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RPA ‘steps to success’ for the finance industry

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RPA ‘steps to success’ for the finance industry

Jonathan Ebsworth, partner of the disruptive technologies practice at Infosys Consulting

Earlier this year, Samsung Securities gave 2,000 of its employees an early bonus which must have come as a welcome surprise – especially as this unexpected present was in the form of shares to the value of $105 billion. While no-one doubts that Samsung Group’s employees work hard, an individual award of some $50m per employee seems rather excessive – not to say unfair on the other workers who received nothing.

The problem, of course, is that the employee responsible for issuing the shares had made a catastrophic mistake: in fact, each employee was due to receive a dividend of two billion won, or just under a dollar for each share they owned. But what actually happened was that the luckless administrator accidentally issued two billion of shares.

While the Samsung story is just the latest in a long line of ‘fat finger errors’, human mistakes can cost a business billions of pounds – quite literally. Such mistakes can also lead to terrible reputational damage and compliance liabilities, as happened here. In the 37 minutes it took to correct the error, sixteen Samsung Securities sold their shares for almost $10m each, in spite of having been warned not to by their managers. The lure of a payday beyond the realms of an ordinary worker’s imagination clearly outweighed the consequences of getting fired.

Eliminating risk 

We all make mistakes, but few of us have to face the same consequences as this poor Samsung Securities’ employee, who miss-type wiped 12 per cent of the company’s stock price. Businesses in the financial services industry are uniquely vulnerable to these sorts of mistakes, and not just because of the volumes of high value transactions they make every day.

The answer is to explore where robotic process automation (RPA) can be employed to eliminate human error (or, indeed, deliberate fraud). There is a lot of fear around automation ‘stealing’ humans’ jobs, but for repetitive, rules-based processes involving high-stakes transactions, it’s more likely to safeguard our jobs by preventing cataclysmic mistakes that can cost a company hundreds of millions of dollars at the stroke of a key.

Automation isn’t just about protecting against errors, important as that is. There is enormous potential to bring RPA into other areas of finance; for example, in areas such as compliance, anti-money laundering activity, and Know Your Customer (KYC) initiatives. What’s more, RPA can bring huge cost- and time-savings by automating many of the tedious, process-heavy transactions such as account opening or customer service.

  Building a vision for RPA

With so many clear benefits, one would expect financial services businesses to have embraced RPA; however, recent research by Infosys Consulting revealed that only 10 per cent of organisations currently using RPA or AI believe they are maximising their full benefits and capabilities. For example, a single RPA agent involves a one-off cost of between $5,000 and $15,000 – far cheaper than even the most junior employee. Failing to take advantage of bots represents a major missed opportunity, and the reason is more often than not a lack of clear strategic vision for RPA, and poor understanding of the requirements for effective implementation.

We should all be tremendously excited about RPA’s potential; to achieve this, however, businesses must take a pragmatic and strategic approach to bots in the enterprise. Here are our five steps to RPA success:

  • Bots are no panacea

For repetitive, transactional tasks, bots are around three times more efficient at certain processes than an equivalent human worker, but that doesn’t mean that a business should conduct a wholesale replacement of their existing employees. Bots are good at routine processes, but finance is about much more than hitting buttons at the right time – it requires workers with intelligence, intuition, and problem-solving abilities. Organisations shouldn’t calculate their RPA strategy on like-for-like replacement, but must give careful thought to how bots and humans complement each other in various roles such as compliance, invoicing or customer service – as well as considering the costs of retraining, redeployment and sometimes organisational adjustment required.

  • Planning for disaster

It’s not technology itself that tends to cause us problems, but rather our over-reliance on new tools and apps. This is especially true when a business faces a business continuity problem such as a power or network outage, or a cybersecurity breach. If the bots go offline for any reason, will your business be able to keep functioning – and will your company retain skilled employees who can take over these processes when disaster strikes? Business continuity questions like these are often overlooked, but should be at the heart of any RPA strategy.

  • Updating your security strategy 

Cybersecurity threats are more prevalent than ever. As we pass increasing responsibility onto non-human actors such as RPA software, we need to consider how we update our security strategy to accommodate this changing dynamic. For example, bots aren’t well-suited to authentication methods such as biometric or two-factor authentication. Failing to integrate bots fully into your organisational security plans risks creating new vulnerabilities that could ultimately be just as costly as any ‘fat finger error’.

