There once was a time -not all that long ago- that robots ruling the world was the stuff of science fiction nightmares. In countless books and movies, imaginative writers gave us not-so-subtle warnings about the potential consequences of a robot revolution.

Though whilst we may not have fallen prey to a killing spree at the hands of artificial intelligence à la 2004 blockbuster i, Robot, it’s hard to deny that computers and robot-like technology have had a significant impact on society over the last decade or so.

From self-service checkouts in supermarkets to self-service check-ins at the airport, automation is everywhere in 2016, and despite manufacturers’ claims that this is all to make our lives easier, it’s ultimately humans who are left to suffer the consequences of this not-quite-hostile takeover.

Expected Job Losses

Earlier this year, the UK’s ‘Guardian newspaper reported that British retailers were expected to either raise prices or cut large numbers of jobs in the wake of the government’s March 2016 Annual Budget.

Whilst raising prices was certainly considered, the article’s writer, Sean Farrell suggests that a more likely option will the job cuts, with many supermarket workers ultimately being ‘replaced’ by an increased number of self-service checkouts.

When you go to a supermarket today you already see self-checkouts which have reduced labour intensive costs and I would expect that kind of automation to increase quicker than anticipated,” says Sven Reinke, an analyst at Moody’s Analytics, who Ferrell quotes in the article.

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Automation In The Digital Banking Age

The supermarket workers are not alone in being replaced by automated software and robot technology though. In The Telegraph, Alan Tovey quoted figures which estimated that an almost unfathomable ten million British jobs could be taken over by artificial intelligence by 2034, and though Tovey’s piece suggests that low paid, repetitive jobs will be the first to be replaced, it certainly seems that no worker in any industry is quite safe.

Next on the proverbial chopping block? The banking industry.

In March 2016, the Royal Bank of Scotland announced plans to cut 550 front-line jobs, with in-branch advisors making up the majority of employees facing life among Britain’s large population of unemployed workers.

In their place? New financial software and digital banking solutions which will enable more automation and increased presence of self-service kiosks, all running at a lower cost than the institutions current wage bill.

Meeting Customer Demands

Though the move is no doubt designed to cut costs in response to the company’s eighth consecutive year of multi-billion pound losses an RBS spokesman insisted that the introduction of new ‘robo advisors’ and other digital banking tools was designed to meet customer demand.

“Our customers increasingly want to bank with us using digital technology,” said the spokesman. “As a result, we are scaling back our face-to-face advisers and significantly investing in an online investing platform that enables us to help a new group of customers with as little as £500 to invest.”

Yet whilst self-service in banks may certainly have its place, many industry experts and customers say that actual human interaction is equally as important when it comes to the actual in-branch experience. After all, having a robot scan a few groceries is one thing, using that same robot -or at least the software behind it- to make big financial decisions, is quite another.

The Option For Human Interaction

Speaking to Forbes in 2014, Richelle Messick of US banking firm Wells Fargo said that the brand’s customers ‘tell us they want…the option to meet with our team members, particularly when conducting complex business, or seeking financial advice.”

In 2016 Britain, this is certainly true too; things like making payments, checking balances and withdrawals may be straight-forward enough to be dealt with by financial software, but for anything elses, the majority of high-street banking customers still prefer face-to-face contact with a specialist.

What is perhaps especially baffling, is that there are financial software solutions out there capable of empowering banks to deliver both effectively and in a cost efficient manner.

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One Step Closer To The Revolution

Not that RBS seems too concerned. For all intents and purposes, the company seems pretty gung-ho about their new plans, plans which could well drive customers who prefer human interaction in branches towards those banks still willing to provide it.

The only danger of course, is that if RBS is somehow successful in its plans, other banks could well be inspired to follow suite, finally sending the finance industry down the same road as the retail sector, and perhaps driving us all one step closer to the robot revolution sci-fi writers have tried for so long to warn us against.

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