Finance workers first to feel near-term AI blow

Such large-scale retraining will not take place overnight.
13 December 2018

Finance workers could be first to feel the impact. Source: Shutterstock

Those working in the finance industry will be among the first to feel the jilting impact of the AI übermensch, according to Alexander Fleiss, CEO of New York hedge fund and ‘robo adviser’ Rebellion Research.

In an interview with efinancialcareers, Fleiss said that while AI will “create jobs in time”, the financial industry is likely to bear witness to a “disconnect” before enough workers are sufficiently educated and trained to make up for losses in the short-term.

“Finance headcount is going to drop like railroad stock in the 50s,” warned Fleiss. “But the banks themselves will do well. They’ll continue to cut costs as they incorporate more intelligent learning processes.”

Indeed, cross-industry spend on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software, for one, is currently on track to meet US$680 million worldwide by the end of the year— a 57 percent hike on last year.

Banks— along with insurance, utilities, and telecoms companies— touting annual turnover in excess of US$1 billion can claim the lion’s share of that spend, with the software able to speed up and automate routine processes while eliminating human error.

Taking a positive look, this software, and other breeds of AI-driven automation programs, will ‘free up’ finance workers from less menial tasks, but, of course, such large-scale retraining will not take place overnight— or perhaps anywhere near the pace at which these programs will be adopted.

According to Fleiss, however, the banks themselves could face their own set of difficulties in recruiting the talent needed to operate such breakout technology, as they enter into an “AI arms race” with some of the world’s largest tech giants.

“You look at Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple – no one else is pouring more money into AI. These four companies are going to be so far ahead,” said Fleiss. “Someday Amazon will buy a J.P. Morgan or a Wells Fargo.”

“They’re going to buy one of the top three banks in the country within the next five to 10 years,” he continued. “I believe that’s part of why they are coming to New York. Amazon and Alibaba are spending more on machine learning than anyone on the planet.”

While it may be those working in the finance industry that are first to feel this blow, however, the wider picture Fleiss paints is certainly not limited by sector-specific confines.

In the regular ‘AI taking jobs’ debate we’re so used to hearing, the emerging party-line is that the technology will enable workers of the future to relinquish themselves from the humdrum of administration and focus on the more creative aspects of business growth.

Much more finite airtime, however, is given to the amount of resource required to reskill workers for these, as yet, abstract roles, and the near-term impact that could have on their positions.

“Start by taking introductory classes,” is Fleiss’s advice for the more opportunistic of workers looking to skip the queue and future-proof their careers with skills in AI technology.

“In terms of getting a job, a company like Amazon wants to see that you can work with machine learning tools; you don’t actually need to build them.

“The technology is important, but it’s all about how you apply it. Companies want people who can discover and implement new applications.”