Let The Robots Automate. Let The Humans Serve.

How a New Jersey credit union uses new tools to automate old jobs and free up staff to serve members better.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Robotics are taking care of scripted tasks around account openings and address changes at Affinity Federal Credit Union.
  • The robotic process automation project joins other advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and business analytics at the New Jersey cooperative.

CU QUICK FACTS

Affinity FCU
Data as of 12.31.18

HQ: Basking Ridge, NJ
ASSETS: $3.4B
MEMBERS: 170,860
BRANCHES: 23
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 10.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 14.7%
ROA: 0.66%

Affinity Federal Credit Union ($3.4B, Basking Ridge, NJ) is using robots to complete routine processes and free-up time for contact center and branch staff. In turn, those employees are focusing on providing the human touch for the member experience.

The New Jersey cooperative is using robotic process automation (RPA) techniques to power two processes called SARA and AURA, which automate account opening and member address changes, respectively. Business transformation officer Charlie White and workforce manager Marc Conover are helping lead the effort, which fits nicely with the tech-savvy credit union’s other innovations underway in areas such as business analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Here, White and Conover discuss RPA and how Affinity FCU uses it in service of the member experience.

Charlie White, Business Transformation Officer, Affinity FCU

When did Affinity FCU begin using robotics for new member accounts and address changes? 

Charlie White: We kicked off the first installment of the technology around May 2018. After a few months of tweaking, we officially launched in September 2018. 

What challenge or opportunity were you addressing?

CW: It would take Affinity employees five to 10 minutes to create a new account, and Affinity is looking to open 15,000 accounts per year. The robotic process automates the account review and creates tremendous cost savings, even if it’s only 10 minutes each time. 

This work began as part of the credit union’s member journey research. Can you explain what role the robotics played in that effort?

CW: As for journey mapping, we looked at what the member was experiencing as they moved through awareness, discovery, decision-making, transacting, support, and advocacy — not only those touchpoints, but also the emotions they experience as they move through their journey. In the specific examples that we provided, it was simply understanding the impediments to spending more time for consultative engagement with members. Nobody likes to stand in line waiting for service, or wait in the phone queue, so we asked ourselves what we had to do to get more resources toward helping members.

When staff is tasked with more administrative duties, such as account audits, it can pull a critical resource away from the front lines. Initially, that was how we approached our RPA use case. But there will certainly be more opportunities and in many cases, the RPA will be more forward facing and directly engaging with the member. We wanted to gain familiarity and confidence with the technology — that’s why it was deployed a bit more internally, initially.

Please describe the robotics in more detail.

Marc Conover, Workforce Manager, Affinity FCU

Marc Conover: We wanted to start by automating two processes: changing member addresses and opening member accounts. Typically, if a member was to call in with an address change, Affinity employees would have to go through about six different screens within the system to officially change the address. The robot will take the initial information that was inputted and go through the next steps itself. We call this robot AURA — Address Update Review Automation. 

The branches also do an audit whenever they open a new member account. The process of checking multiple lines of data entered by colleagues was taking time away from member-facing staff. There were a lot of things they’d have to check and monitor within the audit. To create the robot, we were able to script everything that needed to be done and teach the robotic process to do it. This robot is called SARA — Simplified Account Review Automation. 

The technology is not replacing anyone’s job, but instead making them more productive.

Marc Conover, Workforce Manager, Affinity FCU

What processes did they replace?

MC: The robots replaced some data entry and audit functions, notably without displacing any employees. Instead of spending time doing audits, our employees can spend more time with members. The technology is not replacing anyone’s job; it’s making them more productive. If you look across the organization at the possible use cases for RPA, you’re going to see the technology is replacing a little bit in each different business area and making them all more efficient. 

Who at the credit union uses those tools?

MC: Mainly the staff at the branches and the contact center.

Please describe the learning curve and any IT demands of these robotic processes.

CW: There’s a learning curve for the entire team on how to use these tools. Those opening the new member accounts, for example, must follow a prescriptive, step-by-step way of working so the robotic process functions consistently. 

Further, different business areas need to monitor the errors that are “kicked out” by the robots. Affinity staff will have to determine why the robot flagged an error condition and inform IT so they can fix the robot, if necessary. Sometimes the corrective fix is related to employees following the prescribed process more consistently. 

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How do these new processes impact member service?

CW: They cut out a delay between when information comes in and when someone computes it on the other side. There are a lot of benefits from the servicing side and the operational efficiency side. 

Do you have any data and/or specific examples of the new efficiencies on the part of front-line staff and how they can interact more now in person with members?

MC: Our branches are saving between 1.5 to 2.5 hours a week with SARA. As a result, the teams can focus their efforts on onboarding new members, reaching out to existing members and educating them on promotional opportunities that best meet their needs.

In our contact center, we average about 200 address changes a day, so even saving a minute per address change adds up substantially. This time savings from AURA enables our service agents to focus more intently on the member’s needs during the call and then be available sooner to help the next member in the queue. 

Do you have any other technologies that relate to this project?

CW: At times, the Business Transformation Department acts as an incubator for new business solutions. Working with our partners in IT and on the front line, we’ve brought RPA into the organization as a solution to reduce manual processes and improve efficiency. 

We’re beginning to look at building a more advanced analytics platform, which implements a lot of machine learning to draw insight from all of the data we have throughout the organization. We also expect to see AI transforming fraud detection solutions. 

One of the things we’ll be implementing later this year is modernizing our contact center and looking at biometric authentication to help prevent fraud. Instead of asking our members challenge questions, for example, the center will start using a voiceprint. 

What advice would you share about how to make these automation endeavors a success? 

CW: Have the organization’s different business areas catalog their manual processes, and then look for much time is spent on the processes and how frequently they occur. This will help an organization justify the cost of creating the robot. Nicely, unlike with other technologies, there’s a clear way to see the ROI for each robotic process created. 

How do these technology updates fit into the philosophy at Affinity?

CW: Affinity is probably more technology savvy than a lot of small community banks. We’re an early adopter of technology, and you’ll find that credit unions as a whole are connected and technologically competent. Part of that is because credit unions share. We have a couple of organizations that are wholly owned by multiple credit unions where we pool our dollars for R&D to stay up-to-date with technology.

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