The banking industry could use chatbots and other automated software to eliminate as many as 200,000 jobs over the next 10 years, according to a new report by Wells Fargo.
Customer service may experience the deepest cuts, with employee reductions of up to one-third; other roles, such as technologists and salespeople, may end up substantially less affected. Indeed, the technological foundation for this shift is present: “We’re already seeing signs of it with chatbots, and some people don’t even know that they’re chatting with an A.I. engine because they’re just answering questions.” Michael Tang, who leads Deloitte’s global financial-services innovation practice, is quoted as saying in the report, according to Bloomberg.
Earlier this year, an analyst report from McKinsey & Co. suggested that automation could decimate the ranks of bankers and other “front office” finance workers by roughly a third. For example, increasingly sophisticated business-analytics software will allow banks to shrink teams of traders. “The really successful folks will be able to bring together the technical capabilities along with those traditional sales capabilities,” Matthew Steinert, one of the authors of the report, told Bloomberg at the time.
Banking isn’t the only industry prepping for a huge automation push over the next few years. In February, PepsiCo announced that it would lay off a significant number of employees as part of a plan that involves “relentlessly automating and merging the best of our optimized business models” (in the words of CEO Ramon Laguarta). In what may become a PR tactic for other companies that go down the automation route, PepsiCo framed this as a great move for the stockholders and company, because it would save money.
No wonder Generation Z is reportedly concerned about automation—the impact of automating processes is looking increasingly widespread. In fact, that pessimism has existed for a few years, long before companies such as Google began announcing relatively sophisticated, “labor saving” A.I. tools such as Duplex.
If a significant chunk of the population is automated out of a job, what will society do? A few years ago, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates offered up the idea of a “robot tax” to help mitigate the societal disruption related to technology. “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” he said in a video posted by Quartz. At least on paper, the revenue from such a tax could fund job training or some form of universal basic income (although as FiveThirtyEight pointed out at the time, determining eligibility for universal basic income would prove a logistically nightmarish task, even before you tackle the program’s insane cost).
The banking industry’s planned elimination of jobs just highlights (yet again) how those who want some kind of professional stability will ultimately need to embrace “soft skills” and other attributes that machines have a very hard time replicating (at least for now). Those who ultimately keep their jobs will have skills that machines can’t replicate, such as creativity and empathy. Although ageism remains a pervasive issue in the American workforce (and especially in tech), older tech workers who have mastered these arts of communication and collaboration might find themselves “safer” than younger workers who have technical skills but can’t necessarily manage human beings.