Change, tech & banking, from the floor

Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker - not noted for his zingers during his time as chairman (and, I hasten to add, noted as a crucial chairman) - delivered a beauty in the wake of the GFC.

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“The most important financial innovation that I have seen the past 20 years is the automatic teller machine,” he noted drolly.

It’s a good line but I’d disagree. Over the last decade, the financial services industry has generated plenty of innovation - including contactless payments, digital wallets, real-time money transfers and more, all aimed at more seamless solutions for customers.

And these innovations are customer driven – even when their primary purpose is productivity. With the dawning of the digital age and radically new competition, traditional players have had to innovate. The best banking apps are intuitive and user friendly, although they still have plenty to learn from their social media peers.

"The most important financial innovation that I have seen the past 20 years is the automatic teller machine.” – Volker

Underlying this innovation however is a fundamental moment: banking is going to change. The threat of disintermediation by non-bank competitors is real, the shift to digital is happening, artificial intelligence will reimagine customer interactions.

There is no shortage of fascinating research and conjecture into this future. But a less explored area is what all these changes will mean for bank employees of the future.

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Paranoid about the android?

The apocalyptic headlines about humans being replaced by robots have been many and varied. One of my favourites is from the usually staid The Guardian - Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late.

Although the reality is likely to be a lot less grim than some of these headlines postulate there is no denying most employees in financial services will be impacted.

The most recent World Economic Forum (WEF) study on the future of jobs compared the skills demand between 2018 and 2022 as shown below.

Comparing skills demand

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It is notable within the skills expected to have declining demand by 2022 there are many still included in job descriptions today. This implies a lot of HR departments and hiring managers are still recruiting for skills they need today, rather than those that will drive their success in future.

According to a 2016 WEF study this is partly due to “an undervaluation of ‘soft skills’ and hiring… purely on domain-knowledge and ‘hard skills’. And partly, it is due to a reluctance to take risks and to challenge vested interests and long-established structures”.

The implication is obvious. To attract and retain the best people banks - like all other companies - will have to challenge vested interests, break down established silos and create workplaces where workers can learn and thrive. 

This will ensure their people have, or are able to develop, the skills that will result in success for the banks and a sense of empowered fulfilment for employees.

The change required

From a HR perspective:

  • Has the recruitment process adapted to align to the skills of the future or are we still using the skills demanded today to drive hiring decisions?
  • Are recruitment processes put in place in the pre-AI era still going to identify the most-appropriate candidates to ensure the company has people with the skills it requires to navigate the coming challenges?
  • Are our hiring managers empowered enough to hire for future skills or do we still hold them to account on the basis of ‘hard skills’ and ‘domain-specific skills’?

From an employee perspective:

  • What skills will I need to future proof my career?
  • Does my employer provide an environment where I can acquire these skills to ensure I am ready for all the coming changes?
  • Is there support and proactive encouragement from business leaders for employees to garner these skills and start deploying them?


It’s a view also supported by a recent study by Dell Technologies and Institute for the Future (IFTF), which looked at how emerging technologies will reshape how humans live and work - and what the implications of these changes are for businesses.

The study surveyed 3,800 business leaders from around the world on their expectations and preparedness for the future.

The report found as the age of the human-machine partnership continues to evolve, the most-valued skills in 2030 will be “creative drive, logic, emotional intelligence, judgement and technological literacy”.

To remain relevant it is critical for humans to acquire the skills machines cannot and for business leaders to provide an inclusive vision and facilitate a culture that will embed these qualities in their people.

Ultimately there will be winners and losers from the coming changes. The challenge for employees and companies (including banks) is to ensure they are highly adaptable, have the relevant skills and are willing and able to move faster than the competition in responding to the changing operating environment.

This will apply across the market for services and products companies deliver to their clients, and likewise, for the skills these companies will look for in employees.

As Nick van Dam, the Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey put it, it is the best time for people who “have the right skills and right education because there are tremendous opportunities… It’s also the worst time in history for people with ordinary skills and education”.

Charles Wachira is an Associate Director, Institutional at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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