management workflows and re-use consistent data across other tasks, such as reporting, with the artificial intelligence functionality identifying and learning from errors, it could significantly improve compliance.

But whether you are looking at simple workflow automation, or an artificially intelligent RPA bot, it is crucial to rigorously evaluate suitability for automation before any technology evaluation can take place. Look at your users, how do they interact with technology and how do they carry out business processes? Will you generate real business benefit by automating some processes and how do you decide which processes to automate? There are some processes which could be ideal candidates for automation, so look at these first; high-volume activity which is prone to human error, such as commission payments or other finance procedures like invoice processing, payment processing, travel and expenses, accounting, reporting, asset accounting and processing receipts.

HR processes which involve lots of searching and updating such as recruitment requisition, new hire and induction, training and development, change of circumstances, holiday entitlements, payroll, and benefits.

Repetitive, and rules-based processes and processes which use structured data, such as accounts and billing. IT processes, such as user management, backup and restore services, or transactions where there are multiple users involved, such as trade transactions and the resulting admin and reporting.

Before you start, explore the impact of automation on the business, and ascertain whether it will have a positive or negative impact on staff. Will they require development and training to make best use of the new technology, and have you made sure the proposed automation will derive the maximum value of the human qualities and skills, of your staff? 

However, don’t try to automate processes which are actually done better by humans, for example there is a lot of value for firms in maintaining a high touch human relationship with investors, both from a KYC and compliance point of view but also in ensuring that information provided between investors and firms is accurate and that trades can be executed properly and efficiently. Investors need and want that human touch too, for reassurance that their investment is in good hands, and that the experts are still in charge.

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