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Customer Story

Irish Life brought an Intelligent Automation approach to pension contributions

Published: Friday, Apr 28, 2023
3months from ideation to production
3FTE work equivalent saved
3000cash breakdowns processed per month
About Company
Irish Life Assurance plc, commonly known as Irish Life, is an Irish life assurance and pensions company. Irish Life has been part of the Great-West Lifeco group of companies since 2013, when the Irish Government sold the business. Prior to 2012, Irish Life was part of Permanent TSB.
Irish Life Website
Products
SmartMail
Invisible App
Industry
Insurance
Company size
Enterprise
Region
Europe
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Ushur has given us this edge that we didn't have before. The more we work with Ushur, the better we become.
Ken LynchHead of Information Technology Corporate Business
  Irish Life

Modern insurance companies have an arsenal of automated, customer-facing digital channels at their disposal — like messaging apps, customer portals and AI-powered email — that can process and respond to user inputs in real time. Usually when an insurance company wants to simplify an engagement, the answer would be to spin up a digital channel. Automating user interactions at the front-end reduces operational lift at the back-end.

But it’s not always that simple.

Irish Life Corporate Business is Ireland’s market leader in pensions. Every month it struggled to process 3000 pension contribution documents submitted by clients over email, each of whom seem to have a different way to input data. Files arrived with missing, incorrect or extraneous information and fields, which meant Irish Life staff spent four to five days each month indexing, cleaning, and reformatting them.

Their solution: streamline the process with Intelligent Document Automation.

As a customer since 2018, Irish Life’s corporate division was no stranger to Ushur’s Customer Experience Automation™ Platform. Ushur has partnered with Irish Life to auto-triage nearly all of its incoming customer emails. Surely, they thought, Ushur could also automate another convoluted back-end process. This bet is what drew them to Ushur’s Intelligent Document Automation (IDA), an artificial intelligence product that ingests and reconfigures customer-submitted files into actionable content.

The bet paid off.

Each month, 3,000 HR partners email Irish Life with a document called a “cash breakdown” which includes a list of employees in the company’s pension plan and instructions on how their plan contributions should be applied for that particular month across the different types of pay-ins (such as employer, employee, and additional voluntary contributions).

Each month, the list of the employees and the amount they want to apply to their pensions may change, for a variety of reasons. New employees join. Some leave. Others get raises and want to increase their contributions. From here it only gets more complicated, explained Carol Walls, the Senior Technical Specialist at Irish Life corporate business.

“The problem was, despite lots of communication with clients over the years where we’d explained exactly how we would like the format, the format was almost as varied as the number of clients. The format could be an Excel spreadsheet, it could be a CSV, it could be a PDF file, it could be the body of an email.”

The Irish Life team would also have to make sense of the content. Partners would name column headers differently depending on what was in their payroll system. Some partners would enter employees’ full names. Others would use first name and surname. Sometimes they referred to Additional Voluntary Employee Contributions with the wrong abbreviation. Any field entered incorrectly was a field Irish Life’s internal system couldn’t read.

“Then, at the bottom of the sheet, people would have included little notes about their employees or how the amounts were to be collected. Mary’s going on maternity leave. Sean’s address has changed. Obviously, our system of record doesn't care about that, but it’s valuable information to us,” said Walls.

Irish Life uses Visual Basic to upload the cash breakdowns, a system Walls described as “old and cantankerous.” Visual Basic’s very specific formatting restrictions is what drove the business team to spend so much time manually manipulating the contributions files — removing columns, changing headers, and stripping out information. All of these transformations had to be completed before Visual Basic could make any sense of the file.

Ushur’s Intelligent Document Automation changed the entire internal landscape of how Irish Life processes pension contributions. Intelligent Document Automation ingests the submitted customer content and reconfigures it into the appropriate machine-readable format. In Irish Life’s case, IDA currently transforms Excel files; is also capable of reading, evaluating, and correcting PDF’s, CSV’s and plain email bodies. Then IDA cleans the Excel file. It strips any extraneous data or fields, renames columns and erases duplications. Whenever it finds information it can’t reconcile, such as an incorrect member reference number, it presents the issues found in a new column.

