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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Brace for a sea-change in banking job market 

Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will replace some of the jobs as banks in the UAE go through digital transformation 

Gone are the days when there were long queues of customers in front of the tellers’ windows in the banks, with lines moving at a snail’s pace as staff physically verify signatures on each and every cheque presented and manually enter them in the books to keep them updated and auditors at bay. Those queues have vanished and so has some of the banking staff that did the laborious jobs of the verifications and entries.

The world has moved into the digital age, and the banking sector is no exception. Technology, rules the roost whether it’s a matter of finding the credit history before signing off on a credit card application of a white-collar worker or the multi-million US dollar loan for the company where that worker is employed. Everything, is governed by an algorithm and what does not yet fall in the digital domain of financial world will soon be a part of it.

It is good for the customers, there is no doubt about that. All it takes is a few clicks on a smart phone or a tablet and the transaction is done. But that radical transformation of the banking system has a human cost attached to it. All those repetitive jobs done by people – real people – will be replaced by automation and technology. Dubai’s Mashreq Bank, one of the oldest lenders in the emirate, says it could cut 10 per cent of its 4,000 headcount in the next 12 months as investments into artificial intelligence make it less reliant on human capital. Emirates NBD, Dubai's biggest bank by assets, also says technology will replace processing jobs going forward. Shayne Nelson, the Group chief executive is actually predicting an industry-wide shift as far as the banking job market is concerned.

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The need for a paper trail and bundles of files to keep the record of transactions is fast disappearing in a sophisticated financial institution and so is the conventional brick-and-mortar model of a bank.

More than 90 per cent of the transactions at Emirates NBD happen over its digital platform, its chief executive says. Since nobody likes to visit a bank physically, unless absolutely necessary, it is no surprise that both Emirates NBD and Mashreq are reporting a significant drop in the volumes of transactions through their branches. Both are now reducing the staff manning the desks at the branches and are increasing automation.

This is not a UAE–specific trend. Globally the lenders are embracing technology and in an interview with Bloomberg Television this week, former Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit said artificial intelligence, robotics and advancements in technology could cause banks to shed 30 per cent of their work force over the coming five years.