Deutsche Bank plans to replace a “big number” of workers with robots

CEO John Cryan’s job seems safe, for now.
CEO John Cryan’s job seems safe, for now.
Image: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
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Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan said a “big number” of employees will eventually lose their jobs as technology makes their roles obsolete, according to the Financial Times (paywall). The German bank employs about 100,000 people and is in the middle of a five-year restructuring plan.

At a “Banking in Transition” conference in Frankfurt today, Cryan noted that some employees—like accountants who “spend a lot of the time basically being an abacus”—will have to find new things to do, according to the FT. “In our banks we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things, tomorrow we’re going to have robots behaving like people,” Cryan said.

How many and what kind of jobs will be replaced by automation is one of the big debates of our time. Some projections seem dire: About 7.1 million jobs, with two-thirds of them in office and administration, will be lost because of labor market changes in coming years, according to the World Economic Forum. Yet some economists suggest that automation can actually increase employment in the industries it transforms.

Cryan noted that some jobs could be “upskilled,” meaning automation takes over rote aspects of a role but doesn’t replace a human worker entirely.

But some positions will probably be replaced altogether, and in some cases maybe that’s a good thing. TAINA Technology, an artificial intelligence company, has automated a back-office compliance function for banks. CEO Maria Scott says that particular role often deals with mundane tasks and is prone to staff turnover, which suggests the job isn’t the most fulfilling way to make a living. The company’s pilot project led to some workers being made redundant, who were given the option to move into different roles.

Not everyone will be so lucky, of course. Some people thrive on jobs with set routines, and others won’t benefit from employers that are generous enough to help them train for a new gig. Still, the electric washing machine made many jobs obsolete, an evolution that’s usually seen as progress. As automation spreads to white-collar jobs, like those at one of the world’s largest banks, many other roles may soon become obsolete.