Notes from the front lines in the war on inefficiency
April 19th, 2017
Back in December, we released a whitepaper with NICE Actimize that took a hard look at financial crimes investigations and asked a basic question: How can technology help transform a process that remains stubbornly manual, time-consuming, and expensive? The argument we advanced—based on NICE Actimize survey data—is that investigations today still involve a significant number of rules-based tasks that do not necessarily require direct human oversight. The process is therefore fertile ground for the application of a wide array of automation strategies, ranging from the relatively basic (pre-populating fields in a regulatory filing) to the fairly complex (using machine learning to perform alert risk scoring).
Since releasing our paper, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of clients about modernizing their investigations process. Their response has been somewhat unexpected for a couple of reasons.
The overall appetite for automation
First, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their overall appetite for automation. Almost all of our meetings on this topic begin with a general recognition of the need to rationalize the manual approaches of the past in the name of efficiency and (interestingly) employee happiness and retention. A use case that frequently comes up in our conversations involves automating data collection and aggregation. Clients are very receptive to the notion that they can take greater advantage of their case management platforms (without implementing an entirely new tool) to consolidate internal and external data from multiple information sources into a single system, reducing the need for analysts to access multiple different programs during their investigations.
Even incremental enhancements to the data-gathering process can add up to huge collective savings of time, freeing up investigators to focus on real risks. In addition, as data enters the case management system, an engine can automatically check for potentially relevant connections through negative news searches, Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) look-ups, or customer relationship searches, which can accelerate Level 1 investigations and enhance alert triage. We’ve also spoken to clients about taking an even more ambitious approach to automation, walking them through demos of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) tools that can mimic human activity to open files, access information, and enter it into spreadsheets more quickly and accurately than any human.
Skepticism towards the implementation of automation
But I’ve also been surprised by the level of skepticism many of our clients have expressed when it comes to implementing automation on this broader level. At a recent roundtable we hosted for senior financial crime technology executives, attendees voiced concerns over the potential risks of expanding automation, such as inadvertent releases of non-public client information. And it’s a valid concern: the volume of repetitive tasks that RPA tools can perform means that small mistakes or discrepancies can quickly replicate and metastasize. For this reason, it’s particularly important to embed effective governance, risk management, and controls up front in the implementation of automation processes, as PwC outlined in a recent whitepaper.
What this skepticism indicates to me is the stickiness of a conceptual hurdle that stems, in part, from an understandable reluctance to abandon processes that have become entrenched and are largely predictable…even if they are inefficient. It’s a bit like taking a slow regional train in a snowstorm as opposed to flying: you know you’ll eventually get to your destination by taking the train, even if it takes much longer. I understand the logic of this approach, particularly when organizations are facing intense regulatory scrutiny and want to play it safe, but it’s not really sustainable from a long-term, business-as-usual standpoint.
Automation lies within reach
What we’ve tried to emphasize in our meetings with clients is that automation already lies within reach, and in some cases it’s really a question to taking advantage of what their systems can already do. Doing more with what you already have is a great way to get comfortable with more advanced forms of automation.
Learn more about NICE Actimize’s Robotic Process Automation Solutions for Financial Crime and Compliance.