Leading banks know how to combine automation, big data, ecosystem partnerships and the human element to improve the lives of their customers and employees.

In my conversations with banks over the last year, I’ve been asked three common questions:

  1. How can we achieve a better quality of service for our customers?
  2. How can we simplify our processes so that we can reduce costs and help customers find what they need quicker?
  3. How can we improve our productivity so that our staff are freed up to work on higher-value, more interesting tasks?

I see these questions as being inter-related. Banks can’t solve for one without addressing the others. Furthermore, if they continue down the same path, using the same processes and methods, even with incremental changes, they won’t have the impact they’re looking for. Instead, what they need to do is make a bold move to improve their digital maturity. This will put them in a better position to respond to market disruptions. And it’ll give them a competitive edge over their peers.

In Europe, there’s a unique opportunity right now for banks to make such a change. Many older workers have retired or are on the verge of retiring. Banks have raced to fill this talent gap by hiring a flexible workforce of temporary staff—in the back office, temp staff now make up one in seven workers or more. In the short term and for smaller organisations, this is a great way to address seasonal surges in capacity. But the constant need to recruit and train new staff makes it an unwieldy and expensive solution at scale.

I recommend banks consider a more enduring option: intelligent operations.

Improve automation and agility

Operating model investments in areas such as the cloud can enable you to take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), automation and agility. By automating manual processes and repetitive tasks, you can reduce costs and improve the customer experience.

For instance, imagine you’re a customer. You want to know your bank’s current interest rate on an account. A self-serve option or an AI-powered chatbot could easily provide this information, while freeing up staff to respond to more complex questions. Or you want to sync your banking transactions with a third-party budgeting tool. An application programming interface (API) could provide this added value.

The cloud is a massive enabler of these types of technologies. It allows you to quickly deploy new products and services, to respond to increases and decreases in demand, or to build a new platform entirely in days rather than months. And instead of having to choose individual components one at a time, it gives you the ability to select all the capabilities you need in a “ready to use” form, from a central repository.

Make better use of data and analytics

Our research reveals that 78% of banks say data is widely used and 71% say they design their operating model based on data rather than on executive experience or intuition. But it’s a challenge to extract the full value from that data if you’re not taking advantage of AI and automation capabilities.

Future-ready banks tell us that their human+machine workforce thrives on a steady flow of high-quality data. One of the senior banking executives we spoke to talked about how data and automation work together. “We are automating the easiest of the tasks, such as using enriched, dynamic data [about] personal finance to automate marketing and reporting. This way, clients can make an investment or personal finance related decision on their own without needing the staff.”

One opportunity I see for banks is to improve your core processing accuracy and efficiency with an AI-powered data and analytics platform. Think what questions you could answer if you had real-time insights from across the organisation.

Embrace ecosystem partnerships

Establishing the right ecosystem partnerships is also a key to improving your digital maturity. My recommendation is to partner with businesses that have complementary expertise or mature solutions that fit your needs.

A major European bank discovered the power of ecosystem partners when it decided to transform its credit and payment services operations. By collaborating with an ecosystem partner, using intelligent technologies and upskilling its team, the bank was able to shift the focus of its workforce away from time-consuming repetitive tasks and toward making more informed, data-driven decisions. The results were dramatic—the bank cut its operational losses to zero, reduced its total cost of operations in scope by 20-30% and enhanced operational productivity by 45%.

The human element

When we talk about digital maturity and intelligent operations, it’s easy to concentrate on the technologies that can make this happen. My message to banks is to remember that people are at the heart of your business. Don’t forget your staff need soft skills like empathy as well as experience with the latest digital technologies. Customers want to know you care.

Financial decisions can be some of the most important decisions we make, so ensuring that your staff are trained and available to help customers make those decisions, will go a long way to differentiating you from your peers. Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is a fantastic tool when it’s used to have a positive impact on people’s lives. But the human element is also critical.

Making a difference is important to your staff too, so any time you can use automation to make their jobs easier, you can expect a more engaged workforce. This will spill over into better interactions with customers as well.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said so succinctly, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I think this is exactly the right approach for European banks. If you can automate and streamline your processes, you’ll be able to reduce your costs. But more importantly, to my mind, you’ll be able to deliver greater job satisfaction for your staff and a superior experience for your customers.

If you’d like to learn more about intelligent operations, read our report:
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