GenAI won’t replace your job. But, someone using it will!

Two men sitting on outside office stairs after having been fired

According to IBIS World, “there are 2,595,852 people employed in the Commercial Banking industry in the US as of 2023."1 Then this, according to Accenture: "We concluded that 73% of the time spent by US bank employees has a high potential to be impacted by generative AI—39% by automation and 34% by augmentation. Its potential reaches virtually every part of a bank, from the C-suite to the front lines of service and in every part of the value chain."2

The Accenture piece goes on to say, and to me, here’s the kicker: “It can transform mid- and back-office operations by automating tedious, routine work. This will lower operating costs and free up employees for higher-value work.”2

I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here, just for fun. Now, I’m not a math whiz by any stretch, and perhaps I’ve yet to grasp the full impact of GenAI on the banking community, but here’s what I’m thinking…

First of all, when experts say that AI will “free up employees for higher-value work,” what, exactly does that mean? Granted I haven’t worked IN a bank for quite a while, but I’m thinking… well, aren’t there already employees doing that “higher value” work? If that’s the case, (and I’m guessing it is or at least should be) when those who were doing the “lower value work” no longer need to do it, and people are already doing the higher-value stuff, where do those “freed up” employees go? I’m guessing they go to their local unemployment office.

Now, to really take the coating off the sugar.  Again, I’m no math whiz, nor an expert on automation technologies, but if the “experts'' are correct, and if my 1984-style, dystopian prediction is on the money – which it very well may not be – then over the next couple of years, the financial institutions in this country could potentially automate/eliminate how many jobs?  Let’s see… 2,595,852 (number of bank employees) times .39 (the 39% that will be replaced by a robot), and you have 1,038,340. That’s the number of banking jobs eliminated by GenAI: 1,038,340.

Am I crazy or could this really happen? Don’t answer that, please. Could this be the number of banking community employees that will be trading a “low value” job for a place in the unemployment line? Extrapolate that across other industries, i.e., retail, manufacturing, healthcare, advertising, IT, entertainment, insurance, etc. and call me nutty, but are we looking at massive job loss?  Massive job loss means massive unemployment which means widespread economic hardship which means hard times for banks. But, I guess they’ll be better positioned to weather an economic-crisis storm if their workforce is comprised of robots, instead of human beings. Robots, I assume, cost less for a company since they don’t actually, well, live, and a Lucky Strike extra… they never complain. They do need healthcare, though, as they can be “buggy,” and occasionally need repair (if you haven’t done so already, watch Bicentennial Man!).

What’s the point here? I hear a lot of talk about how those banks that don’t “move” on GenAI (exactly HOW they should move, is never made entirely clear) will get left behind. Well, I do believe there is a nugget of good advice there. What I don’t hear much about is what the real toll will be in terms of job loss. I hear nothing but vagaries and euphemism. Here’s what, I think, is reality. Jobs will be eliminated and, I believe, too, unfortunately, that the number will be significant.

So, hey experts, spin it any way you like. Call them “augmented.” Tell us that those individuals will now, instead, be doing more valued and important work than the tedious, “low value” stuff they’d been doing. And try to convince those 1,038,340 workers that they’ll have better, higher paying gigs thanks to GenAI.

Heck, back in December of last year, Forrester analyst Mike O’Grady gave us what I see as a small dose of a pretty grim (I think) reality: “O'Grady explains that the new forecast finds that the percentage of jobs that will be lost to GenAI in the US by 2030 (1.5% or 2.4 million) will be much lower than those that are influenced by generative AI (6.9% or 11.08 million)."3

I guess that’s good news!? Only 2.4 million jobs lost.  Unless, of course, you’re one of the 2.4 million. 

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1IBIS World. Commercial Banking in the U.S. November 28, 2023

2Accenture. Banking in the age of Generative Artificial Intelligence. February 28, 2024.

3Forrester. GenAI will reshape far more jobs than it will eliminate. December 14, 2023