Rand Merchant Bank introduces robots into the bank

*This content is sponsored by RMB, a diversified financial services brand encompassing investment banking, fund management, private wealth management and advisory services.

By Reshnie Naidoo*

As part of its strategy to stay at the leading edge of innovation, Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) is focusing on robotics as one of the ways in which to improve the bank’s overall performance and help digitise the way in which it operates.

Because robots can master repetitive tasks currently performed manually, they are suitable for many of the processes conducted by employees, particularly in back offices. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), as it is called, is software technology which automates manual, repetitive and mature processes, making them faster and more cost effective, often with a return on investment on the software and systems within about a year. Robotics is also easily adopted to automate high risk and compliance-focused processes due to the robot’s ability to process at zero defect.

Reshnie Naidoo, head of RMB Robotics Centre of Excellence.

Being a non-integrated software system, robots are also easy to introduce to the bank’s existing IT systems. As they are “code free”, robots service the businesses in the bank rather than trying to comply with an IT system. Coded technology is complicated and costly and takes far more time to implement. Robots are “a virtual workforce” which operates 24 hours a day, with 100% efficiency, and which can reduce costs by between 25% and 40%.

Introduced a year ago, the RMB Robotics Centre of Excellence manages RMB’s capability to introduce robotics into its various business units. It has 20 employees who ensure that the correct processes for automation are selected and implemented. Fourteen projects have already gone live with a number of others in the pipeline.

“We’re finding great applications for robots within the bank, especially for automating inefficiencies between different systems,” says RMB chief executive James Formby.

The first bot, known as Mr Robert Bot (Rob for short) joined RMB on 1 Feb 2016 with his own employee number. So far Rob has followed in 14 projects that include four processes capturing new client information and ongoing maintenance of that information. Others have taken over some of the repetitive tasks of compliance, manual billing, financial data consolidation and reporting.

“We believe that one robot can effectively augment between three and four people, allowing staff to focus on the more complicated, analytical, client facing and value adding aspects of their functions,” says Reshnie Naidoo, who manages the RMB Robotics Centre of Excellence. “The desire and demand in RMB for robotics is present as people will be able to focus on a greater breadth of knowledge rather than the depth and detail necessary in more admin-related processes.”

It is projected that one of the robotics projects introduced in RMB’s Corporate Banking division’s finance department will save around 4,000 hours per year. And this is just the estimate for the initial processes reviewed, which are only about 10% of all processes.  “We have redefined multiple processes and introduced the robots to do the jobs within minutes, compared to people who previously completed these manual tasks over days,” says Naidoo.

humanoid realistic robotsIn the future, more intelligent robots, known as artificial intelligence (AI), will be introduced. AI mimics human thoughts, compared to robotics which mimic actions. AI automates processes which require judgement and where the outcome is not always standard – such as Know Your Client, some compliance-type functions, supporting credit analysts and dealmakers in their functions, and query management.

Intelligent robots will also be able to conduct tasks such as speech recognition in call centres and document scanning for handling of paper. Voice assistants will be able to answer specific questions, process complex requests, understand natural language and teach themselves to update their own algorithms.

“We are very excited about the future possibilities that technology can offer our people and business,” says Formby. Having successfully introduced robotics to the bank, RMB is examining how far it can take the technology, as well as AI, to improve the banks overall efficiency and performance, while staff become familiar with a new way of operating.

  • Reshnie Naidoo is head of RMB Robotics Centre of Excellence.
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