The History of Industrial Revolutions

With a banking strike, prompted in part by retrenchments due to changes in technology, possibly looming, it is opportune to look at the future of jobs in banking and financial services.

A number of the changes in all sectors of work are being driven by new and emerging technologies that can be grouped under the banner of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is important to understand what the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is.

The fourth industrial revolution is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work in EVERY industry.

These changes and the emergence of these new technologies can be used to fundamentally transform existing business and education models and can, if correctly harnessed, facilitate reductions in inequalities, to the extent that 4IR is referred to the democratisation of manufacturing by some colleagues. Technologies like 3D printing can be used to redesign value chains and allow consumers to generate products much cheaper with no logistics cost or that would not be easily available.  

These changes are happening around us and South Africa cannot “choose” to participate. What we choose is how we participate and how we create the most beneficial scenarios for South Africa.

There is a lot of talk about how the 4th industrial revolution will facilitate large scale job losses but it is vital to remember that previous industrial revolutions did exactly the same, e.g. electrification of the railways meant coal shovellors  were out of a job. However, those that could reskill/ reinvent themselves still had jobs.

The Accenture report, Education and technology skills research, looks at job categories and predicts where people will be replaced via automation or supplemented with technology to make their jobs easier. Customer service roles such as retail and banking staff would fit into the Physical Activity cluster. The report evaluates how the role of retail assistants has changed as per the excerpt below.

Our analysis reveals how tasks have shifted between 2008 and 2017. Consider the Physical Services cluster: Retail cashiers used to stock shelves and price items each day, but now do so little more than weekly. Addressing customer queries – which used to be a once a day task – is now an hourly one, at least. [i]

There is no doubt that roles in banking will change and that some jobs will disappear. At the same time there is no doubt that new jobs will appear. The implementation of the M-PESA mobile payments system in Kenya provides indications of how these changes could look.

Although rapid adoption of mobile payments such as M-PESA has led to the loss of roughly 6,000 bank jobs between 2014 and 2017 in Kenya, the number of mobile payment agents increased by almost 70,000, resulting in direct net positive job effects. In the process, more and better jobs have been created indirectly, not only for hospital workers and fish mongers, but also at other informal and formal farms and firms— through access to credit for the previously unbanked, investments, cost reductions, and output increases that the digital financial services enable[ii] [iii]

Frank van den Brink, Chief Employee Experience Officer (aka CHRO) at ABN AMRO is quoted as saying There’s a shift going on. We occasionally call it the big migration because you see that automation, business process optimization, robotics, and robotic process automation (RPA) are growing and improving. This will definitely impact operation work in the financial industry — but new jobs will also emerge. The biggest challenge for all the corporates in financial services is: How do we reskill and upskill roughly 50-60% of our employees? I expect there will also be new jobs which we cannot even think of now.[iv]

In order to take advantage, the new opportunities being generated by new technologies most workers will require reskilling and upskilling. According to a World Economic Forum Report, only 30% of employees at risk of job displacement from technological changes received training in the past year, and those most at risk are often the ones who are least likely to receive any retraining at all.[v]

A reskilling revolution in Banking and Financial Services could be achieved by:

  • identification of possible Jobs of the Future in banking
  • creation of a skills roadmap to ensure that relevant and applicable curricula are developed and training programmes implemented
  • collaboration between relevant stakeholders facilitating revised rules of engagement for the digital era of 4IR
    • including skills funding
    • policy interventions and revisions
    • provision of digital and enabling infrastructure

A collaborative approach could assist the sector lesson the digital divide in South aFrica and the sector and facilitate greater equality in South aFrica

Sherrie Donaldson, CEO African Innovators
SA Brics Business Council Skills Development Working Group


[i] Accenture: Education and technology skills research


[iii] The Future of Work in Africa: Harnessing the Potential of Digital Technologies for All.









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