Seven high-impact automation targets for financial institutions

It’s 2023, and technologies like machine learning, robotic process automation, natural language processing and artificial intelligence are fast becoming ubiquitous in both customer-facing and back-office digital infrastructure, bringing financial institutions a wealth of opportunities to leverage automation across the business.

Bucky Porter, financial services industry analyst, Windstream Enterprise

As these technologies and the automation capabilities embedded within them evolve and mature, it’s up to institutions and their IT decision-makers to identify areas of the business where these capabilities can deliver the most bang for the buck in terms of impact on customers, employees and the bottom line. Based on my work supporting financial services organizations in their digital transformation initiatives (with an emphasis on network connectivity, communications and security), here’s a look at seven of the most impactful ways institutions can tap into the power of digital automation in 2023 and beyond:

Enriching the customer journey

Automation across the communications channels that institutions and customers use to interact with one another is critical to providing the rich, disruption-free experiences that customers today expect. Using AI and ML technology along with advanced analytics tools, institutions can develop a full understanding of a customer’s (and a household’s) preferences, then tailor their journey with automated, hyper-personalized offers and recommendations, human-like automated chat/virtual agent interactions and the like. Many of these tools and capabilities can be found in the current generation of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and contact center as a service (CCaaS) platforms.

The mortgage line of business is one area that’s especially ripe for automation, given the bottlenecks that continue to plague processing and the customer journey. Building more workload automation into the mortgage process, from application to booking, can minimize human interaction and human error, shrink approval times, simplify compliance with reporting requirements, move pipelines along faster, and ultimately translate into the kind of elevated customer experience that gives an institution a clear competitive edge.

Securing the network as well as the data, apps and users attached to it

First, the bad news: In 2022, according to fresh data from Contrast Security, 60% of financial institutions were victimized by destructive cyberattacks, 64% saw an increase in application attacks, 50% experienced attacks against their APIs, 48% experienced an increase in wire transfer fraud and 50% detected campaigns to steal non-public market information.

The good news is new multi-layered cybersecurity strategies like secure access service edge (SASE) and security service edge (SSE) use automation to thwart ransomware attacks and other types of attacks that pose a threat to banks. SASE and SSE can be deployed in tandem with a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN), and typically employ firewall as a service, secure web gateways , zero trust network access and cloud access security brokers, with a portal to manage and automate deployment of these elements. These comprehensive security frameworks can also be architected to have automated intelligent resiliency, ensuring service continuity without human intervention. The result is a unified framework to intercept, inspect, secure and optimize all traffic across a network that includes multiple branches.

Simplifying network management

Not only does SD-WAN provide institutions with access to advanced security strategies like SASE and SSE, but it also comes with automations that make the task of managing a network across multiple branches simpler and much less time consuming. It does so by automating tasks traditionally set manually. For example, an SD-WAN can automatically detect network conditions and provide dynamic path steering and forward error correction to ensure high-priority apps get the performance they need. Via a single network interface, many of the moving parts of the network can be centrally managed with automated capabilities, including prioritization of network traffic to optimize bandwidth, which increases reliability and app performance while maximizing network capacity at a lower cost. Benefits like these explain why a November 2022 study found that more than 95% of enterprises already have deployed an SD-WAN or plan to within the next 24 months, and why, anecdotally, I’ve seen so many financial institutions shift to SD-WAN recently.

Improving employee productivity

In the years I spent working as a bank executive, I can recall myself and other managers spending hours on duplicative manual data entry and document-shuffling — time that would have been much better spent on higher-value pursuits. Automating workloads and processes unburdens employees of monotonous, unnecessary busy work.

A financial institution also can impact employee productivity with how it manages the bandwidth across its communications network. With an SD-WAN, for example, an institution can use automation to enforce policies that allocate less bandwidth (or restrict access) to apps that can distract people from their work (personal social media, etc.).

Strengthening the employee experience

Automations also are proving their value on the HR side of the business, for example, where institutions are using portals through which employees, enabled by automation, can access self-service capabilities to manage their benefits, as well as to access training, upskilling and other resources.

Uncovering cross-selling and other opportunities

By automatically capturing and applying analytics to data from customer interactions and transactions, institutions can quickly identify opportunities to market highly targeted additional products and services to existing clients, while also developing personas that help them zero in on the right prospects. Then they can reach out and/or deliver highly personalized offers.

Sharing insight across open banking ecosystems

Open banking allows for customers to connect their various accounts and control the sharing of their financial data through APIs that interface with other financial institutions and fintech companies. Automations can ensure that data and insight is securely shared among the various partners within an open banking ecosystem, a must to provide a seamless experience for customers across the various apps they’re using within the ecosystem.

Bucky Porter is a financial services industry analyst at cloud-enabled connectivity and communications provider Windstream Enterprise.