The future of work and the workforce of the future

As some of the biggest employers in Australia and significant contributors to the economy, there are few more influential businesses than the financial services sector. The sector’s footprint also extends regionally into SE Asia, China, India and globally.

Respected and admired as early adopters of innovative technology and keepers of prudent regulation, Australia’s banks and wealth managers have the capacity to lead the future in wealth management and consumer banking, ensuring our citizens secure financial wellbeing in a digital age.

I believe that digitisation – of which artificial intelligence is a part – is profoundly changing the way that work gets done. It’s a great opportunity and it requires us to rethink not only the way that we do our work, but the ethics of how we do it. As businesses we have such a huge impact on people’s lives.

The debate about how best to do that is beset with myths and fearmongering. Fears about robots and artificial intelligence taking jobs. The reality is that robotic process automation (RPA), a significant part of intelligent automation and artificial intelligence, is about augmenting work. Bots that do audits and tax returns for instance.

Bots that can be accessed by text or Facebook Messenger, and take requests including balance enquiries, or pay known contacts, small sums. Chatbots that can give instructions to save each week, or ones that by using intelligence, can interrogate a user’s financial status; assess spending, identify where savings can be made, and ensure where the user can get best value for money with subscriptions, savings rates, and financial services in general.

However bots don’t just make themselves. They need to be built. They need to be maintained. And they need to be implemented. We have to re-skill people to do that.

To make our own business more credible to our clients, we try to do things to ourselves first.  We are automating our payroll process for instance. At first we offshored to places like India, where we have an extensive team. But now with a bot, we can actually process the payroll in Australia, using a machine that thinks intuitively.

That’s a simple example of RPA, as we explore how we can do work very differently. I think of it as a machine working next to a person, not as a machine replacing a person.

It’s true there have been some spectacular chatbot failures in other industries. However those deployed in financial services seem to have been designed with customers’ needs firmly in mind – and that is the secret – keeping customer outcomes at the forefront.

One of the reasons we established our global alliance with Apple, for instance, is that it allows us to work collaboratively with them to completely rethink the way work gets done in an enterprise. And to link the way people actually live their lives and the way they do work.

We also recently announced an alliance with Amazon Web Services where we work together to leverage the cloud, so that along with our clients we have access to real time information.

In May we kicked off a taskforce on the future of work which I was asked to chair, working with Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia.

If we do this right, we will make a valuable contribution to driving prosperity in Australia by getting unemployment down, underemployment down, and re-skilling people for the way they are going to work in the future.

It is pretty exciting.

The Australian Financial Review Innovation Summit, in association with Deloitte held on 19-20 September debated these key issues. It’s not just about how technology is changing work, but how to focus on the ethics of work and conduct. Businesses need to know that unless we all get this right, we will not attract the customers or the talent that we need, and we will not achieve what we strive to do.

See more resources and information about the impact of innovation on the workforce on our website.


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