Robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation could take over almost a third of investment banking jobs within just a few years, according to a recent report from consultant McKinsey.
The report, Cognitive Technologies in Capital Markets, examines which jobs and processes within the corporate and investment banking world are most suited to automated technologies. It concludes that 60% of jobs will face a big impact from artificial intelligence and robotics while 30% of jobs could be performed entirely via automation.
While this may be disturbing news for investment bankers worried that they will become surplus to requirements, the report states that this shift in work practices will not just lead to job cuts but should also free up staff to perform more high-value tasks.
"The application of cognitive technologies to capital markets functions can reduce budgets and free up capacity for teams to focus on higher-value activities such as research, idea generation and client relationship management," states the report.
In terms of those processes most ripe for automation, the report picks out trade allocation as its number one, stating that the auto-population of trade details is already being piloted by a number of investment banks.
The report separates middle office, finance and operations tasks in its examination of what is most appropriate for automation and states that the latter group will enjoy greater employee capacity from the use of cognitive technology, especially a number of post-trade processes such as settlement/payments, confirmations and reconciliations.
It also states that "pockets of value will be delivered across the business, from risk management to compliance and HR". However there is little focus on the front office and the role of traders and dealmakers.
In terms of the technology, McKinsey states that machine learning will have the greatest impact, while consumer-facing robots or cognitive agents will have the lowest overall impact.
The report states that the technology will be ready to move to "centre stage" within two or three years but it also warns that it will not magically produce double digit growth for banks. It will though make banks more efficient and better able to respond to technology changes and recommends that they establish internal departments or centres to track emerging technology and encourage greater innovation.
The majority of investment banks have already set up a number of so-called innovation centres and started to pilot the use of cognitive technologies for some processes. And a number of bank heads have also sought to assure staff that the introduction of machine learning, robots and the like will not necessarily result in headcount reduction.
For example, the world's biggest bank JP Morgan stated its intention to use robotics and machine learning to automate basic manual tasks in its annual letter to shareholders back in April but the bank's boss Jamie Dimon also said in June that he expects headcount at the bank to go up despite automation.
“We’re using bots today, it’s not going to stop us from opening retail branches” or hiring private bankers or expanding in Africa, he said in an interview published on LinkedIn. “My guess is our headcount will go up over the next 20 years, not down.”