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Shades of Gray: Balancing quick advice with discretionary decision making

Fiona Guy
Senior Principal Product Manager

Some industries particularly feel the impact of not giving their customers instant answers to their questions. Financial institutions have learnt that providing quick home loan pre-approval gives them the advantage over their competitors that take days to process an application. Universities have told me that the speed with which they process student applications directly impacts intake, as students can be inclined to accept the first university to offer them a place.

We also know that many decisions involve some aspect of discretion. There are times where a human decision maker needs to be involved to look at the individual case at hand. 

So can self-service OPA interviews still be used in these cases? 


In many of these cases there are clear indicators that a decision needs to be made one way or the other. I call these the black and white decisions. Under no circumstances is a street party at 4am going to be approved, so use OPA to tell the applicant straight-up as part of the application process. Don't keep them waiting and don't waste an agent's time looking at this. If you have an existing bank customer with good income and credit rating, go ahead and give them pre-approval on their loan and then follow-up with a detailed application if needed. 

The key to creating OPA interviews in these cases is to identify where the gray area lies. 


Discretion scale




The Employee or Contractor OPA interview provides a worked example of this. In this case, a large tax agency wanted to give guidance on whether a person should be a contractor or employee but there were also clear indicators that were simply not negotiable. For example, if the person is an apprentice, trainee, company director, labourer or trades assistant they must be considered an employee. 

Example rule


By modelling the logic at either end of this scale they are able to provide quick answers, which still acknowledging that there is a gray area in the middle. This interview provides indicative advice within the boundaries, but it would be equally valid for these discretionary cases to be logged and sent to an agent for review. 

You can also provide your agents with assistance making this discretionary decision. But that's the topic of another post


Title photo credit: Frida Bredesen via Unsplash

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Matthew Waddington Friday, June 14, 2019
    Thanks for this. This approach is also relevant to governments thinking up rules that they want to embody in legislation. The 3-way split of case-scenarios into Always-must, Discretion, & Must-never is not used as much as it could be. That could be down to the idea just not occuring to policy officials who assume the discretion must be across the board. Lots of work happening on this in "Rules as Code" in NZ, NSW & internationally.
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