  • Staying agile 

A tactical or poorly-planned RPA deployment can significantly reduce the agility an organisation has, tightly coupling automated processes to the underlying platforms. Automated processes can be quite fragile and particularly sensitive to even minor updates to the core systems they drive. Bots and AI solutions at scale should be governed within the overall architecture framework that underpins the business and not as a stand-alone solution sitting outside of the enterprise architecture. 

  • It’s a steep learning curve for everyone 

Automation is still a very new technology, and there are many lessons that we need to learn before we can deploy it uniformly across a business and iron out potential risks and errors. That doesn’t mean that we can’t wring enormous value from RPA today. However, we should at least be alive to the potential risks and consequences of introducing these new capabilities. The secret to success is knowing how to complement human activity with RPA, rather than have them compete. That’s why it’s so important to develop a strong business case for every RPA implementation, based on an awareness of where human error can and should be eliminated – but also considering where humans, in spite of their fat fingers, can continue to add value to the organisation.

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Death of the workplace friendship: study shows how remote working is eroding our meaningful connections with colleagues

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Death of the workplace friendship: study shows how remote working is eroding our meaningful connections with colleagues 1
  • Employee experience platform Perkbox’s research on 1,296 employees and 300 business leaders reveal 65% think the ‘new way of working’ will take its toll on workplace friendships
  • 45% of employees say that maintaining emotional wellbeing still remains one of the biggest remote working challenges; yet only 20% of bosses agree

  • Meanwhile 35% of business leaders confess they are struggling to cope with the pressures of keeping employees happy at the risk of their own personal wellbeing

Friendships at work have long been a debated topic pre-COVID: arguments either side profess these to be both conducive or a hindrance to productivity and creativity. Yet, according to new research into the national state of employee wellbeing conducted by employee experience platform Perkbox, 45% of 1,296 respondents say that maintaining emotional wellbeing still remains one of the biggest remote working challenges facing businesses, with 65% believing that workplace friendships – now even more critical in the ‘new working world’ – are suffering because of remote working.

Colleague camaraderie in the age of COVID

The benchmarking study saw that 54% of employees now believe that maintaining ‘social wellbeing’ (how connected we feel with our colleagues and the wider world) presents one of the biggest wellbeing challenges in light of remote working – an increase of 18% from Perkbox’s study of the same sample set the previous month.

Yet there is a clear disconnect between what employees feel and what their employers believe: only 12% of business leaders recognise their employees’ social wellbeing as a significant challenge in the age of remote working, and only 20% of bosses (compared with 45% of employees) believe that maintaining ‘emotional wellbeing’ (how we feel about stress, anxiety and our overall mental health) is a significant challenge that mustbe addressed.

Some employers, however, confess that they are struggling with the pressures of keeping their employees happy, safe and productive during this ‘new normal’, with 35% saying that this has been at the cost of looking after their own personal wellbeing.

Mona Akiki, VP of People, Perkbox, commented: “Many organisations pre-COVID either didn’t pay much attention to friendships at work or focused on it as a way to ensure that it didn’t create any conflicts within the organisation. Today, we’re realising that strong colleague interactions seem to matter to an employee’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Remote working appears to have created nervousness around our sense of connectivity and camaraderie with our colleagues. Forward thinking organisations are quickly realising that this should matter to them as well.

Although organisations didn’t necessarily cause the current climate, the increased sense of anxiety and burnout amongst their employees who are now living and working in silo at home will not only impact the individual’s health but also the wellbeing of the team and the business. Both employees and employers must work together to combat this challenge and achieve wellbeing before it becomes an even bigger issue.”

Sedentary and sad

The third instalment of Perkbox’s benchmarking study also showed, for the first time, how physical health due to less movement has risen to be one of the top three wellbeing challenges for employees (after social and emotional wellbeing). With the removal of the daily commute and longer hours spent at the computer in order to appear more productive and thus more indispensable, 37% of employees believe that their physical wellbeing has suffered – with lack of exercise fuelling the emotional crutch of unhealthy comforts such as takeaways, binge watching and excessive drinking. The government’s recent guidance to “work from home, if you can” could exacerbate the problem further.

Tackling the problem 

Before and during the earlier months of COVID-19, workspace wellbeing (how the safety of our work environment and / or ability to work well from home is affecting us) was the most implemented initiative by 79% of businesses, with initiatives around social wellbeing coming a close second (75%). Yet – perhaps because of the economic uncertainty brought about by COVID compounded by the lack of acknowledgement by bosses that emotional and social wellbeing is a problem felt by employees – 16% of small business say they have no plans to implement initiatives to tackle these challenges; a figure which has doubled from the previous Perkbox study.

