Innovation & Technology
• 3 minute read

How Robots Take Over Jobs in Financial Industry

By Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK

“To some extent, we are reaching a tipping point of artificial intelligence (AI) or robotics, which is progressing rapidly and becoming more like a virtual colleague in our workplace,” said David Ashton, Director of EY’s APAC Robotics Center of Excellence. Ashton was speaking at the North Asia Management Accounting Leaders’ Summit co-organized by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School in June 2017.

In the panel discussed titled ‘Management Accounting – Empowerment through Technology’, Ashton who specializes in finance transformation, shared on the topic of AI, in particular the Robotics Process Automation (RPA), and how financial organizations can reap the benefit of adopting AI technology and at the same time avoid the negative consequences from it.

“From chatbots such as SIRI to self-driving cars, the speed of the AI technology development is exponential. It brings massive innovations and opportunities to our world, especially in the accounting and finance industry,” said Ashton. “AI has long been thought of as a potentially valuable tool for disengaging people from repetitive and error-prone tasks.”

Having pointed out the three megatrends that have been transforming our workforce from 1990s to now: the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and shared service trend in 1990s, the offshore labor arbitrage and outsourcing model in 2000s and the new concepts of Intelligent Automation (IA) and RPA today, Ashton explained to business leaders in the audience the importance of RPA and the areas of its implementation in the business field.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as Software Robotics, is a concept that uses software ‘robots’ or tools to process data inputs in the computer system to mimic human actions associated with various activities.

“We all see that technology may replace our jobs. But actually, we should think in a different way; we should see how to take advantage of the technology instead.” – David Ashton, APAC Robotics Center of Excellence, EY

“As a disruptive technology, RPA is transformational for this era,” Ashton remarked.

On one hand, RPA has huge potential to help organizations to further save on expenses and streamline the business processes by eliminating error-prone manual activities across various business functions, such as finance, human resource, and procurement.

“Business firms generate lots of administration work, which will be highly likely to be replaced by the robots in the future,” he said. “For the purpose of efficiency, companies can benefit from RPA in a series of frequently recurring and repeating routine, such as account opening and closure, audit requests and payment protection measure.”

“RPA can do the same thing over and over again with near-zero error rates. That’s a huge benefit for financial professionals,” he added.

On the other hand, RPA allows companies to make better and quicker decisions with the provision of sufficient information. It facilitates analytics for the business, and at the same time, protects data from being lost or mishandled.

“It is easy to ‘regulate’ or ‘control’ robots. By leveraging RPA, companies may reduce their legal risks,” he said.

When it comes to the threats or negative impacts that RPA may bring to the financial professionals, Ashton stressed that it depends on our perspective.

“We all see that technology may replace our jobs. But actually, we should think in a different way; we should see how to take advantage of the technology instead.”

Nevertheless, robots do have their limits. For example, they are not good at assessing emotions and are lacking of imagination.

“We are seeing a confluence of robotics and artificial intelligence that seem to be placing threats to a large number of existing jobs. But it is still far from replacing human beings,” he said.

“Robotics catalyzes waves of changes and opportunities for this era. But like any industrial revolutions that we have experienced before, there are always more valuable work or tasks for human beings to explore or take up in the future,” he said.

So no matter how technology evolves, the message is clear: The most adaptable companies and people will survive and thrive.


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