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By David Mills, CEO, Ricoh Europe
When it comes to new technology designed to speed up business processes and help the industry to evolve, it’s clear that banks have been the big early adopters.

Online banking is now a mainstay in our lives. Ten to fifteen years ago it was almost unimaginable to think we’d be managing our finances through a mobile phone. And that’s why it’s exciting to think about what the next decade holds for this fast-moving sector.

Process automation will be the key driver for future innovation, as banks look to maximise what they get out of human qualities. The naturally numerical and often complex nature of the work carried out by banks makes the sector ripe for advanced computerised automation – an area in which it has already made great strides.

But it’s repetitive tasks such as opening accounts, approving mortgages, and reporting back-office data, that will be next in line for replacement by intelligent software systems. That’s why banks have to think differently about how they guide and manage staff, as we advance towards the workplace of the future.

This form of automation is happening right now. UBS has enlisted the help of a Singapore-based technology firm to use artificial intelligence (AI) for delivering advice to high-net-worth individuals. It may feel slightly gimmicky now, but it certainly signals the direction we are moving in. As a consequence, this evolution will drive uptake and use of big data, which will take away the complexity of sifting through mountains of information. Crucially, this will help banks to better understand their customers’ needs.

David Mills

David Mills

With laborious and repetitive work becoming increasingly automated, banks can switch their focus to selling higher valuable services. This requires the ability to manage client growth and develop new digital applications – all of which are underpinned by human skill, judgment and expertise. It means a highly automated banking system will require a high level talent management strategy at the heart of the organisation. Recruitment and retention of the very best people will have to be taken seriously. If not, the bigger and more established players could miss out on new hires to disruptive fast growth firms. Training and strong support for staff in their advanced roles will play a key role in this.

Hans Tesselaar is director of sourcing, innovation and governance at Dutch banking group ING, which has had to deal with these challenges.

In an Economist Intelligence Unit white paper on the Future of Work, sponsored by Ricoh, he says: “At all levels of banking – technology, commercial, process and managerial – there is a real focus here. We are competing with all the attractive start-ups and we need to make our banks a desirable place to work.”

Metro Bank, which has been a big disruptor to the financial services industry in the UK, is leading an interesting trend where banks are becoming increasingly careful in the hire choices they make. The company will typically shortlist just five people from the hundreds of applications it receives for each available job. Then, the final two have to show who is best at customer service. This approach also focuses on employing managers who can develop the best people in customer service skills, while rewarding staff on how they serve clients, rather than sales.

I envisage that this continuous improvement in the area of staff management will be a target for the entire industry. In addition, allowing staff a genuine chance to progress within the organisation is vital.

Craig Donaldson, chief executive at the bank, said: “All too often banks focus solely on profit instead of customer service, which in itself delivers success. The industry is going to need to perform much better through talented staff.

“Staff need to have a real career path to the top, even if they start as a cashier. Why shouldn’t they be able to see a potential journey right up to being the CEO?”

With such rapid development, banks will be a shining example of best practice that other sectors will look to as they march towards the future of work. But with pioneering comes risk. Such a focused environment could lend itself to concerns over pressure, and banks will have to properly support employees’ happiness and work-life balance.

With people and data set to become the new big currencies, banks will evolve into a future of harmonious automation and high-skilled personnel.

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