Blue Prism Interview: The Benefits of Automation in Africa’s Banking Sector


Automation is an exciting digital innovation making its burgeoning forays into Africa as businesses across the continent, from call centers to banks, are looking at the future-minded technology to simplify and add increased conveniences to their many processes.

However, automation has also been a controversial subject as of late, with many fearing that the innovation’s uptake means that many previously manual jobs will become fully automated and be lost.

To further discuss the topic of automation, IT News Africa‘s Luis Monzon reached out to Greg Newton, Country Manager, South Africa, of intelligent robotic process automation firm Blue Prism.

Newton gave his insights into how Africa’s banking sector can benefit from automation, as well as his response into where automation fits in with countries like South Africa which currently faces an unemployment crisis.

Here’s What Transpired:

  • What are the overall benefits for the banking sector in Africa if more banks launch digital automation technologies?

Newton says, there are two aspects: Benefits to the bank and benefits to the customer.

“The key driver today for banks is customer experience. Customers are far more demanding than they were 10 years ago. This is due to technology allowing new entrants with better business models to take over and dominate. Think Apple v Nokia, Uber v Taxi Hire, Netflix v Blockbuster video.

Driving a digital automation strategy that fully connects the front office which is the entry point for customers, all the way through to the back office, will allow the bank to service customer much quicker. Being able to process a loan or credit card request in minutes as opposed to days/weeks will determine whether the applicant goes with the bank or another competitor that responded quicker.

By automating much of the process, you remove the potential for human error. It is annoying when the bank makes a mistake that causes delays or requires the customer to call in and speak to someone to try and rectify the issue”

Benefits to the bank include:

“Productivity and efficiency. There are many manual processes which require a human to do something in order for the process to continue. In many cases this is due to systems not being able to communicate with each other. This then involves a human typically having to enter information from one system to another. When this is repeated thousands of times a day (for large enterprises), there is a huge financial cost, plus time to complete the task as the teams doing the work may be in other geographies and timezones. Errors can also occur easily in that set up.

Automation through the use of a digital worker (software), means that issue is eradicated. If you need to process a backlog or deal with a spike – for example at the start of Covid, customers could apply to the bank for a payment holiday, if they were in hardship. One bank had a backlog of 180,000 applications. Then bank would have had to employ 100 staff to do the checks and processing. It would have taken months to clear the backlog – meanwhile familes would be really suffering. Instead the bank put 50 digital workers on the task and then operated 24/7. They cleared the backlog in 3 days!

Less errors mean, less calls to the contact center, which reduces cost and improves customer satisfaction.”

  • What tips would you give to the leadership of these banks to better utilize automation technologies and what processes would you tell them to replace?

“The best advice would be to treat this type of automation as a strategic asset. Deployed correctly across the bank, it can make a huge impact on the banks performance and bottom line. Unfortunately, many banks never realise the true potential as it is never given executive oversight. These rolled out at a department level with only small department budgets, the capability never gets off the ground.

Many start with shared services such as IT, HR and Finance. These areas have lots of manual processes that can be automated. Whilst this is low hanging fruit, these areas are seen as overheads to the bank as opposed to core banking operations that drive the revenue. As such there are never the required budgets available to implement the capability properly on a macro level and invest in the training and skills to become self-sufficent.

The are many opportunities within the operations space that can directly impact customer experience or increase productivity for the bank. These are the areas to focus on first as the business case will support more investment. As an example a bank used the capability within the loan application space and was able to increase the number of loans processed per month by 70%. This added millions of dollars to the bottomline.”

  • Africa is, per capita, the most unbanked region in the world. How can banks across Africa leverage automation technologies to cross this digital divide and bring more banking services to more Africans?

“Mobile banking solutions have provided significant access to financial means for both the consumer and the trader, driving the goal of financial inclusion in a largely unbanked Africa. This poses significant threat to traditional commercial and retail banks. 

So perhaps there’s two angles of looking at it. For the traditional banks there presents an opportunity to adopt intelligent automation to drastically reduce operational and therefore transactional costs – allowing easier access to conventional banking services (making onboarding seamless, end-to-end loan processing easier, account management more efficient, reporting easier, etc.) whilst lowering transactional fees. 

On the other hand, the rise of mobile banking has enabled many previously inaccessible markets to transact and save. Similar opportunities exist for these providers to integrate intelligent automation into their core platforms. Additionally, for the value chain that supports the trader – there’s significant opportunity for automation to make each component far more efficient and cost effective (logistic companies, retailers, point of sale providers).

Regardless, automation allows for vast amounts of data to be aggregated which will afford providers (traditional, unconventional, and mobile offerings) insight into consumer behaviour which can allow for more market penetration and more personalised offerings.

Newton points to a recent Deloitte article, about leveraging digital to unlock the base of the pyramid market in Africa:

“Africa is moving to the next level of economic interconnectedness with an increasing appetite for simplifying the bartering process – whether this is lowering the barriers to the formal financial infrastructure or providing greater access to acceptance solutions. Africans are having their say with their mobile wallets. 

Historically, cross-border currency exchange has been a painful endeavour. Surprisingly, this is how the bulk of Africa operates, as well as several markets across Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Asia. Today, however, online money transfers have become one of the safest ways to send friends or family members the support they need; it is exceedingly convenient and involves only a nominal cost. Remittance in Africa is in many cases the only way people can transact, and therefore a lifeline.”

  • The major trepidation around automation is the phasing out of the people who traditionally fill these manual roles. South Africa is currently facing an unemployment crisis. What is your response to this in terms of digital automation technologies?

“The initial reaction is commonly a negative one. At first impression, many do believe jobs will be lost. The reality is that many more jobs are created within the economy. Take Amazon as an example – they have completely automated the retail buying process. This as a result has put some companies out of business with old business models – Catalogue retail stores are one type of shop that became redundant.

However Amazon have built thousands of warehouses to cater for the stock, this provided business to architects, builders, plumbers, etc. They also bought thousands of delivery vehicles increasing business for manufacturers and other firms that are in that supply chain. They also recruited delivery drivers. 

We cannot stop natural evolution as technology develops. If we work with it and don’t fight to keep things the same as they have always been, there will always be the potential to improve opportunities for everyone.”

By Luis Monzon
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