More automation, fewer jobs at banks

Dutch lender ING is the latest to announce job cuts as banks push their digital offerings.
Dutch lender ING is the latest to announce job cuts as banks push their digital offerings.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • If the crisis did not get you, the robots might.

Weak revenue and negative interest rates are not the only reason European banks are cutting jobs. Technology is playing its part, too. With mobile banking, who needs to visit a bank teller?

On Monday, ING announced plans to eliminate almost 6,000 jobs and invest €800 million (S$1.22 billion) in its digital platforms. That brings the total cuts announced in the past year to about 50,000, according to Bloomberg data. The Dutch lender won't be the last to axe employees.

Banks in Britain, Germany and Spain are already pushing their digital offerings.

Deutsche Bank is poised to reach an agreement with labour representatives this week that will allow it to eliminate about 1,000 jobs in its home market as part of cost cuts it announced last year.

Last week, Germany's Commerzbank disclosed plans to cut 9,600 jobs, while Spain's Banco Popular Espanol said it will eliminate as many as 3,000 posts after tapping investors for funds.

Truculent labour unions may mean France's Societe Generale and BNP Paribas will take a little longer to prune their sprawling branch networks, but they will surely do so, Bloomberg's Gadfly columnist Elaine He wrote.

The announcements herald the latest wave of job cuts at European banks, which have struggled to increase profitability since the global financial crisis and the region's sovereign-debt debacle.

With negative interest rates, volatile markets and tougher capital requirements eroding earnings, some of Europe's largest lenders have been forced to deepen cost cuts.

It's tough to guess how many more jobs will go across the industry, says Mr Jonathan Tyce, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. But he reckons 10 per cent is not unreasonable, and that's before you consider what blockchain may do.

A report by Citigroup earlier this year found that the downsizing of the bank workforce will accelerate, as more technology will take over jobs humans used to do. Another 30 per cent of bank jobs could be lost between last year and 2025, mainly due to retail banking automation, the Citi report said, according to CNN.

"Fintech is forcing banking to a tipping point," it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'More automation, fewer jobs at banks'. Print Edition | Subscribe