Digital Transformation » To automate or not to automate: that’s the question being asked in financial services

To automate or not to automate: that’s the question being asked in financial services

Preparing your workforce for a digital future can deliver increased productivity and happier customers, says Stuart Rye, director of business development, Financial Services, Fujitsu UK.

After being hyped up for some time now, automation has finally begun its ascent into the mainstream workplace. And it’s exciting times for businesses. Although some doomsday predictions claim robots will take all our jobs, research has now made it clear that while it will replace some manual jobs, it will also create completely new roles.

In 20 years, it is likely that many of today’s jobs will not be the same. From a financial services perspective, that is particularly relevant. Indeed, a recent report from KPMG and Harvey-Nash found that up to 20% of financial services roles are ‘at risk’ as a result of automation. Reports like this make it easy to understand why so many people worry about the impact of digital transformation.

Yet, while automation will change contemporary workplace roles it will also create an abundance of new jobs. In fact, the World Economic Forum found that automation will create more jobs than it displaces. This presents financial services leaders with opportunities, but also more than one challenge; the most pressing of which is how they can reskill their current workforce.

There are many ways automation will transform the financial services sector for the better. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can assist humans to go beyond their current daily tasks. And there are, ultimately, many kinds of decision-making that only humans can bring, which will see far more collaboration between man and machine.

So how can financial services businesses to truly take advantage of automation? More than anything, they must first understand how to transition to the digital workplace of the future and ensure employees are given the support and training they need to up skill their roles.

AI in the backseat

It is generally agreed that AI will completely transform the way in which businesses operate. The technology will be able to solve problems quicker than humans and can act as the ultimate assistant to any employee. While AI might sit in the backseat, humans will remain firmly at the wheel of most tasks.

In financial services, we are already seeing changes in the workplace as a result of AI. For example, traditionally people used to deposit cash via a bank teller. This is now changing. A recent report found that mobile banking is set to overtake traditional banking by 2021. Therefore, the role of the bank teller will fundamentally change in the near future; in fact, two-fifths of the public believe this job will disappear in 10 years, according to our Technology in Transforming Britain research.

But whilst technology such as chatbots nowadays can deal with more menial customer requests and inquiries, human interaction is key in customer service – and an integral part of the financial services sector in general. That’s why we’ll see so many jobs transformed in the next few years. Whilst technology, and particularly AI, will take care of admin and repetitive work, people will be able to focus on more meaningful and interesting jobs.

People and AI technology will work side by side, and in the case of customer service in banking, chatbots can – for example – respond to the everyday problems that banks may face with customer service, such as a customer being locked out of their account. Once the AI has attained all the information it can, it can be passed on to a human peer who will be able to action the situation.  Furthermore, the AI can provide guidance on the next best action and even perhaps observations on how the customer might be feeling and needs to be treated by the human agent.

This is the perfect example of how a balance between humans and machines will ultimately speed up the process of customer service, as employees spend less time working on each individual customer query. Of course, this won’t happen overnight; it will require banks to employ training schemes over time, with the aim of upskilling their tellers and ensuring they are prepared for the digital workplace.

How do businesses transition?

For digital transformation to deliver the outcomes and benefits that financial services organisations are trying to achieve, training and re-skilling is critical. This will allow a smooth transition into the digital workplace, as banks prepare for the workplace of tomorrow.

Indeed, what the KPMG-Harvey Nash report does show is that the financial services sector has one of the biggest challenges in adopting automation. Ensuring those already working in the industry are retrained is key for the success of financial services institutions.

Key players in other industries have already begun to invest in re-skilling its workforce. For example, in the retail industry, Amazon has recently invested $700m to retrain its US workforce. Although Amazon is a different beast to most financial services institute, the dedication to invest in up-skilling its workforce is something that should be replicated by all businesses.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be the case that leaders in financial services see these statistics and don’t bat an eyelid. It should be an indicator that the industry is changing, and that change should be embraced.

Invest in the future or risk being left behind

On the face of it, some industry reports are worrying for those working in the financial services industry. Yet, while those jobs may no longer exist in 10 years, they will be replaced by new, and arguably more engaging roles.

I have provided just one example of how it will work practically in the financial services industry. There are, of course, many more examples.

Ultimately, it is up to every financial services institution to ensure that they take the time to invest in and retrain their workers. But preparing your workforce for a digital future is a sure way to achieve increased productivity and happier customers, and should be top of mind for anyone in a decision-making position within the industry.


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