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Automation can lead to job fulfillment - at least it does at BBVA Compass

BBVA Compass is far from experiencing an AI takeover of the sort Wikipedia describes, but teams from around the bank, including Mortgage, Finance and Compliance, have discovered the power and efficiency of automation.

For BBVA Compass Director of Real Estate Secured Operations Kim Thompson, automation has given her mortgage processing team a renewed sense of purpose and job fulfillment, even causing the team to add positions while saving money. Impossible? Thompson assures that it’s not.

Thompson: When we evaluated our offshore outsourcing contract, our recent successful pilots with robotic automation led to a conclusion that we could onshore those functions successfully.

“When we evaluated our offshore outsourcing contract, our recent successful pilots with robotic automation led to a conclusion that we could onshore those functions successfully,” she said. “At first we thought we would replace the 160 people performing the 26 functions with 40 people onshore. Yet, as our teams began to collaborate with the technology and improving the processes, we ended up adding just 12 positions onshore.”

BBVA Compass Robotics Team (Left to Right): Front Row: Austin Graves, Felicia Benson; Back Row: Jim Pierce, Robert Means, Lizzie Carmichael, Kendall Crew, Hélène Nelson, Joseph Kerns, Nicole Ryan, Paul McClellan, Narayan Pichaimuthu; Not Pictured: Lew Lampkin, Martin Pulis, Phanichand Mokkapati

Typically, Thompson says, those functions had jobs tied to them that were clerical in nature, highly manual and prone to error. Bots, she said, have given the team performing them 21st century jobs immersed in the latest technology, and the time to solve more complex issues. “The mission is to get drudgery out of our daily work so we can spend more time engaging with customers and improving our process for them,” she said.

Fast forward to today, and the team has deployed 53 bots. It started though, with just one whose job it was to order a flood certification from a vendor.

“It was a simple process,” said Thompson. “The bot was programmed to go to the vendor’s website, order a flood finding, then populate our core systems with what it found out. If the home was in a floodplain and flood insurance was required, it was flagged in the system and we took it from there.”

Thompson said the bot-automated process was hugely successful, both from a performance and learning standpoint. In performance, the team got a perfect compliance rating on the process for the first time in four years. In learning, Thompson said the bot provided them with three key takeaways that they’ve used when implementing the other 53.

First she said, how the bot is designed is important. The team built its first bot to carry out many instructions, which is great if the bot competes all tasks without interruption. But, if the bot tripped up just once, the full transaction wasn’t processed. So, the team began to build bots in a microservices design, much like the trend in software development. The risk of the bot tripping up, she said, was mitigated by breaking the bots up into separate processes.

Second, using the replicated database of the bank’s mortgage production system was critical. By using this, the team was able to query the data, pre-process it and stage the work for the bots to do. “Bots are best used when limited to the user interface entry work,” Thompson said, “There are much more efficient ways to perform data verifications and calculations before we engage them.”

Thompson: …The team members became Process Owners, responsible for the performance of the bot and the execution of the process.

Finally, the team learned the importance of involving the people executing the process in the design and ownership of the bots. Thompson said, “Their in-depth knowledge of the process and all the systems involved has been critical.” Instead of positioning bots as another system designed and executed by others, such as an IT group, the team members became Process Owners, responsible for the performance of the bot and the execution of the process. “It’s been fun to watch all the Process Owners race to be the first ones to get their bots to 90 percent efficiency,” she said.

BBVA Compass Bot Process Owners (Left to Right): Front Row: Holly Higgins, Kyle Champion; Back Row: Shevelyn Hinton, Felicia Cushenberry, Kristen Wallin, T.J. Clark

Thompson: Automation has given us a chance to be more agile, create business value faster, impact the customer positively, and make the most of core IT resources.

Thompson considers the project a massive success, saying, “Automation has given us a chance to be more agile, create business value faster, impact the customer positively, and make the most of core IT resources. It’s also made the team comfortable collaborating with technology, knowing that bots and AI are here to stay, and that a big part of their future is building a knowledge base for that technology.”

She concludes, “People are having so much fun and getting a major sense of accomplishment out of our work with automation. We’re really lucky to have such great partners in Business Process Engineering to help strategize and organize these efforts because their skillsets are critical to doing this right.”

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