"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."Theodore Roosevelt
When we come to look back at the events of 2020, it will be only too obvious that it was a time of great contrasts. It brought out the best in some of us, and the worst in others. It was a time of charitable giving and community, but also a time when criminals defrauded vulnerable individuals and government grant programs.
And while the need to adapt operational models to home working and digitized processes accelerated programs of change for many financial institutions, others have sought to preserve working capital by cutting back on IT-driven transformation.
The danger is that the next year will see the emergence of what the World Health Organization has called COVID-19 amnesia. People will forget the trauma that happened during the pandemic, and won't put the necessary steps and preparations in place in case this type of event happens again.
It's the same situation with digital transformation. The pandemic gave the financial services sector a massive push to gain real momentum to build new operating models, but it is vital that people move fast within the next 12 months before they start forgetting and get distracted by the daily grind of day-to-day priorities.
Freeing up people to do higher value work is important not just because the automation of processes brings reduced costs and improved customer service, but because it releases humans from tedious and repetitive work that is more efficiently handled by digital workers.
Recognition that people really are companies’ most valuable asset has generally grown through the pandemic. People caring for people has been one of the positive aspects of the situation that we've all experienced recently, and there is a hope that we will come out of it with a better understanding of issues that that have been somewhat corporately neglected, such as climate change and political equality. There’s also an understanding that while manual data handling is bearable in the office when surrounded by colleagues, it is far less enjoyable when working from home on the kitchen table with distractions all around. The hope is that the pandemic acts as something of a watershed moment when considering how we ask our people to work, especially if it’s more likely that many of them will be home-based at least some of the time.
Financial institutions used intelligent automation during the pandemic to develop greater operational and agility to offer products and services such as mortgage holidays and bounce-back loans within unheard of time frames. Our customers truly did incredible things nobody would have believed possible last year. Companies in the financial services sector had to be quite bold and radical, just to keep things operating day-to-day. In order to keep running the bank, they had to keep changing the bank. That has brought it home to organizations that it’s not just about cost savings or effectiveness but making positive changes to grow revenues and improve the customer experience.
One of the top 10 reasons why organizations put programs of change on hold is that they are too busy with everyday work. "I can't do that right now,” say executives. “I can't meet my desired automation target for this procedure, because I have too many mortgages to process." This is equivalent to the adage that, "I can't stop to test drive that chainsaw now. I'm chopping all these trees down with an axe."
As many organizations are finding, there’s a way to test the chainsaw while keeping the axe chopping going until you feel it is safe to stop. There’s an opportunity to identify all of the processes enterprise-wide that could benefit from automation than move forward by digitizing them one at a time, leaving core back office systems in place to be accessed by digital workers.
There’s a need for change because challenger companies and start-ups think digital first. So rather than thinking how they scale up with people, they're thinking what they can automate from the start. This puts them in a far more competitive position than if they were bringing in a much bigger overhead. The race is on. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Work report shows 80% of employers intend to accelerate plans to digitize their processes and provide more opportunities for remote work, 50% say they will automate production tasks.
It means that traditional financial institutions not only need to battle corporate inertia, but they've got more agile companies snapping at their heels that can gear up quickly. In conclusion, it’s understandable that banks may feel the fear of future uncertainty – but they can learn from the pandemic that rapid change is not just highly achievable but will be a necessity in the new market conditions that unfold in 2021 and beyond.
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