Leeds Building Society uses robots to cope with mortgage holiday demand

Leeds Building Society has increased the number of software robots in its mortgage processing operation to cope with high demand for mortgage holidays amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK lender has rapidly increased the number of software robots – from Blue Prism – used in its mortgage customer support operation.

With businesses closing and people losing work, lenders have offered customers the opportunity to take mortgage deferrals to help them cope as their income levels drop significantly.

More than a million people in the UK have applied to have mortgage payments and interest deferred for up to three months, and Leeds Building Society has seen a sudden increase in requests.

The organisation already uses robotic process automation (RPA) technology from Blue Prism to process these requests alongside its call centre, but increased the number of robots it uses to prepare for the expected jump in demand.

Kevin Mowles, head of business solutions at Leeds Building Society, said requests for mortgage deferrals had suddenly increased to more than 2,000 a day. “Our call centre was facing unprecedented demand and answer times increased as a result,” he said.

After the building society created a web form with the new RPA, calls to the call centre reduced by 75%, with answers given in 21 seconds.

“The whole process is fully automated, so a better service for customers, breathing space for front-line colleagues and the back-office processing teams,” said Mowles.

Without automation technology, businesses might have to recruit and train temporary staff or hire support from a business process outsourcing provider.

The Covid-19 crisis could be a catalyst to hasten the migration of business processes to automation technologies, of which the financial service industry is already a major user.

Automation through RPA is likely to become a priority for businesses when they begin to invest in operations following the pandemic. It could replace staff in call centres as well as offshore workforces in locations such as India.

According to a recent study by EY, more than one-third of businesses accelerated their automation strategies when the extend of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic became clear.

“The sudden and unexpected nature of Covid-19 has compelled executives to re-evaluate operating models,” said the study. “While building agility and resilience have been dominant themes for much of the past decade, the unique nature of the current situation has left many companies unprepared.” According to EY, 36% of businesses are accelerating investment in automation, and 41% are re-evaluating their automation plans.

Customers also appear open to automation technology, even when it comes to their finances. In the past, one of the concerns holding companies back from moving to automation was fear in the customer base, but attitudes are changing. According to a survey by Pinsent Masons and Innovate Finance last year, nearly two-thirds (63%) of people are happy to engage with a chatbot.

The research also found that 35% of people prefer an instant response from artificial intelligence (AI) than a delayed reply from a person.