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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about.

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about. 1

By Rory Gray, Vice President of Sales at leading software automation firm, UiPath, explains what role Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play in improving the efficiency of finance and banking departments.

Pre-coronavirus, the finance and banking industries were already facing a myriad of challenges. Now, this myriad is quickly becoming ever more complicated. There is increasing pressure to react to declining business health, be flexible to changing customer behaviour and to adapt to evolving workforce dynamics.

Unfortunately, for these teams, improving agility is easier said than done. Many processes involve legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data. These processes are time-consuming and mundane, leaving finance and banking professionals hard-pressed to fit in client-centric and strategic work.

Take processing invoices. The way it’s done hasn’t changed for years in many organisations. It often involves a member or members of the finance team receiving the invoice by mail or email, approving it manually, printing, signing and submitting it to Accounts Payable. An AP Clerk then has to pick it up, read it, verify the approvals, extract the data and input it into to the accounting package. This all takes time and costs money. What’s more, it’s dull and prone to errors. People don’t want to spend their days doing it.

Imagine if processes such as invoicing, but also loan processing, credit card disputes and many more, could be automated. Finance and banking teams would spend much less time copying, pasting and printing and could refocus on business health and transformation.

RPA is the key to finding more time in the day  

Robotic Process Automation or RPA, is software that can work just like a human. It can use AI capabilities to read and interpret data from both physical and digital documents. It can extract the necessary information and it can transfer this to multiple IT applications. It’s a software robot – or digital assistant.

For finance and banking professionals, RPA could help them break free from the time constraints caused by inefficient and complex legacy operations by passing rule-based repetitive tasks to software robots. This saves time and money – and allows people to focus on the tasks that can make a difference to the business.

RPA can help carry the burden of compliance

Rory Gray

Rory Gray

With data extracted, processed and formatted by software robots, employees will also no longer have to carry the full and heavy burden of compliance.

However accurate we aim to be, the reality is that processing data is always open to mistakes. This is exacerbated by ever shifting market regulations. Software robots, however, are programmed by finance and banking professionals to strictly follow the same steps every time and thus do not fall victim to the same blunders as all humans inevitably do.

Of course, many regulatory compliance functions will often need to involve some human validation or decision making. While the robots work around the clock without fatigue to complete tasks, professionals can still intervene if there is an inaccuracy that requires the personal touch or a loop in the workflow where a decision is needed. Therefore, time-consuming compliance tasks can be passed to software robots, but humans ultimately remain in control.

This in turn provides better risk management and compliance, higher accuracy, better cycle times and improved throughput.

RPA in practice

This may all sound very futuristic, but in practice, many firms are already using RPA to free up employee time, improve compliance and save money.

For example, a leading smart infrastructure solutions firm we work with has created a software robot affectionately named Archie, which has taken over the responsibility for processing all invoices.

Pre-Covid, the 400,000 invoices received by the firm each year were dealt with manually. With Archie this is now fully automated freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time which employees can now use to focus on value-adding activities. It also means that no employee needs to come into the office to process the invoice, nor does any paper need to be passed around the team. Thus helping to keep the workforce safe.

With all this extra time, finance and banking departments can focus on adapting to and thriving in the current crisis. Moving away from data processing and towards advisory roles where they can best use their strategic skills.

Consequently, businesses will benefit during the pandemic and beyond and employees could see their roles shifting away from the mundane and towards tasks that keep them on their toes. A rare win-win in a difficult time.

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How financial services organisations are using data to underpin future growth

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How financial services organisations are using data to underpin future growth 2

By John O’Keeffe, Director of Looker EMEA at Google Cloud

In addition to the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant decline in venture capital investment has left many financial services organisations feeling deflated, with others struggling to survive. According to figures from trade body Innovate Finance, investment in UK fintech organisations fell 30% in Q2 of this year, with smaller challenger firms and start-ups being the most profoundly hit by our current economic problems.

As a result, both challenger banks and more established players have had to pivot their strategies in order to maintain relevance and market share. Nonetheless, the outlook for fintech in the UK and further afield looks promising for the future. The reality of spending much of our time at home, and out of reach of brick and mortar services, means that many of us are becoming even more accustomed to digital banking for example. Recent analysis of finance application usage from Adjust, found that the average sessions in investment apps surged 88% globally, while payment and banking app sessions increased by 49% and 26%, respectively, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the fact remains that investment in the sector is currently hard to come by. To help regain momentum, a review into the UK’s fintech industry was launched to identify opportunities to support growth across the industry. Data has – and will continue to – play a key role in this push for innovation, helping organisations spot gaps in the market, predict customer behaviours and ensure that the decisions they make are based on real insights. At such a critical time, enabling a data-led approach will help organisations ascertain exactly what is required to accelerate change and ensure the sustainability of the industry.

