Robotic process automation in financial services

From PwC's Financial Services Institute

Automation has grown up. In recent years, a new class of software known as “digital labor” or robotic process automation (RPA) has emerged. The terms describe logic-driven robots that execute pre-programmed rules on mostly structured, and some unstructured, data. Financial institutions are looking to these tools to automate a wide range of activity without the need for complex programming. We think 2017 could be a breakout year for the technology.

A look back

Testing: one, two. In 2016, many financial institutions began to consider how to incorporate digital labor into their labor force strategies. But there’s a large gap between the leaders and everyone else. While most firms have started to experiment with RPA, they approach it as a technology solution rather than a staffing initiative.

What’s the use case? Most RPA projects in financial services have started by automating existing work, typically connecting legacy systems that don’t “talk” to each other. We’ve seen it used for reporting, reconciliation, data remediation, and other repetitive work.

Not scaling up yet. For most, these are early days for RPA. Across the sectors, we’ve seen a lot of proof-of-concept activity, but deployment at scale has been limited. As a result, many firms have yet to see a financial upside from their investments.

Who does the work? In a 2016 survey of RPA use in the financial services industry, PwC found that companies vary in their implementation of digital labor. Two thirds of the respondents are implementing RPA internally, either alone or with support from systems integrators, consultants, or software vendors. Others have turned to outsourcing vendors, typically as an extension of existing offshore projects.

Use of RPA in financial services - PwC

The road ahead

What else can it do? Because software rules can be programmed by division analysts rather than IT developers, we expect that use cases will proliferate rapidly. These will expand from core operations into administrative functions such as human resources (recordkeeping) and finance (reporting).

The search for ROI. RPA deployment will hit a wall if firms don’t show adequate progress given their investment. Leaders can succeed by using RPA to enable better work, not just faster work.

Governance matters. Leading firms—and there aren’t many—are taking an enterprise-wide approach to digital labor. They’re establishing centers of excellence to coordinate vendor contracts, creating policies and procedures to address security issues, and more. We also expect to see a greater emphasis on control functions for RPA activities that address operational risks.

Robots that learn. RPA is seen by some as a basic application of artificial intelligence. Vendors are introducing a new generation of tools known as intelligent process automation (IPA). These applications allow the “bots” to learn and get better at what they do. These advances will make governance even more important.

What to consider

Plan, then automate. Make sure you look at the data and process flows that lie beneath the problems you’re trying to fix. If you automate a bad process, you waste the benefit of RPA. We find that even a light process redesign can make a big difference. Then, look closely at using digital labor for the manual work that remains.

Organize for success. While you don’t want to stifle innovation, you can benefit from taking a centralized approach. This will help you drive consistency in sharing best practices, negotiating with vendors, setting standards, developing training, and securing funding. A center of excellence can also help you manage risk and regulatory concerns. But guide rather than control. You’ll need to strike the right balance.

Understand the trade-offs. Just because you have RPA doesn’t mean you should stop your broader technology transformation efforts. As powerful as the technology is, it shouldn’t replace your IT agenda.

Understand the risks. Just like other end-user computing programs, you should hold digital labor applications up to risk policy standards. This means documenting how they work, having effective plans in case humans need to step in to take over the work, and so on.

“Digital labor is giving financial institutions a once-in-a-generation opportunity to push a next generation discipline around business process efficiency.”

Kevin Kroen Partner, Financial Services Advisory

Learn more


Featured videos


Playback of this video is not currently available

PwC shares strategies for successful RPA and digital labor implementation

PwC's Kevin Kroen discusses how RPA fits into a firm's broader digital strategy. Financial institutions should balance short-term and long-term success when implementing RPA across their organizations.


Playback of this video is not currently available

PwC defines robotic process automation (RPA) in financial services

PwC's Dave Hoffman explains robotic process automation (RPA), its impact on financial institutions, and how RPA has affected the industry in 2016. RPA allows companies to automate certain tasks, activities, and processes that previously required human interaction. RPA has the opportunity to have a profound impact on the financial services industry at large.

How PwC can help

Our teams in asset and wealth managementbanking and capital markets, and insurance are helping our clients tackle the biggest issues facing the financial services industry. With professionals across tax, assurance, and advisory practices, we can help you find ways to thrive even in a period of uncertainty. Whether you're preparing for regulatory changes, putting FinTech/InsurTech to work, or rethinking your human capital strategy, we work together with you to deliver value to your business.

For more information on how PwC can help with RPA, reach out to one of our leaders below or explore our RPA services.

Contact us

Kevin Kroen
Partner, FS Advisory, Digital Labor/RPA Leader
Tel: +1 (646) 471 0238

Dave Hoffman
Banking & Capital Markets Advisory Co-Leader
Tel: +1 (646) 471 1425

Marie Carr
Global Growth Strategy, US Financial Services Practice
Tel: +1 (312) 298 6823

Cathryn Marsh
Leader, Financial Services Institute
Tel: +1 (720) 931 7836

Follow us