Furthermore, 30% of smaller business have no plans to implement financial wellbeing support during this critical period (compared to 9% in the last study); 23% have no plans to implement physical wellbeing initiatives (an increase from 9% previously), and 13% have no plans to implement emotional wellbeing initiatives to support employees’ mental health (compared to 5% previously).

“There is a concerning trend – especially among smaller businesses – about disinvesting in overall employee wellbeing initiatives at a time where support is needed the most,” commented Mona Akiki, Perkbox.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding that these initiatives need not be expensive but considered, human-centric and empathetic to the emotional, social, physical and financial challenges that beset us every day, hindering us from our ability to perform optimally. A team whose wellbeing has been adequately attended to has the resilience, energy and creativity to weather business challenges more effectively than a team whose members are emotionally, physically and socially run ragged. Our research acts as a barometer for how pressing these concerns are to both employees and employers. These challenges, at least for the medium term, are here to stay. It’s time that businesses invest in employee wellbeing as part of a wider essential strategy to ‘keep the lights on’ where others are floundering.”

As part of Perkbox’s New Working World series, a number of surveys and reports are being produced to track employee sentiment towards wellbeing as we exit a post-Covid world. This is being run alongside a survey of UK employers to see the business perspective on wellbeing impact in light of 2020’s events. For more information and full report on the studies findings, visit: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/new-working-world

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Half of UK’s finance sector confirms diversity should be more of a priority in the workplace, with calls for action across the industry

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Half of UK’s finance sector confirms diversity should be more of a priority in the workplace, with calls for action across the industry 2

Almost half (45%) of Britain’s banking/financial services workforce think their employer could do more when it comes to diversity, according to a report from UK-based tech-for-good developer, Culture Shift.

Despite 74% of employees in the sector confirming that working somewhere with a diverse workforce is an important factor for their happiness at work, almost half (46%) think diversity seems like less of a priority in the workplace currently, with 52% stating it should be more of a priority. The same report also uncovered that 53% of employees in banking and financial services said their employer makes token gestures that feel surface level when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion have long been key factors for ensuring a positive and happy work environment, however the events of recent months, such as the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, have resulted in these climbing up the agenda of many employers.

“The insights on diversity and inclusion uncovered in Culture Shift’s report really do resonate with me, as they shine a light on the lack of true representation across the UK’s positions of power. Employees are calling for their employers to focus on recruiting people from more diverse backgrounds, while providing training to the workforce on diversity and inclusion, confirming action really does need to be taken.

“If organisations want to create a happy work environment then they should take heed, as most employees confirmed working somewhere with a diverse workforce was an important factor to their happiness at work,” comments Olive Strachan MBE, founder of Olive Strachan Resources Ltd, global business woman and diversity and inclusion specialist.

The research found that fostering a diverse workforce representative of reality is a key factor for creating a positive culture and a key component for most employees’ happiness at work. With many calling for more to be done when it comes to ensuring that not only do under-represented groups have a presence in businesses, but also a seat at the table and a voice, there are various factors organisations should be keeping front on mind whilst planning for the future.

On fostering a diverse workforce, representative of reality, the research revealed that:

  • 80% of employees in banking/financial services said working at a company with a strong ethical background was important to them, with 84% stating that working at a company with a good reputation for treating employees fairly was integral to their happiness at work
  • Almost one-fifth (18%) said their employer could improve workplace culture by recruiting more people from BAME backgrounds, while one-quarter (25%) said by providing training to the workforce on diversity and inclusion
  • 15% said their employer could improve its culture and be more inclusive by recruiting more people from LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) backgrounds
  • More than one-quarter (26%) said their employer could improve its culture by recruiting more people of varying abilities; while 21% said by recruiting a better gender balance
  • One-quarter (25%) said their employer could improve its culture by recruiting more people of different religions/faiths
  • 15% said their employer should prioritise the promotion of people from minority and marginalised backgrounds to improve its workplace culture

“To create an empowering culture for all employees, it’s absolutely essential for organisations to be diverse, inclusive and showcase true representation across all levels of the business. Not only do recruitment processes need to be inclusive, but promotion opportunities too, and employees from marginalised backgrounds need to be supported through their career, as well as other employees.

