RBS slashed hundreds of jobs this week, replacing some of its financial advisers with so-called “robo advice”. The announcement was closely followed by news that the City’s watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has welcomed our new robot
A seven-month FCA study into the financial advice sector, conducted with Treasury assistance, concluded that modern technologies should “play a major role in driving down costs” for consumers of financial products (ie. most of us).
With official backing, and with RBS providing the latest example of human labour being replaced by machines, City folk could be excused for worrying about the effect of robots on their livelihoods.
Fortunately, however, they have history on their side. “There’s this sci-fi, apocalyptic image of robots taking over,” Deloitte’s chief economist Ian Stewart told People Management magazine last year. “[But] much of what happens is more prosaic and less dramatic. It’s not machines coming along and taking your job. It’s machines coming along and making your job easier and more interesting.”
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Stewart is just one of many economists and historians to take this line, and there are numerous examples from the relatively recent past of technologies benefiting wider society without stoking unemployment.
The invention and spread of the affordable refrigerator may have seen some ice block carriers laid off; many jobs in cities such as London once depended on the use of horses for transport, and disappeared with the arrival of the motor car. You get the picture. But in all cases, workers tend to end up in different jobs, rather than losing out on employment altogether. And typically the new roles are more fulfilling and productive than those they replace.
Ian Clark, a director at recruitment firm Hays, says that we are already seeing this phenomenon when it comes to automation in finance; there is increased demand for data scientists and other specialists who work alongside improving technologies, he says.
Technological advances have provided, and continue to provide, an enormous boon to humankind. Financial services are no different to any other industry, and it is heartening to see the City embrace – rather than fear – the rise of the robot.