Artificial intelligence: How robots replaced seven employees at Swiss Bank

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Have seven employees work for three days or use software robots instead? In a pilot project, St. Galler Kantonalbank AG opted for the second option. The bank is so satisfied with the test results that it wants to decide on further assignments by the end of May.

“We’ve seen that’s technically feasible and now we’re exploring whether other applications are worthwhile, and I’m very optimistic about that”, Felix Buschor, member of the management board, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “The assessment of the potential is in full swing.”

Buschor admits that the use of robots is causing some employees to worry about their jobs. “However, as we have always compensated efficiency gains through natural fluctuation and because we paid close attention to enabling our employees to develop new technologies, the acceptance is high,” he said.

St. Galler Kantonalbank is not the only bank currently examining the use of new technologies, Christian Voigt, managing director of Nuremberg-based IT consultant Roboyo GmbH, said. He helped the Swiss bank with its test run. “In the financial sector, the automation of processes is currently a huge topic, and we work with banks, insurers and leasing companies,” Voigt said.

He attributes the banks’ strong interest to time savings and cost reductions. For example, thanks to the use of robots, it is possible to forgo costly and expensive software interfaces for the communication between two systems, he said. “Sometimes, seven-digit amounts of money are needed for such an interface.”

SGKB’s test run, which also skipped such an interface, was carried out in connection with the acquisition of M.M. Warburg Bank Schweiz AG’s private banking business. SGKB had to transfer about 5,000 securities positions to its own IT systems. The five robots that were used did their job well, the bank said.

Use in compliance seen

Buschor puts the costs for the first use of the software robots at 20,000 Swiss francs to 30,000 Swiss francs, for example for hardware and external consulting services. Should the bank opt for further uses, the financial costs would accordingly be spread over several projects.

A study by GFT Technologies SE carried out at the end of 2017 showed that technologies and artificial intelligence have the potential to revolutionize the financial sector. The survey involved 285 professionals from small to large retail banks in eight countries, including Germany, who were interviewed. Around 94 percent of all participants of major banking institutions saw direct added value in artificial intelligence solutions.

Buschor can imagine a variety of uses for software robots. “I’m thinking of internal control processes or compliance,” he says. But there are also limits to their use, for example when it comes to advising customers, he added.

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