The intelligent automation doesn’t stop there. Because Irish Life is legally required to maintain the original content for audit purposes, IDA performs all transformations on a copy. If an HR partner submits spreadsheets containing pension contributions across multiple months (since that might be the way they manage their system), it combines them into a summary file. This equips the Irish Life team with a single spreadsheet organized into tabs with all the information they might need: the original content for audit purposes, any issues found, the transformed document and a summary file.

“Essentially it does as much of the work as it possibly can and retains some things that we might need to fix or make a decision on, and presents that to us,” said Walls.

IDA also works hand-in-glove with Irish Life’s deployment of SmartMail, Ushur’s intelligent email automation product. Prior to using SmartMail, Irish Life devoted a whole team of people to sifting through customer emails. Whenever they received an email containing a cash breakdown, it would have to be opened and read by a member of Irish Life’s email triage team, who would classify the email based on Key Business Indicators (KBIs) and forward it to the appropriate operations area — in this case, Irish Life Corporate Business. Previously, this classification process could have taken a full day.

Once the email containing the cash breakdown reached Irish Life Corporate Business, it was read again before finally getting queued to an individual case manager for resolution. That meant a several day gap between a client submitting their cash breakdown and a member of Irish Life beginning the four-to-five hour journey of applying the manual data transformations needed.

Now, when Irish Life receives a cash breakdown, SmartMail identifies it appropriately and sends it directly to IDA. IDA transforms it and sends it to a team member all of this happens in approximately 30 seconds. It can then be reviewed and uploaded via Visual Basic.

We want to get maximum value out of our talent. Transforming data files is not a great use of their time. Ushur gives them an opportunity to work on something that's got a higher value.
Ken LynchHead of Information Technology Corporate Business
 Irish Life

Let that sink in: Irish Life Corporate Business used to spend days indexing cash breakdown emails and cleaning spreadsheets. Now they get deliverables in 30 seconds. As a result, Irish Life eliminated the workload of 3 Full-time Equivalent positions, and the actual employees who were previously responsible for manually transforming data were able to concentrate on value-add operational tasks.

According to Ken Lynch, Head of Information Systems at Irish Life, automating manual tasks like document transformation is part of Irish Life’s plan to increase the number of employees dedicated to strategic delivery.

“We're a growing business. We want to get maximum value out of our talent. Transforming data files is not a great use of their time. Ushur gives them an opportunity to work on something that's got a higher value. And it gives us a choice as to what we do with our talent,” said Lynch.

“The relationship with Ushur allows us to follow the highest value-add activity that we can find,” he added.

After applying intelligent document automation to its pension contributions, Irish Life plans to expand its use of SmartMail and in the future it plans to introduce Invisible Portal. Clients and brokers often forget to include a KBI in their emails, such as the scheme number or the member number. Moving forward, Irish Life will engage with the end user via Ushur’s Invisible App™, an omni-channel, two-way conversational interface. The Invisible App will automatically email the client back, asking them to provide identifying information. Ultimately, this will enable Irish Life to complete client requests more quickly and free up more employee cycles and Invisible Portal will act as a hub for clients and brokers to upload and track their document submissions.

“[Working with Ushur], it's never a question of implementing something only to realize it’s not really working five years later. It's always a process that can be improved. That means that the products stay relevant, they're not stagnating. They continuously provide results,” said Walls.

According to Lynch, this approach to continuously improving the product is what distinguishes Ushur as a cut above the rest.

“Lots of AI companies don't really want to invest in their platform anymore. They're trying to monetize it as quickly and as hard as they can. That’s not the case for Ushur. I can bring them our business problems, we talk them through them together, and the problems Irish Life is trying to solve end up enhancing the platform. And for us, we get the competitive advantage through being the first movers in this type of technology.”

Walls seconded this. “At the moment we’re the market leader in Irish pensions. But that's not something we take lightly. There’s a constant and a huge drive within the business to maintain service levels, and not just maintain but excel. We have to be improving, because we know that people are always chasing our tail. The bottom line is that our competitors suffer from the same things that we do: the data is difficult and hard to manage. But we’ve been very fortunate. Ushur has given us this edge that we didn't have before. The more we work with Ushur, the better we become.”

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