The financial services industry is a data-rich environment, giving organisations a potential goldmine of customer interactions, product performance and market trends. However, the difficulty often lies in bringing this into a coherent whole, and extracting the business insights required for long-term success. This is as much about strategy and accessibility as it is about technology. Fostering a true “data culture” where employees across the business, whether data experts or not, can access real-time intelligence that informs their day-to-day decision making in a positive way, is crucial. This may mean tweaking your onboarding and training programmes, identifying data evangelists that can catalyse others, or simply making data engaging and relatable for those who are new to the practice.

For many organisations, data is often stored within traditional business intelligence tools, third-party SQL clients or even just a simple spreadsheet, meaning that valuable data insights are siloed and often hindered by a bottleneck between a stretched analytics team and the rest of the business. There is also the all-important General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to consider, so data governance and having a clear view of where data is being housed, and for what purpose, is particularly pivotal.

With this in mind, it is crucial to have a “single source of truth” to bring various data streams together and enable real-time, self-serve insights to your whole employee base. As an example of this in practice, data is a great way to understand your existing clients more intimately and nip any problems in the bud early. By building a custom data dashboard incorporating, for example, number of support tickets issued, change in ticket sentiment and number of days to renewal, you can build up an accurate picture of account health and how this has changed over time. In combination with real-time metrics on which products and features are being used and how, sales teams can have more meaningful and accurate conversations with their customers, converting at-risk accounts into potential growth opportunities.

Given the dip in VC investment mentioned earlier, it is more important than ever for startups and scale-ups to do more with less and set a strategic roadmap that supports rapid growth. By using data to measure and action customer feedback, these organisations can be more agile in taking new products to market and making sure these are useful and address specific pain points.

Whether a fintech scale-up or an established name, it has never been more important to shift your operations to a more data-led strategy. With an uncertain outlook ahead for business across all sectors, making data the “single source of truth” can help to navigate market trends, identify new growth opportunities and simply make an organisation’s decision-making smarter and more efficient. Through data-driven innovation and growth, one of Britain’s most valuable industries can continue to thrive in the future.

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The Bank of England partners with Appvia to assist in the design, construction and assurance of a new cloud environment

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The Bank of England partners with Appvia to assist in the design, construction and assurance of a new cloud environment 3

The Bank of England has appointed self-service cloud-native delivery platform Appvia to support the creation of a new cloud environment.

The announcement follows a public procurement process which commenced in January 2020. The Bank of England will work with Appvia on design, construction and assurance of a modern, fit for purpose cloud environment.

During the two-year partnership, Appvia will be supporting development and project teams within the Bank in testing and deploying code in cloud environments, working with security teams to integrate the cloud into existing operational and security processes; and implementing information governance compliance so staff are able to collaborate safely and securely.

Oliver Tweedie, Head of Digital Platforms at the Bank of England, said, “We have selected Appvia as our Cloud Delivery Partner to help us realise the Bank’s cloud ambitions and unlock the potential of the Cloud. Appvia come with a great pedigree and a wealth of experience delivering Cloud services within government.  Working in collaboration with Bank Technology teams, Appvia will help us shape and build the future of Cloud services across our organisation – a key part of our Technology strategy.”

Jon Shanks, CEO and Co-Founder of Appvia, said, “This is an exciting opportunity to work with the Bank as it undergoes a step-change in its approach to the cloud. Harnessing innovative cloud solutions, such as containers and Kubernetes is a real business enabler for the Bank to streamline the software development lifecycle, ways of working and cloud operating model. We look forward to working with all stakeholders at the Bank of England to support its digital transformation journey.”

Appvia, which counts the Home Office among its major clients, is a self-service platform that enables organisations to scale their infrastructure quickly, securely and easily using services such as Kubernetes. In September, Appvia launched the world’s first developer-centric tool to enable teams to predict and control cloud costs.

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN 4

Three key benefits of SD-WAN can help retailers solve new and old challenges and prepare for an uncertain future

By John Tait, Global Managing Director, TNS Payments Market

As customer needs and preferences change, and as technologies disrupt formerly effective strategies, retailers are confronted by continuous challenges in the modern era.

