The 2024 State of Automation: Are Leaders Ready to Ditch Legacy Thinking?


A new report finds that automation leaders do not struggle with competing priorities since they have built automation strategies that directly align with the organization’s broader objectives.

A new era of digital transformation has arrived in financial services. As consumer expectations evolve and financial technology grows increasingly complex and sophisticated, organizations embrace more comprehensive solutions to address their evolving needs.

Our recent State of Automation in Financial Services 2024 Report provides an inside look at automation usage across the financial services industry. This proprietary research of 580 U.S.-based executives in the banking, credit union, and insurance sectors revealed a universal adoption of automation among financial service organizations. However, it also uncovered a discernible misalignment between the potential of automation and its current application.

The report underscores a critical observation: while 100% of financial executives leverage automation, a vast majority automate less than 50% of their operations—that’s roughly 20% lower than the desired level of automation reported by most organizations. This gap signals that financial services leaders grasp the transformative potential of automation, but those who are slower to adopt face ongoing challenges in realizing that potential.

See also: Embracing Real-time in 2023: More Automation, AI, and Autonomy

Setting the Automation Scene

Within the automation toolkit, workload automation emerges as a critical player, adopted by 56% of financial institutions and insurance companies. This technology transcends basic job scheduling by managing complex workflows and connecting disparate systems, thus offering a single, flexible control point for business-critical processes. While workload automation is the most popular type of automation solution across the financial services industry, it’s just one of several solutions leaders plan to use as they pursue more comprehensive automation.

The investment landscape for automation technologies is robust, with 92% of respondents planning to maintain or increase their automation spending over the next year. This highlights the industry-wide commitment to digital transformation, but more granular spending trends reflect an evolution and diversification of automation tools. Financial institutions are increasingly exploring emerging technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Business Process Automation (BPA), and Intelligent Document Processing (IDP), moving beyond traditional tools to embrace solutions that directly impact customer experience and accelerate company-wide objectives.

Beyond IT, Leaders Are Seeing the Strategic Value in Automation

Traditionally, the pursuit of automation in financial services was driven by the desire for operational efficiencies—cost reduction and time savings. Today, we observe an emerging paradigm shift toward aligning automation with strategic business goals. Remarkably, 24% of executives now view automation as a tool to enhance customer service and drive revenue growth, signaling a broader recognition of its potential beyond mere operational tasks.

This strategic alignment is particularly apparent among automation leaders—organizations with over 80% of their operations currently automated. Automation leaders are not just automating for the sake of automating. They strategically align automation efforts with their business objectives at far greater rates than their slower-to-adopt peers, evidenced by the fact that leaders most commonly cite revenue growth and improved customer service as automation goals. In contrast, organizations with below-average levels of automation continue to pursue goals like increased efficiency, time savings, and faster processing.

By aligning automation goals with broader strategic objectives, automation leaders are better equipped to select the tools that best serve the company’s goals.

Embracing Enterprise-wide Benefits

One of the most compelling benefits of automation is its dual impact on customer and employee experiences. Automation tools are redefining customer engagement, offering personalized services, and reducing response times. Simultaneously, they liberate employees from mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on strategic, value-add activities.

Automation is a pivotal enabler for enhancing service quality and empowering skilled staff to contribute more meaningfully in a competitive customer landscape. In fact, 24% of respondents cited better customer service outcomes among their top automation goals, and 22% reported that automation helped fulfill this objective. As the perspective shift that has helped automation leaders more effectively target business objectives continues to spread, automation’s impact on these critical areas is bound to grow.

When asked what prevents organizations from fully achieving their automation goals, survey participants cited cost, budget, and money, indicating that the financial burden of automation is a significant challenge.

Even so, over 50% of respondents reported annual savings of at least $100,000 from automation, and reported savings were even more significant among automation leaders, with 25% saving at least $250,000 per year. These findings highlight the tangible impact of comprehensive, end-to-end automation and underscore the growing importance of pursuing a more strategic set of automation goals.

Look Ahead and Leave Legacy Thinking Behind

Despite the clear benefits, the path to full-scale automation is fraught with obstacles. Notably, many top-reported hurdles to deploying automation relate to widespread misconceptions rather than insurmountable challenges. For example, many respondents with below-average levels of automation currently deployed in their operations said other priorities take precedence and stand in the way of their automation goals, suggesting that some organizations are stuck in a pattern of legacy thinking that classifies automation as wholly separate from broader strategic initiatives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, automation leaders did not report struggling with competing priorities since they have built automation strategies that directly align with the organization’s broader objectives.

Financial institutions can unlock better business outcomes and hone their competitive advantage by addressing areas of strategic misalignment and harnessing the full potential of automation. The journey toward this future requires a thoughtful, collaborative approach, where automation serves as a critical input to big-picture objectives rather than a disconnected back-office initiative. As financial services leaders aim to position their organizations for success in a rapidly evolving digital world, automation will be an increasingly prominent differentiator for those who fully embrace it.

Todd Dauchy

About Todd Dauchy

Todd Dauchy is the Chief Executive Officer of SMA Technologies. Dauchy started his career with SMA as Chief Technology Officer in 2012 and was appointed President in 2018. Before joining the company, Dauchy was a client of SMA, working for a large credit union. He has also led a large data center for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company and guided the IT teams of two large consumer goods manufacturing companies through the acquisition and merger process. Dauchy holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. 

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