No one likes to think they could be replaced by a computer or algorithm but the huge pressure on corporates to be efficient and automated means that many financial jobs will eventually disappear.
Optimisation, automation, “doing more with less” and “maximising efficiencies”: all words often used (and over-used) to conjure up visions of perfectly-tuned, sleek financial functions that turn out accurate forecasts, adjust hedging positions and monitor cash flows with little need for manual input. But should this talk of streamlining and STP be sounding alarm bells for financial professionals? After all, the idea that algorithms and technology will replace jobs carried out by people isn't just happening in “other sectors”. Sure, we're seeing it at the supermarket check-out and in our local bank branches (if they still exist); so why would corporate treasury and cash management be immune from losing full-time employees to automation?
Are humans really the priority in the age of automation?
PwC's 20th CEO Survey has some reassuring words for anyone worried their job might be at risk from automation, to the effect of 'you can’t have a machine age without humans'. “The challenge for CEOs is to show that in the technological age, humans are their priority,” says PwC's Jon Williams.
This sounds comforting but it's a little like the kind of talk you hear from CFOs and group treasurers when they speak about their latest treasury transformation projects. They will go into any amount of detail about how the latest technology enabled them to streamline their banking relationships and set up a payments factory in Outer Mongolia to simplify their global cash flows and reduce FX exposures. But ask them if they reduced their headcount and few will say yes. They will tell you that the automation has enabled treasury employees to focus on other 'value-added' strategic processes, rather than having to do the daily donkey work.
OK, fair enough, but this isn't really acknowledging the reality that “the relentless march of automation” does mean that companies will lose full-time employees. It's not popular to say it out loud but it's inevitable.
PwC's report – based on a survey of 1,379 CEOs in 79 countries – is comforting in several ways. It puts great emphasis on how technology will transform ours roles, rather than replace us completely. While some jobs will disappear, other roles will evolve. The main message is that we all need to be ready to adapt to this change by keeping an open mind and a flexible skill set. Soft skills will be especially important.
Four soft skills for the automated world
PwC picks out four soft skills that we should nurture to enable us to compete in the future automated jobs marketplace:
- problem solving;
- creativity; and
And it's the availability – or scarcity – of these key skills that seems to be the biggest business threat – according to 77 per cent of the CEOs surveyed by PwC. The report says: “Success in an automated world will mean people and machines working together, rather than one replacing the other… Software cannot imitate passion, character or collaborative spirit. By marrying these skills with technology, innovation can thrive and organisations can succeed in competitive marketplaces.”
CTMfile take: Do you agree that some financial and treasury roles are at risk from automation? What are you doing to keep your corporate treasury skill set alive and relevant?
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