The influence of robotics is upending many industries, and family offices are no exception. Traditionally built around complex service-related tasks and processes, this new class of solutions can fit into daily tasks without disruption to the existing workflow, using the same applications and interfaces as their human counterparts while improving speed, accuracy and output.
The future — how will robots support your legacy?
Many family offices have adopted a “100-year outlook,” a multigenerational vision that foresees challenges extending well into the future and tries to anticipate and plan for these to support a business’s longevity. Such plans, which are built around generation skipping or perpetual trusts, require constant attention to detail while maintaining a connection to the past.
“RPA and cognitive automation are rapidly being deployed throughout the world of financial services. It is expected that family offices will soon follow suit and adopt robotics processes for their own purposes.“
This requires the creation and storage of an enormous amount of data, and often an onerous amount of complex research, storage and data reorganization. As artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive technology advance, they may prove to be a family office’s ideal companion, continually refreshing and keeping accessible the information that defines and shapes the business’s legacy.
Studies have shown that, despite fears that the deployment of a robotic workforce will displace human workers from white-collar jobs, robotic process automation (RPA) may result in an unexpected benefit: hybrid, high-performing human and robot teams that produce cost savings, better outcomes and higher employee satisfaction.
For millennials, who characteristically embrace technology, indications are that they will not only accept robotic coworkers, but welcome the opportunity to share repetitive tasks with an AI peer.
This will prove to be even truer when we consider the need to maintain trust in an increasingly interconnected world. A recent study of millennials conducted by EY showed their highly skeptical attitude toward traditional institutions (including, according to survey respondents, corporate America, governors, the news media and federal government).
But even as trust diminishes, the size and scope of the family office’s information footprint are increasing exponentially. The sheer volume of this means that AI and robot-enabled processes will be an essential part of the solution to maintaining the family’s privacy, as AI can function at the scale of the internet, monitoring social media, big data collectors and even institutional partners, while continuously testing for and erasing a stakeholder’s “digital past.”
Why family offices can benefit
Family offices may not appear to be obvious candidates to benefit from automation — they’re small, often highly customized companies with an extremely broad range of complex service offerings and relatively few information technology (IT) resources.
Classic IT-driven automation strategies have focused on high volume, highly standardized processes in an environment where change is predictable and seldom necessary — hardly a description of the variable, often chaotic environment of the family office.
On the positive side, however, as small companies, they are both agile and adaptable — flat, team-driven organizations that can quickly organize to take on a new challenge. And, as family offices, they can take a long-term view, using their “patient capital” to invest in technologies that enable them to function more strategically.
How can robotics support family offices today?
Currently, the best opportunities for family offices lie in the realm of RPA that automates repetitive, manual tasks performed by people interacting with computers.
An RPA robot operates exactly as a human would — logging in and interacting with applications, opening emails and downloading attachments, and storing files in well-defined locations.
These robots don’t automate entire processes, they fit seamlessly into existing processes and take on components that are low in added value. They effectively become part of the team, and RPA projects often result in more satisfied human employees and higher-performing work groups and outcomes are better because humans are freed up to focus on spotting issues, making decisions and analyzing data that is produced more quickly with fewer errors.
An excellent example is the preparation of tax compliance forms. Tax work requires judgment, but also, for example, seemingly endless cutting and pasting from system to system and values testing. RPA software frees the tax professional to focus on key decisions, while removing the strain of repeating tasks better automated, a burden that leads predictably to boredom and errors.
Emerging applications — dealing with information overload
In addition to RPA, there is also intelligent (cognitive) automation, which automates tasks such as speech recognition, natural language processing, and tasks that require judgment and perception.
One such application deals with the flood of incoming unstructured data that family offices are barraged with daily, including correspondence and emails and their associated attachments. These applications can be trained to take this information, understand it based on content and context, and then process it accordingly.
Responses might include filing, forwarding to a staff member for additional research, entering into a calendar or triggering an alert that informs management of a situation that requires their attention.
Similar benefits may be earned by family offices that subscribe to funds and invest in alternate investments and face a barrage of statements, covenants, Forms K-1 and the like, or family offices charged with receiving and preprocessing invoices.
Borrowing scale from institutional partners
The average family office has more than 25 external relationships with institutions, including banks, professional firms, investment managers and administrative services firms that cumulatively support tasks that smaller family offices typically cannot.
Each of these companies is likely in the process of adopting robotics automation within their own four walls, applying these to the client’s data, and creating service offerings based on processes built upon these capabilities.
For a family office interested in adopting robotics into its workforce, these trusted partners can bring institutional budgets and expertise, both of which may rest outside the smaller family office’s budget and scope.
These institutions are adopting not only relatively lower-cost RPA technologies, but also cognitive automation and full-blown AI.
What should you do next?
RPA and cognitive automation are rapidly being deployed throughout the world of financial services. It is expected that family offices will soon follow suit and adopt robotics processes for their own purposes. This has the short-term potential to help family offices achieve new levels of efficiencies in their often diverse and highly customized processes, while supporting them in creating services for the long view.
The emerging capabilities of AI and cognitive technology have enormous promise in helping families draw the rising generation into engagement with their legacy, but also of managing the uniquely long game of transferring a legacy that will endure for multiple generations.
Read more: ey.com/familyoffice