12 March 2019

Banks of the future still need human intelligence & empathy

Digitalisation is improving banking processes and customer experience, but what does this mean for people and jobs?


A recent report estimated that over the next few years, machines will be capable of performing approximately 30% of the work currently done at banks1.

The truth is, the entire financial industry is changing and burying your head in the sand is not going to stop it.

Advances in machine learning, robotic process automation, and adaptive intelligence are already showing to have an impact on banking functions such as compliance, payments, and retail services, among others2.

While change understandably sparks feelings of uncertainty and the fear of becoming obsolete, this is actually a great thing for banks. Automating light-touch services and simple, repetitive tasks will free up time and capacity for people to focus on more high value work, such as generation of new ideas or spending more time with clients and providing the human touch.

After all, empathy is something that that AI might be able to mimic, but will not be able to learn. 

So while some older jobs may be made obsolete, there will also be new jobs created and even more will be transformed. After all, humans will always be relevant and necessary in the future economy.

What banks need to be doing is preparing for and building a skills-future ready workforce. One way to do so is to promote internal mobility by redeploying staff from one department to another.

Another more long-sighted approach that banks can take is to “reskill” employees with the necessary skills and expertise a digital economy needs. After all, there are many “jobs of the future” that will need filling.  

For example, as the separation between digital, physical and remote service environments breaks down, customers could request for service in a branch, via chat app, voice, augmented or even in virtual reality3. Relationship managers would need to be equipped with the necessary digital skills to be able to service clients both offline and online.

Customer Service officers could be trained to become Universal Service Advisor – offering assistance across channels and geographic locations, breaking down barriers such as distance and time. 

Banks should constantly be working with government agencies to continually provide such support to their staff. 

Thankfully, the Singapore government has placed significant focus on reskilling. The Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) has launched a career centre to help finance professionals stay relevant to the industry4.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also released an industry transformation map for financial services in which the MAS highlighted that it would be collaborating with financial institutions, the tripartite partners, and institutes of higher learning to reskill and redeploy professionals into job growth areas through professional conversion programmes.5

The digital space changes at a rapid rate, and customer’s needs will change accordingly, so it’s simply not practical to assume we will be able to predict future trends and prep our people with specific skills. Instead, it’s more important to encourage an agile and adaptive workforce that will be able to navigate change.

For change to happen, it has to start from the top and permeate to every part of the bank. HSBC has a global two-day, immersive course ‘Innovation in the Digital Age’ designed to equip our leaders with the insight, skills and tools to drive innovation.

Locally, we have been holding Digital Brown Bag talks with large multinational tech companies to share the importance of data, artificial intelligence (AI) and thinking outside the box.

The fact is AI will not – and cannot – replace human intelligence and empathy. Recent testing of AI has shown that technology still has a long way to go before they can even begin to truly replace people.6 7

Customers will still need a human touch and understanding, especially in areas like complex advisory on finances and retirement planning for banks.

What the digital revolution has done is not replace, but evolve the role of people in the workplace. If we can blend technology with the power of people, we will be able to create a dynamic bank of the future.

Even more than skills, we need to train our people to be more nimble and innovative to be able to provide outstanding customer experiences that is relevant to the times. Failure to do so could cause us to self-eliminate ourselves from the competition.

A contribution piece by Tony Cripps, CEO HSBC Singapore, first published in Wealth Briefing Asia on 28th February 2019.

1 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-20/machines-poised-to-take-over-30-of-work-at-banks-mckinsey-says

2 https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-the-future-of-talent-in-banking/$FILE/ey-the-future-of-talent-in-banking.pdf

3 ‘HSBC Report: The most important intelligence isn’t artificial…’ press release

4 https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/manpower/new-career-centre-for-finance-professionals

5 http://www.mas.gov.sg/News-and-Publications/Media-Releases/2017/Roadmap-for-a-Leading-Global-Financial-Centre-in-Asia.aspx

6 Why UBS cloned an economist, Financial Times, July 2018

7 Can the world’s first AI ski instructor beat the real thing?, Financial Times, October 2018