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Singapore study sees automation displacing bank jobs

Traditional bank branch roles such as teller, customer service officer and relationship manager could soon be taken over by a digital ambassador, who would also be expected to use advanced analytics to predict customers' needs and provide them with advisory services beyond the scope of basic transactions.

The prediction comes in a joint report from Singapore’s Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which forecasts that within three to five years, a third of job roles within the city state’s finance industry will be merged or changed due to data analytics and automation.

The report reviews 121 job roles across front office, mid-office, back office, and enterprise functions in Singapore’s financial services sector, collectively representing more than 90% of jobs in the industry.

Of those, 40 job roles risk being merged or displaced as they consist of tasks that are prone to automation, the two agencies opine in the joint report. Such roles include that of a bancassurance officer in retail and corporate banking, and investment performance analyst in asset management.

A positive note

The report offers some hope that the rise of data analytics and automation may not ultimately result in a shrinking workforce in the financial sector. Tech advancements are also expected to create new roles in areas such as information technology, data and analytics, and compliance and marketing. The report also highlights skills that will be needed to meet future job demands.

To that end, employees need to re-skill to keep up or see their careers “come to a standstill,” warned Singapore’s manpower minister Josephine Teo in a keynote address to mark the report’s release.

“We know that there will be job creation and there will be some job disruptions,” she added. “But it is the transformation that matters most. Whether it is in new jobs or existing ones, the job requirements will be transformed by technology.”

MAS and IBF hope the study will also be used by financial institutions to pre-emptively re-skill employees whose roles are likely to be impacted more significantly.

MAS managing director and IBF chairman Ravi Menon argued that financial institutions’ traditional “hire-and-fire” strategy, where individuals with the skills for emerging jobs are hired and displace those in less relevant jobs - will no longer work.

“The combination of deep domain skills, broad lateral skills and the digital skills of the future does not often come in a package,” he said. “The superior strategy is to continually train, upskill and transform the existing workforce.”

Coinciding with the report’s release, IBF has also launched a Technology in Finance Immersion Programme, targeted at professionals keen to start a career in some of the new and emerging roles identified in the study. The initiative will complement existing professional conversion programmes in helping individuals acquire skills that are in demand.

The programme and the release of the study are intended to bolster the financial sector's ongoing workforce transformation efforts, the minister said, which in 2018 saw more than 20,000 individuals go through MAS or IBF-supported upskilling programmes.

Around 19 financial institutions, including the local banks, have also committed to re-skill close to 4,000 employees and re-deploy them in new or expanded jobs over the next two years.

Separately, Maybank Singapore has also launched an IBF-certified course as part of a S$10 million digital upskilling programme for its employees.

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