Investment Bankers Are Hard to Replace With Robots, Nordea Says

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The entrance and logo of Nordea Bank.

Photographer: Vesa Moilane/AFP via Getty Images

Not all bankers need to fear the march of the robots.

Nordea Bank AB, which last month said it will need to cut 6,000 jobs as part of a process to become a more digital firm, is now offering some insight into who’s likely to be hardest hit.

Ewan MacLeod, Nordea’s chief digital officer, says customers should expect to be able to get advice from a human when it comes to things like wealth management, choosing a mortgage or an array of investment banking services. They shouldn’t expect human contact if they lose and need to replace their credit card.

“Some transactions can simply be just automated, but many, and particularly in the investment banking industry, many of those transactions require humans, are based on the human contact,” he said in an interview in Helsinki.

The Nordic region’s biggest bank has yet to outline how its planned job cuts will be distributed. Unions representing Nordea workers say they haven’t heard any details. Nordea said last month the cuts will be spread evenly across the bank, and Chief Executive Officer Casper von Koskull even painted a specter of a financial industry 10 years from now with only half as many employees as today.

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MacLeod says there are plenty of tasks more sophisticated than replacing a credit card where there’s potential for automation. And while Nordea may be more aggressive in its digital push than many of its competitors, MacLeod says it’s clear others in the financial industry have now “woken up and smelled the coffee.”

Even in investment banking, MacLeod says he expects a lot of support work to be automated in future.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence will “bring instant insight to those investment bankers’ fingertips,” he said.

But despite immersing himself in the subject every day, MacLeod says it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect. A bank’s defense against uncertainty is a willingness to experiment, he said.

“Experimentation is really important at this stage right now,” MacLeod said. “Because we know things are going to change, we’re just not quite sure how, yet.”

“We’re not sure” what kinds of skills bankers will need 5-10 years from now, he said. But it’s clear that success requires having a “digital native mindset.”

When trying to get bankers to embrace the digital age, MacLeod says, “I always use the word ‘playing,’ because it takes my colleagues out of the standard business reality.”

— With assistance by Nick Rigillo

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