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Ikano Bank’s team of robots exceeds 2021 targets

How the Swedish bank’s robotic automation project reached its time-saving target with time to spare, automating 168 processes, creating an in-house RPA team and embedding automation in every department’s thinking

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Ikano Bank exceeded its target of saving 100,000 hours during 2021 with time to spare, through the use of UiPath’s robotic process automation (RPA) software across its business.

After a nudge from the CEO and previous experience in one of its operations, the bank embarked on its automation journey in late 2018. It has since automated 168 processes, built an in-house RPA team and embedded automation in every department’s thinking.

The Swedish bank, owned by the family that founded Ikea, offers credit cards, savings accounts and loans to consumers and credit services to businesses, including retailers.

At just over a quarter of a century old, Ikano Bank has about 1,200 staff in eight countries, including the UK, Sweden’s neighbouring Nordic countries, Germany and Austria.

Viktor Törner, team manager of the automation office at Ikano Bank, says growth, through mergers and acquisitions, had resulted in a fragmented process and application landscape, which it believed could be solved through automation.

This was something the company’s CEO had identified before approaching the operations development department to kick off the work on automation. At the time, Törner was a process manager in the department, “dealing with a bit of everything around process improvement”.

It was not Ikano’s first encounter with RPA. A transformation project that ran in 2017 and 2018 in its Polish branch had a robotic process automation workstream but was never completed.­­­

“The project ended up being scrapped, but our CEO had good experience of RPA implementations in previous roles,” says Törner. “He approached my manager and asked if we wanted to do some work with RPA.”

First automation project comes to fruition

A new fledgling team was created. After a random coffee machine meeting, the new team got its first project, which involved updating customer names on a core banking system.

“During a review of one our systems in Sweden, it had been noticed that a number of customer names had not been kept up to date, after changing through marriage, for example,” says Törner.

“The idea to use automation came from one of those coffee machine moments. I happened to bump into someone at the coffee machine and he told me about the issue, and I said this might be something we can solve with RPA.

“We had a crack at it and within a few days we had put together a process to scan customer names and compare them with names in public records in government databases,” he says. “A total of 34,000 customer names were automatically updated over the following few weeks.”

Previously, operations staff would have printed a list and updated the records manually.

The automation team understands the importance of talking to people across the company to solve their challenges through automation, as the coffee machine moment proved. To this end, the department works separately from the IT department.

“I was not in IT, and this is true today because we have deliberately kept the RPA project on the business side,” says Törner. “We collaborate closely with our colleagues in IT, but organisationally we remain part of operations.”

Going from strength to strength

Since kicking off its RPA journey in late 2018, Ikano Bank has automated 168 different processes and reached a major milestone. “In 2021, we had a KPI to deliver 100,000 hours in saved time – we hit the target before the end of the year,” says Törner.

The success of the bank’s RPA projects has seen the automation team grow in size and status. When it started the initiative, it had two developers, with Törner in a business analyst role. It now has seven full-time RPA developers and four process analysts, as well as a virtual organisation on top, with about 50 people from departments across the bank working with the automation team.

The team uses an agile scrum technique with three-week sprints, during which time it “churns out up to eight automation projects”, says Törner. Its biggest project to date is an e-commerce process automation, run with Ikea in Poland, to automate the onboarding of Ikea customers applying for finance.

“It took quite some time but has been the most commercially successful,” he says. “We have onboarded tens of thousands of new customers and a large part of the overall Polish business.” Within 12 months, the turnover generated has been over 150 times the amount of invested budget.

Change management a company-wide effort

Törner says addressing staff fears over how automation would affect their jobs was an important early challenge to address.

“Change management is always a challenge, especially in automation work, because one of the primary incentives behind many projects is cost saving, and it’s hard to get away from this,” he says.

The bank did not want the automation team to be a feared hit squad. “We made choices early in the journey, which helped overcome this,” says Törner. “The department that today is the automation office does not take responsibility for change management, we just offer automation support, but the person responsible for the team and department can handle this in their normal way.”

There are now 50 people from across the bank working closely with the team. “We consciously have an open door policy and people join us for three-week sprints from different departments. This has created transparency and it is fun for people to do something different,” he says.

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