AI poised to eliminate some financial sector jobs, boost others, experts say

Investment key to keeping Vancouver in artificial intelligence game

Jake Tyler doesn’t blanch at the suggestion automation and artificial intelligence are changing labour markets.

While jobs on auto assembly lines and checkout lines are giving way to robots or automated kiosks, the CEO sees automation improving jobs in the financial services sector.

“We can do a lot around automation, particularly with customer care … answering high-frequency, high-volume queries without passing them on to a human agent,” said Tyler, whose Vancouver-based company has developed a personal banking assistant powered by artificial intelligence that users can access through common services like Facebook Messenger.

In October, the Finn assistant rolled out to 700,000 users at ATB Financial, allowing members to pay their bills or send e-transfers using a chatbot that understands and speaks in natural language. Finn has also been deployed on four continents and in three languages. So what does it mean for the future of bricks-and-mortar banking if a growing number of tasks are done over social media channels?

“That retail footprint will continue to be really, really important. Just the things you’ll go there for will be different. Check your balance, order some cheques, like transactional, mechanical things won’t be necessary for you to go to a branch,” Tyler told Business in Vancouver on Roundhouse Radio, adding he believes customers will still seek in-person advice on more complex matters.

“So hopefully we can move those branch staff up the value chain, make that a more highly skilled, more interesting job focused on higher-valued tasks for consumers. And so for banks they get to provide a higher-value service for customers.”

Meanwhile, a December 2016 PwC report listed AI as the top issue for the financial sector.

“AI will gradually replace humans in some functions like personal assistants, digital labour and machine learning. But challenges will persist because of bias, privacy, trust, lack of trained staff and regulatory concerns,” Top Financial Services Issues of 2017 stated.

The PwC report noted that AI startups raised more than US$2 billion in 2016, acknowledging it was one of the financial sector’s more promising technologies.

A KPMG report, also from December 2016, estimated that within the next 15 years it’s likely that between 45% and 75% of offshore jobs in the financial services sector will be performed through automation.

While that spells job losses, KPMG said financial institutes could realize “enormous costs savings” of 75% as a result of automation.

But Vancouver faces an uphill battle if it wants to become a leader in artificial intelligence, according to lawyer Christine Duhaime, executive director of the Digital Finance Institute.

In March, Ottawa announced $125 million in funding for a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy for centres of excellence in three Canadian cities. No funding was allocated to Vancouver.

“[The federal government] has come out and said there’s just three AI hubs in the country, one in Montreal, one is Toronto and one is Edmonton, and there’s no money in the bucket for other centres,” Duhaime said.

“It’s really an unfortunate thing because we have so much tech talent here.”

Duhaime said that, like San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Vancouver is an attractive city for global AI talent despite its high cost of living.

“B.C.’s going to be left out unless we start investing in it ourselves,” she said.

“If we did what California did and pour the money here, we’d just blow everyone’s socks away in AI.”