Meet Tara - the AI Digital Worker who's helping financial institutions "stop the bad guys"

Sarah Aryanpur Profile picture for user saryanpur February 7, 2024
Summary:
AI Digital Workers come with years of experience built-in, argues WorkFusion CEO Adam Famularo.

Tara
AI Transaction Screening Analyst, Tara

As the debate around the future of work and the balance between AI and human beings rumbles on, digital workforce supplier WorkFusion pitches the idea of the AI Digital Worker in this scenario.

As per the corporate messaging:

AI Digital Workers are not “bots.” They are highly skilled AI-enabled digital employees that work alongside real-world colleagues to reduce manual work, enhance quality, increase speed, save money, support compliance and expand the overall capacity of the team.

The firm says it aims to help organizations increase workforce productivity, reduce outsourcing and costs, and address labor shortages. At the same time it argues that this will improve customer and employee satisfaction by using AI Digital Workers as part of a traditional workforce.

WorkFusion was born out of MIT labs in 2010. Initially it sold a platform of IDP (Intelligent Document Processing), base level RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and AI/Machine Learning, mainly into the financial services sector.

But it has now emerged as a fully fledged AI Digital Worker provider, still operating predominantly in financial services and banking. Over the last two years the company has developed Digital Workers for specific job roles, in areas such as anti-money laundering (AML), compliance, sanction screening and Know Your Customer (KYC), that work alongside traditional teams. 

Adam Famularo, WorkFusion CEO, spent his first six months at WorkFusion talking to customers, who told him to take the product, package it up, and let everybody be able to benefit from it:

Two years ago we were selling a combined platform, and we would sell it to any company that wanted to transform its business using Machine Learning technology...My job was to productize the company, take a look at the most successful customers, and understand what made them successful, then package this up…They wanted to benefit from developments and improvements in the product, and nobody wanted to maintain their own codebase anymore.

He adds: 

The whole purpose became very clear. Our job was to stop the bad guys, and that's what we honed in on.

Integrated

That said, the way that some companies had integrated the tech into their workforce really struck Famularo:

The most successful customers treated our software as part of their organization. They personified in all different ways. Some created these little digital robots and created different names for them. Another company had a cardboard cutout of a woman that they had sitting at a desk that just did this one job. They were doing that because the software needed to be viewed as part of a team. 

Famularo believes this digital workforce approach, where companies hire a Digital Worker to do a specific job, is key. The company took that premise one step further, and hired actors and actresses to portray Digital Workers:

We packaged up specific job roles. We wanted to make it very easy to digest, like you're hiring a digital worker. ‘Tara’ is coming to work and she's only doing transaction screening. So she's going to view every transaction and she's gonna check whether there's a false positive, whether it should be allowed through, and that's her job. That's how you hire Tara. We gave her a name and a face, job description, a job role. We launched that two years ago, and business absolutely took off.

The company went from zero to $4 million turnover in less than a year, and then from $4 million to $11 million the following year, just from these Digital Worker sales. He thinks it will double again next year.  Recent world events, like sanctions stemming from the Russia Ukraine war, have created new drivers for adoption, Famarulo notes, exponentially increasing the number of sanctions a financial services company has to deal with.

Companies are looking for ways to solve this increase in demand, he adds:

You have job roles that most people don't want to do, level one job roles or remedial work. But it's very hyper-sensitive because it is regulated, and it's under constant scrutiny. By having a piece of software that’s doing that work, all the decisions made are documented, and an auditor can see those decisions and why a person was blocked, or let through.

Challenges

Last year the company produced a report, Technology Transformation in Financial Crime Compliance, (download available with sign-up)  with financial services research company Celent. This found that 70% of financial institutions face capacity challenges in compliance, which digital workers can help to address. According to the research, 86% of organizations said they will increase spending on AI over the next two years, and 45% of those said they will increase it significantly.

Famularo points to the ease in implementing Digital Workers as a key factor in increasing productivity and lowering costs. He cites a US regional bank struggling to handle large numbers of transactions that bought Digital Worker Tara six to eight months ago. It took the bank six weeks to fully implement Tara, and get it working with the existing team, and six months to get a full return on their investment.

He says: 

The beauty with our Digital Workers is they are like a person that's been doing the job for three to four years. The models are already trained. The longer Tara's doing the job, the smarter she is, but out of the box, it's like bringing on board somebody that's been doing the job for three years.

According to Famularo, many banks are now looking at how they will train, enable and put staff in other roles, working on improving employee satisfaction, and helping retain staff. Last year’s research found that 93% of banks said that instead of laying off staff through using AI, they would focus on up-skilling and figuring out how to deploy those resources to focus on risk:

Companies that we sell to are figuring out they had 100 people in this role, and now need 20. Where are they going to move the other 80? The beauty for us is that we have 60 odd banks that are all using Tara. I can actually work across them and create best practices. So I can come in and say, ‘ This is what 10 other banks are doing with these people in personnel. And here's the training plans that they give them and here's how they take them through this’. There's something about that kind of group learning we're starting to do a lot more of, it’s like we're hosting our own kind of industry group sessions. 

Expansion

WorkFusion is currently heavily reliant on the financial services and banking business, although it is trying to address this with alliances in other industry sectors. Famularo says: 

We recognize that we are not going to be experts in every field. But we can partner with other companies that can go to market in different fields.

To that end, towards the end of last year the firm announced the rollout of its no code Work.AI platform and a partnership deal with a legal software company Epiq. Based in New York, Epiq wanted to build its own legal Digital Workers and is now using WorkFusion’s no code Work.AI platform.  Famularo comments: 

We're not going into legal. We don't have the expertise in legal you do. So we will give you our platform. We'll help you design [Digital Workers]. And then when you sell them, we'll collect the royalty.

My take

WorkFusion’s mission ‘to accelerate the world’s transition to more meaningful work’ is certainly bold. But it does seem to have hit upon one seemingly practical way of integrating easily-integratable AI Digital Workers into existing teams, using the experiences of its existing customer base. 

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