But no year has been quite like 2020. Mandates ordering the public to stay at home crippled foot traffic earlier this year and, even when physical stores were able to open, social-distancing measures have limited the numbers of customers permitted indoors, while fears of the virus have driven others away.

With new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time to think differently. Retailers need to look closely at how technology can support their operations and their customers, secure customer payments and business data, and help them adopt the digital strategies that will be vital in an uncertain future.

One network technology, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), can offer a host of benefits for retail businessesAt its core, SD-WAN is a way of simplifying the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled. This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centres and retail sites or offices, which alleviates network congestion and keeps the network from becoming overloaded. It can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.

But that’s not all it is. Here’s how it can help retailers navigate an ever-changing business and economic climate.

It can support new strategies and modernises operations

Many retailers will have heard the term ‘digital transformation’ and their stores may even be working towards it. The basic premise is that all businesses can boost their overall agility, flexibility, and customer service experience by adopting digital initiatives and technology-based strategies.

For retailers, this can mean creating online storefronts to connect with customers, instead of face-to-face interactions, with cloud-supported e-commerce options and curb-side pick-up options for pandemic-friendly buying experiences. Alternatively, it could mean adding chatbots and customer data management solutions to a website for ways to support customers with a leaner staff. Or implementing contactless mobile payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed connectivity. It can even be as simple as adding a separate Wi-Fi network for customers to use then they’re in a store.

The possibilities for digital transformation are practically endless within the retail space — it all comes down to how daring retailers want to be and how much tech they want to add. But even the more accessible parts of digital transformation incorporate devices and apps that can strain traditional networks and add new levels of complexity around network management. Even simply adding digital displays to stream promotional videos in a store can stretch a network’s bandwidth.

That’s where SD-WAN can come in. Because it can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, it gives a business the ability to support new strategies and add the latest cloud-based apps while also prioritising business-critical applications like payments. In other words, retailers don’t have to worry that their payments terminal might slow or go down just because they’ve added in-store digital features that also require connectivity, such as customer-facing tablets that let them place orders or view different options, or customer Wi-Fi.

For shops that have shifted to more of an e-commerce/delivery/pick-up strategy, SD-WAN supports secure digital payments while connecting an inventory management system to a payments system and online/mobile ordering portal, so customers can have a smooth experience, and their data remains protected.

It helps retailers embrace and secure the cloud

The cloud is a big part of digital transformation. Retailers’ own operations, like their databases or servers, might not yet be based in the cloud, but they almost certainly use services that are. Tools such as Office 365 and Google Drive, or payments apps like Square are all cloud-based.

Even if retailers aren’t there yet, their vendors are most likely going to push them there. Plus, cloud isn’t just good for the vendors they use; it’s good for retail businesses, too. Many of the aforementioned digital services like e-commerce and chatbots need the cloud to run optimally.  Once they’re in the cloud, retail organisation will have a world of possibilities, but to adopt cloud, they need to solve any connectivity issues they may have.

While cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, it does add security concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all of the organisations that IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.

SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at a branch or location by securing direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network. Retailers can quickly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity.

It boosts security, including customer payments security

SD-WAN allows retailers to deliver alternative payment options such as self-service kiosks and mobile POS. For example, outdoor terminals can be used for restaurants serving patio diners, or tablets that allow staff to check out shoppers from anywhere in a store.

This flexibility regarding where and how payments can be processed is ideal for the consumer, but it can create cybersecurity risks because of more devices and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout. No retailer wants to be featured in the next headline about data breaches or other cyberattacks. This means properly security controls, especially for payments, are critical.

SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — POS terminals, cash registers, e-commerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser (AFD) pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.

SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. Retailers should opt for best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements.

While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities. They also add an extra layer of security: with a provider actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ card data, locked down.

Solving existing and future Challenges

This year has challenging in many ways and surprises are likely to continue for the next year or so. This uncertain new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink the way they do business to ensure long-term survival and drive growth, even in a volatile environment.

Implementing an SD-WAN solution can help retailers support digital initiatives and new strategies, deploy and secure modern cloud applications, and secure payments data. With the option of a managed service provider behind the SD-WAN, stores can focus on boosting the customer experience and modernising retail operations instead of managing payments terminals or troubleshooting a network. This will save time and money at a time when everyone needs more of both.

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