Santander consumer arm to automate further after Nordic project

Time and cost savings achieved by RPA pilot were high and customer experience improved, says bank

Santander Consumer Bank is expanding the use of robotic process automation (RPA) after saving £1.6m and 30,000 hours last year through automating manual tasks at operations across the Nordic region.

The consumer banking arm at Spain’s Banco Santander, which offers personal loans, car finance and insurance, now plans to automate further processes over the next few years.

Following a pilot across Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, using RPA software from Automation Anywhere, the bank rolled out 150 software robots in front- and back-office operations across the four countries, where it has two million customers. Previously, processes for loans and other applications were performed manually, which was time-consuming, and customer details and activity were not automatically updated.

The time and cost savings achieved by the pilot were high and customer experience improved, according to the bank. “The decrease in manual work has resulted in improved customer service and alleviated delays in account updates,” it said.

Staff are also more satisfied because they can spend more time supporting customers, it added.

Nina Moller, back office subject matter expert at Santander Consumer Bank, said: “Employees are also freed up to focus on providing the best level of customer service, and the intelligent bots ensure information is available in real time and with near 100% accuracy.”

Moller said the bank was able to automate all front- and back-office processes and achieve good return on investment in less than three months.

The bank also made savings by using the automation software as part of a project to migrate data from one system to another. Using an external supplier, the project was expected to cost £1.6m and take two years. Using the software robots, it was completed at no extra cost within 12 weeks. Santander is now expanding the use of RPA software to its compliance and human resource departments.

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Banks are leaders in the use of automation, but the technology is also being adopted by businesses across sectors, with claims that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be taken over by software robots. Back in September 2017, John Cryan, then CEO of Deutsche Bank, said that a “big number of staff at Deutsche Bank will eventually be replaced by robots”.

Cryan added: “In our banks, we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things. Tomorrow, we’re going to have robots behaving like people.”

Automation has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study by EY, which said that over one-third of businesses accelerated their automation strategies when the extent of the disruption caused by the pandemic became clear.

“The sudden and unexpected nature of Covid-19 has compelled executives to re-evaluate operating models,” it said. “While building agility and resilience have been dominant themes for much of the past decade, the unique nature of the current situation has left many companies unprepared.”

According to EY, 36% of businesses are accelerating investment in automation, while 41% are re-evaluating their automation plans.

Gareth Lodge, analyst at Celent, said: "Banks – and indeed, all organisations – can benefit from RPA. They can improve efficiency, accuracy and speed, which in turn can create significant benefits for banks."

But he said there are some misconceptions. "True RPA is a dumb process – it works well for those processes that have a high degree of repetition. But it won’t help where the process is messy or poorly designed – indeed, it is likely to make things worse. Nor will they necessarily replace humans. Instead, they will more likely allow humans to focus on where they can provide value, such as applying their experience to quickly understand what to do with the errors and exceptions that the robots can’t handle – and of course, designing the next set of RPAs."

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