Can robots replace jobs?

By Ambarish Datta        Last Updated: February 7, 2017  | 19:21 IST
Can robots replace jobs?
Ambarish Datta, MD and CEO, BSE Institute

If you were visiting Paris in 1875, you would not have seen the Eiffel tower standing tall. Neither, would you have found any cola bottles in the shelves, since this was a good few years before Coca Cola was invented.  And it was the same year, when a few learned men got together under a banyan tree far away at Mumbai, to set up the Native Share and Stock Brokers Association  - to trade in stocks. They would have never imagined that someday, machines would do their task of buying and selling shares. Technology has made this possible and today Bombay Stock Exchange as the new avatar of the association not only does close to 4 million transactions on a good day effortlessly, it also does it at an overwhelming speed of 6 micro seconds. Just imagine, if they had a license to fly - they would have flown you to mars and return every day, twice over with this tech. Technology is disrupting the traditional financial and banking industry at a pace faster than all of us can imagine. Tasks earlier handled by people, or through multi-layered processes are now being automated. No longer are these tasks dependent on human interfaces but have quietly moved to user interfaces in the new hyper connected digital world. These new technologies are also rewiring the way business and commerce is done.  Almost everything we do today from trading to managing our money is transforming. 

So, would robots replace jobs?

In a study conducted by academicians from the Oxford University, the authors have rightly pointed out that amongst the white collared jobs, banking and finance roles are the most susceptible to computerization. Additionally, since the industry is built on high degree of information processing and transactional tasks, the risk of automation is the highest in the skilled industry. For example, Pepper a humanoid now receives customers in Soft Bank stores in Japan smartly, helps them do their transactions and politely offers suggestions when required. Pepper also has social behaviour and emotions coded in his algorithm. Closer home, Laxmi a humanoid has recently made her debut at a local bank branch helping customers. Technology innovation is evolving rapidly and will impact labour markets and in the process make many jobs redundant.  Historically, automation usually affected manual tasks like say the bookkeeper, cashier, teller, trader in the banking and finance Industry. However, this century's technological progress is going to impact jobs, which traditionally required human bodies with cognitive skills. Not only are these bringing more efficiency, these are also generating better rewards for business.  Computerization of cognitive skills has another advantage - of doing transactions without human biases. Today, a high frequency algorithmic trade is executed at a micro second speed, executing orders worth billions with just a click, ruthlessly.  

So, how does one acquire skills to stay relevant in the industry?

Traditionally skills taught for job roles in the banking and finance Industry required competency in quantitative and problem solving skills. Universities and professional courses have largely focused on developing these skills along with regulatory subjects.  However, with changing dynamics in business, no longer can these skills be enough to survive in this hyperactive industry. Knowledge of technology for finance professionals cannot be limited to just operating a computer nor using spreadsheets but will need to be developed much beyond. Finance professionals for the new generation need to be skilled not just in technology but also probably on basics of coding, cyber, cloud, machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and innovation amongst other things. Job roles in the domain of finance are no longer back room tasks. Curriculums in colleges, universities, vocational training institutes need to incorporate these in their courses and ensure that students who graduate are trained well to master these technologies.

Technology progresses will drive innovations across businesses as well. Financial institutions, banks, intermediaries will find ways to dump legacy infrastructure and imbibe faster and more efficient platforms. At the same time - newer, tighter regulations will need a fine balance in complying with regulatory needs and still staying relevant in business. In all of this, people and their skills will be the key to move forward. With falling prices in computing and shorter life cycles for products, banking and finance industry will not be anything like what it is now.  Innovations like crypto currency will revolutionize many services and disintegrate many financial services.  We need to quickly revisit our approach to skilling in this domain as the artificial intelligence is taking the higher ground.

 

 

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