How Robots Take Over Jobs in Financial Industry


By Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK  

“To some extent, we are reaching a tipping point of artificial intelligence (AI) or robotics, which is progressing rapidly and becoming more like a virtual colleague in our workplace,” said David Ashton, Director of EY’s APAC Robotics Center of Excellence. Ashton was speaking at the North Asia Management Accounting Leaders’ Summit co-organized by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School in June 2017. 

In the panel discussed titled “Management Accounting – Empowerment through Technology”, Ashton who specializes in finance transformation, shared on the topic of AI, in particular the Robotics Process Automation (RPA), and how financial organizations can reap the benefit of adopting AI technology and at the same time avoid the negative consequences from it.

“From chatbots such as SIRI to self-driving cars, the speed of the AI technology development is exponential. It brings massive innovations and opportunities to our world, especially in the accounting and finance industry,” said Ashton. “AI has long been thought of as a potentially valuable tool for disengaging people from repetitive and error-prone tasks.”

Having pointed out the three megatrends that have been transforming our workforce from 1990s to now: the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and shared service trend in 1990s, the offshore labor arbitrage and outsourcing model in 2000s and the new concepts of Intelligent Automation (IA) and RPA today, Ashton explained to business leaders in the audience the importance of RPA and the areas of its implementation in the business field.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as Software Robotics, is a concept that uses software ‘robots’ or tools to process data inputs in the computer system to mimic human actions associated with various activities.

“As a disruptive technology, RPA is transformational for this era,” Ashton remarked.

On one hand, RPA has huge potential to help organizations to further save on expenses and streamline the business processes by eliminating error-prone manual activities across various business functions, such as finance, human resource, and procurement.

“Business firms generate lots of administration work, which will be highly likely to be replaced by the robots in the future,” he said. “For the purpose of efficiency, companies can benefit from RPA in a series of frequently recurring and repeating routine, such as account opening and closure, audit requests and payment protection measure.” 

“RPA can do the same thing over and over again with near-zero error rates. That’s a huge benefit for financial professionals,” he added.

On the other hand, RPA allows companies to make better and quicker decisions with the provision of sufficient information. It facilitates analytics for the business, and at the same time, protects data from being lost or mishandled.

“It is easy to ‘regulate’ or ‘control’ robots. By leveraging RPA, companies may reduce their legal risks,” he said.

When it comes to the threats or negative impacts that RPA may bring to the financial professionals, Ashton stressed that it depends on our perspective.

“We all see that technology may replace our jobs. But actually, we should think in a different way; we should see how to take advantage of the technology instead.”  

Nevertheless, robots do have their limits. For example, they are not good at assessing emotions and are lacking of imagination.

“We are seeing a confluence of robotics and artificial intelligence that seem to be placing threats to a large number of existing jobs. But it is still far from replacing human beings,” he said. 

“Robotics catalyzes waves of changes and opportunities for this era. But like any industrial revolutions that we have experienced before, there are always more valuable work or tasks for human beings to explore or take up in the future,” he said. 

So no matter how technology evolves, the message is clear: The most adaptable companies and people will survive and thrive.

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Got any comments, insights or questions? Post them here to further discuss the topic:



Dandan Tong
9/26/2017 9:04:12 PM
The AI technology may reshape the trends of college education and career planning in nowadays. On one hand, young people many try to learn how to control and regulate the robots. On the other hand, they can acquire skills in areas that can hardly be taken over by AI, such as art and advertising.
Dandan Tong
9/26/2017 9:00:57 PM
The statement that there is no need to overemphasise the negative consequences of AI is insightful. Human learning is more advanced than machine learning. Even the routine tasks are taken over by robots, the employees can update their skills and adapt to emergent need for human labor.
Dandan Tong
9/26/2017 8:58:03 PM
The prevalence of robots or AI in financial industry is no doubt a double edge. On one hand, it enhances the efficiency in performing routine tasks. On the other hand, it brings challenges to low-skilled employees; Moreover, it's unclear yet how reliable the AI technique is.
K. Si
9/23/2017 2:39:04 PM
I think this article is thought-provoking in that it prompts people to reconsider the relative advantages of different industries that might be over-written by the rapid-changing AI technology. It has important implications for both entrepreneurs and prospective job seekers.
K. Si
9/23/2017 2:32:45 PM
Previously people only worried about AI taking over the jobs of low-skill jobs, such as jobs in the streamlines. Nowadays they need to worry about AI taking over the jobs which involve more sophisticated decision makings.
K. Si
9/23/2017 2:30:37 PM
AI is a rapidly growing technology, and yes, it can be "disruptive" to many, by taking over the jobs of our human beings.
9/22/2017 2:19:42 AM
If robots or AI are widely used in the future, they may profoundly change the way of education, our view on human capital and the structure of labor market. Therefore, right now it is very hard to predict how the cost structure of corporation will change.
9/22/2017 2:14:56 AM
AI could play a much bigger role than just saving cost in recurring and repeating routine tasks. AI can be used to analyze large-scale data or even “learn” to interpret results. For example, AI may be able to use big data to identify areas of auditing risks that we human cannot.
9/22/2017 2:09:09 AM
It’s a good idea to lower the cost of operation using robots. But the difficulties could be how to create an environment that robots and human beings can work together and take advantage of each other in decision-making.