“We firmly believe this is an incredibly important conversation to have and the insights uncovered in our research solidify that we’re not alone in believing more action needs to be taken by those at the top. It’s a shift that won’t happen overnight, but there needs to be clear intent from employers to keep diversity and inclusion at the top of their agenda,” adds Gemma McCall, CEO, Culture Shift.

Culture Shift exists to lead positive change in organisational culture, through building products that empower them to tackle harassment and bullying.

“We hope the insights uncovered in our report, combined with the fact that diverse workforces are consistently proven to be more successful, result in employers making some tangible changes across the board to ensure their teams are truly representative of reality,” concludes Gemma.

To see more insights uncovered by the research or to download the full ‘Maintaining workplace culture in a rapidly changing environment’ report, visit info.culture-shift.co.uk/maintaining-workplace-culture.

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American Express and Amazon Business Launch Co-branded Credit Cards for Small Businesses in the UK

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American Express and Amazon Business Launch Co-branded Credit Cards for Small Businesses in the UK 3

The co-branded Cards offer flexible benefits and payment optionality by allowing small businesses to decide between earning rewards or adjusting payment terms on eligible purchases

UK small business Card launch builds on American Express and Amazon’s long-term relationship and co-branded Card programme in the US

American Express (NYSE: AXP) today announced the launch of the new Amazon Business American Express® Card and the Amazon Business Prime American Express® Card for small businesses in the UK. The Cards offer a host of rich rewards and payment flexibility designed to help businesses better manage their cash flow and gain greater insight into their spending.

The Cards provide an enhanced check-out experience on Amazon Business UK and Amazon.co.uk that gives Cardmembers the option to earn reward points or select a deferred payment term for each transaction, enabling them to make the best payment choice for their finances. Reward points can be earned anywhere American Express Cards are accepted and redeemed toward future Amazon purchases or applied to the balance of their monthly Card statement. This new Card programme in the UK has been developed as part of the on-going relationship between American Express and Amazon which includes a co-branded programme in the US and a global Card acceptance relationship.

This launch comes at a time when 63% of British small businesses say cash flow issues have led them to delay purchasing goods and services they need to run their business, according to new research from American Express and YouGov1. Nearly a quarter (23%) of the survey participants said they have put off ‘bigger ticket’ purchases over the last six months until they have funds available, and 38% of them are only buying the ‘essentials’ they need to keep their business operating.

Commenting on the new Card launch, Colin O’Flaherty, General Manager of UK Global Commercial Services at American Express, said: “We have been serving small businesses for over 60 years, and are passionate about helping our small business customers effectively run and grow their businesses, especially during this challenging period. With many UK SMEs facing financial hardships, we want to make it easier for businesses to manage their finances and continue accessing the goods and products they need with more options to pay. We know that a vast number of the UK’s businesses rely on Amazon’s wide-ranging products and services and are excited to launch this powerful and flexible new payment tool that will allow small businesses to select how to pay, purchase by purchase.”

Dave Brittain, Director of Amazon Business UK, said “Working with American Express to launch the small business credit Card was a natural decision for Amazon, given our shared long-standing commitment to helping small businesses flourish globally. We’re incredibly proud to launch this Card programme as it offers small business owners and entrepreneurs the best of both companies: the convenience and value they have come to know and love from Amazon, underpinned by the world-class service, benefits, access and security of American Express. These benefits have never been more important at a time when businesses are navigating the challenges and uncertainty which Covid-19 has presented.”

Amazon Business American Express Cardmembers and Amazon Business Prime American Express Cardmembers will have access to the following key benefits:

  • 2% Amazon Rewards points on the first £120,000 in purchases at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon Business UK and Whole Foods Market UK each calendar year, 1% thereafter or 90-day payment terms on such purchases for Cardmembers who are Business Prime members on Amazon Business UK
  • 1.5% Amazon Rewards points on the first £120,000 in purchases at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon Business UK and Whole Foods Market UK each calendar year, 1% thereafter or 60-day payment terms on such purchases for all other Cardmembers
  • 0.5% Amazon Rewards points on all other purchases for all Cardmembers

Both Cards come with a £50 annual fee, however, this is waived for new Business Prime American Express Cardmembers in the first year. Upon approval, new Cardmembers who are Business Prime members will receive an Amazon gift card with £50 value, and all other Cardmembers will receive a £25 Amazon gift card. As an added benefit for Amazon Business Prime American Express Cardmembers, their Cards will feature a unique vertical design that is composed of metal.

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