Will embracing robots help you embrace your future?

Why family offices can benefit

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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 as 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.1,2 ,3

Studies have shown3 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 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,4 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 because 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.”

  • What do we mean by robotics?

    The term robotics conjures images of the walking, talking metal creatures often seen in 20th-century movies or, perhaps less fancifully, of a doctor using an electronic arm to perform precision surgery. For purposes of this article, however, the term robotics is about software that can take human roles and instead use software capable of running independently – like the operating systems that enable robots to operate autonomously5 – rather than using hardware.

    Like humans, these are systems that are not programmed, but rather trained through constant, dynamic interaction with their environment. One of the greatest values they bring is that they operate within the same web of applications, interfaces and authorizations as their human counterparts. Compatibility is never an issue.

    A simple framework helps distinguish these based on the kinds of inputs they manage and the potential complexity of outcomes.

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 in managing the uniquely long game of transferring a legacy that will endure for multiple generations.

  • Start small and grow your capabilities over time.
  • Consider establishing a pilot program that draws on the strength of an experienced partner. Professional services firms are acquiring experience with most of the technology providers in this space, and have the specialized skill set needed to make RPA processes work in tax, accounting, administration and other specialized workflows.
  • Involve your team. Employees often hear about the promise of robotics replacing white-collar workers, but the real-world experience has been that robotics allow workers to focus on more valuable tasks and employers to build higher-functioning teams.
  • Make RPA a business-led initiative, not an IT-led initiative. Bots can be configured within the teams that are close to the business processes and have the expertise required to make them work.

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1 “RPA for Small Businesses,” UiPath https://www.uipath.com/blog/rpa-for-small-businesses, March 28, 2017.

2 “Software Robots: The Long Tail of Automation,” Wired https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/01/software-robots-long-tail-automation/, March 28, 2017.

3 “The Role of IT in business driven process automation,” 2014, Forrester Research, Inc.

4 Martin Ford Wired Economic Innovation Group, 2017.

5 “Software Robots: The Long Tail of Automation,” Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic Books, 2015).