Is financial services a people industry?
The rising popularity of artificial intelligence and process automation suggests the answer is “no.” Recent research from Roubini Thoughtlab predicts the uptake of these technologies will grow by 110% and 84% respectively over the next five years, raising serious questions about the effects this will have on financial services employees and the way companies interact with their customers.
For all the headlines about how machines will replace humans, let's not forget that financial services is about relationships and exchanges between people. Mortgages, loans and investments are not just figures on a financial statement; they are someone’s house, business loan, or retirement plans. Without humans, these instruments would have no reason to exist.
The challenge for financial services companies taking on new technologies like AI and automation is to marry the creativity and ingenuity of human reasoning with the efficiency of machines. This will require them to find a balance that serves their ambitions of engaging customers while also enhancing the way employees work.
We have already seen self-service portfolio management leave traditional stock brokers in the dust and the rise of mobile banking apps eliminate the need for customers to visit a branch, but what does the steady creep of technology mean for people working in the industry?
Crucial to this endeavour is closer collaboration between finance and HR teams. The finance department, where a great deal of technology is being implemented, must work with HR leaders to understand where they need to have people managing processes and where it makes more strategic sense to automate.
The Roubini research reveals in which ways digital leaders in the financial services industry are already using AI and automation to help their teams work smarter and faster. Fifty-six per cent have seen increased productivity among their advisors, 50% have seen improvements in their ability to detect and anticipate cybersecurity risks, and 38% have been able to optimise and streamline their back office.
With AI and machine learning, organisations can crunch through huge volumes of data and uncover new insights in seconds, but these technologies are only half of the equation. It takes a human being’s judgment and penchant for critical thinking to apply this insight and use it to inform finance strategies, helping the business to meet increasingly complex challenges in a fast-shifting market.
Companies that still view their technology as distinct from their people are missing the point and will fail to achieve their full potential, on both fronts. Tools like AI and automation should serve to augment human decision-making, while people must be encouraged to buy into these technologies and trained to use them effectively.
HR and finance teams therefore need to join forces and foster a work culture that reflects this approach. This will ensure employees are not just willing to use new technologies as part of their day-to-day work but are able to do so and enjoy the benefits. Finance teams understand the benefits that technology can bring to employee workflows and decision-making, while HR teams play a major role in recruiting the right people, training them, and helping managers to transition employees to new ways of working.
This collaboration speaks to a wider imperative within businesses. Roles and responsibilities that were once guarded by individual departments are now bleeding across multiple business units. For instance, consider how compliance has become a matter of organisational culture rather than the sole preserve of legal or finance departments.
As new technologies continue to transform the workplace, companies must adapt their team cultures and the way people use technology to do their jobs. In the financial services industry, this begins with closer collaboration between HR and finance. Together, they can develop a model for interdepartmental cooperation; even more importantly, they can set the right precedent for how to marry the capabilities and limitations of man and machine.