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Rurik Bradbury, Global Head of Research at LivePerson

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has made his feelings toward AI clear.  Last December, he stated that the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution will “destroy jobs and livelihoods well before new ones emerge”. Research from Oxford University and Deloitte echoes this prediction, stating that 35% of UK jobs are at risk of being lost to automation within the next two decades.

In the financial services sector, we’re already seeing banks using chatbots to improve the customer experience and reduce costs. In some locations, banks are even switching out tellers for self-service ATMs that allow customers to video chat with an agent, if additional assistance is needed. AI and machine learning is also used for banks’ analytics capabilities to spot nonstandard behaviour patterns and fraudulent transactions, for trading and for risk management, amongst many other things.

But how does the average worker in the financial sector feel about the threat of AI and robo-advisors?  Do they believe the predictions that the coming wave of bots, AI, and automated technologies will displace millions of  people from their jobs? Are they concerned that their future livelihoods will be lost or irreversibly altered? Or is this a challenge of no concern to them yet?

To discover how people feel about workplace automation, we interviewed 2,000 US-based consumers aged 18 and older and asked them how concerned they were about the threat that it poses. What we found was that a surprising number of adults working in banking, accounting and the financial services are not worried that AI will impact their careers.

Robots won’t take my job

In spite of all the hype, our research showed that 31% of banking, accounting and financial services professionals in the US never worry about losing their jobs to automation and 59% feel very secure and confident their job and industry will still exist in 10 years.

When asked what they perceive to be the greatest threat to their job security, these professionals rated automation and robots as the second greatest threat to their job security (21%), behind a struggling economy (32%). The problem with this perception, however, is that it fails to recognise that in a struggling economy, businesses may turn toward automation even more aggressively in an effort to drive savings — making automation the greatest threat after all.  Interestingly, 18% would trust a bot to be an accountant.

However, workers in the financial sector aren’t dismissing the potential impact of automation completely, as some 60% believe that other industries may be at risk, even though their own job and industry are safe from being displaced by automation.

But robots will displace these workers

While 38% of those in banking, accounting and financial services named their own industry as among the most-at-risk from automation, the jobs that finance professionals believe are most at risk from automation in the next twenty years are manufacturing (70%), telecoms (50%), customer service (48%) and transportation (43%).

Are you prepared?

Although nearly a third of finance professionals say they are not worried by the threat of automation, 53% have taken courses to learn new skills and 38% have attended conferences to focus on their professional development.  However, 21% of professionals in the industry have not taken any measures to increase their job security.

If you can’t beat them, join them

At the World Economic Forum last year, financial leaders all agreed that banking was facing its ‘Uber moment’. The companies that stand still will be disrupted or sidelined. AI technologies, like chatbots, are increasingly playing a part in retail banking.

We’re seeing many large brands, including financial institutions, integrating bots and AI into their digital and customer care strategies, right alongside their human agents. The key here is “integrate” not “replace”. AI doesn’t have to involve the eradication of the human from the work arena: indeed, it can’t yet, as it is still unable to understand human intent in many cases, so actual humans need to step into the conversations and “save” the bot.

Instead, humans and bots can work together in what we call a “tango”: an advanced form of job-sharing where different parts of one job are parcelled out to humans and bots. The bot can handle simple tasks, such as bill pay or a change of address, while human agents can focus on the more complex inquiries and creating meaningful connections with customers. 

Finding the balance between human and machine

Whether people recognize the inevitability of bots or not, does not change the fact that the robots are coming, and simply ignoring this will lead to a chasm between workers who lose jobs to automation and those who reap the upside.

A successful transition into the automation economy requires, first and foremost, education. No matter what part of the financial services sector you work in, people need to brace themselves for change, and understand how AI will alter the nature of their working lives and lead to new bot/human partnerships, and greater personal interaction with AI.