How to reduce workload and retain staff in compliance

According to a study cited by Reuters, people that work in the financial services industry are 44 percent more likely to suffer from stress-related illnesses than people working in other sectors in the UK. Bank employees, in general, suffer from the strain of the vilification of their jobs, from the ever-present threat of resignation rounds, higher workload, and pressure to perform. However, 69 percent of bank employees cited inadequate staffing as their primary source of stress. If there’s a bank-wide problem of employees burning out (including massive suicide rates!), the pressure at compliance departments must be unbearable. Especially because prison sentences for missing a non-compliant event poses a real threat to compliance agents. A danger that intensifies when there’s less staff and thus more room for error.

With every new regulation, banks respond by expanding and sharpening their monitoring rules in their surveillance systems, which translates into the number of false positive alerts to increase. Resulting in an even higher workload for compliance agents. It’s no wonder compliance managers have a hard time filling their vacancies and keeping their employees happy and healthy.

The Risks of a Backlog in Compliance

Within banking, if there’s any place where backlogs pose a significant risk, it’s compliance. If you have a backlog of alerts the likelihood that potential non-compliance events pass increases. Or, on the flipside, payments are delayed or not processed at all. The more payments being held, the higher the risk you have at claims and reputational damage for the bank.

Compliance agents, on the one hand, want to be as meticulous as possible with handling and assessing alerts since the consequences of unnoticed non-compliance are so severe. On the other hand, they feel the pressure not to intervene too much in business as usual payment processing. They feel pressured to make sure payments are processed as fast as possible. They know that a substantial percentage of their backlog exists of false positive alerts anyway. Both facts can cause them to take less time than they actually need to handle and assess alerts, making their investigations less thorough than it should be in case of a true positive alert.

That, in turn, creates a higher risk for non-compliant payments to be processed instead of rejected and reported. So, compliance agents find themselves in an impossible position. Moreover, so do their managers.

Reducing Workload

Compliance managers are eagerly searching for a solution to the unmanageable workload at their departments. Often, they try to increase the number of FTE in their department. Which is an uphill struggle since compliance managers don’t generate revenue which means that it’s hard for them to prove the return on investment of having more FTE.

Even if you do win the battle for more FTE, it won’t win you the war as you’re going to have to fight that fight all over again with every new regulation. Moreover, the real bottleneck isn’t your workload. Your workload is a symptom of a problem elsewhere in your organization. To win the war, it’s critical to reduce your departments’ workload by generating fewer alerts.

Now, this may sound like either an impossible or a reckless task. But it’s not. Not if you can automate part of your process through robotics. You can have robotics process standard actions in the workflow.

There are standard actions for every signal and alert generated by the surveillance system. Signals, for example, need to be classified as meaningful or meaningless. A false positive alert needs to be marked as such and archived. A true positive alert needs to be forwarded for further investigation. With a little bit of human input (or, if you’re going to be really fancy: input through machine learning) these standard actions can automatically be processed by robots.

An example: In some EU countries, every cash deposit over €15.000 needs to be reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit via a suspicious activity report. Those reports need to be completed via a standard workflow. For big supermarkets and fast food chains, however, deposits greater than €15.000 are nothing out of the ordinary. Such deposits are made on a regular basis, multiple times a week or month. Since these deposits are legitimate, investigations won’t find anything suspicious. With robotic process automation, you can teach the system the steps it needs to take to independently create a suspicious activity report and send that report to the FIU.

As you can imagine from the example above, this type of automation can help reduce lead times, leaving more time for compliance agents to thoroughly investigate alerts. When compliance agents have more time to investigate true positive alerts, they feel less insecure about the quality of their work. Henceforth, reducing the stress of possibly missing non-compliant events.

Automation through robots also sends payments that are falsely being held faster through the processing queue and, as a result, in less payment processing delays. If there are fewer delays and if only real non-compliant payments fall out of the payment queue, it makes the whole organization trust the compliance department more. When that happens, other departments are more likely to assist the compliance department when needed. It also helps reduce the hostility and feeling of ‘us against the rest’, which might even improve overall productivity within your bank.

These are all things that help compliance agents to feel happy and healthy in their jobs. Which translates into compliance departments achieving higher staff satisfaction and retention. The more experienced people become in their jobs, the better and faster they’re able to do their work.

Find out how you can reduce workload and stress for your employees in our white paper ‘the one thing compliance managers can change to protect their bank from fines (even if workload is high)’.


Tames Rietdijk

Tames Rietdijk is the CEO of BusinessForensics. His area of expertise lies with Product management, Forensic investigations and Data analytics. His work is focused on improving market mechanisms and operational efficiencies to increase value for his customers.