50+ Years of Automated Teller Machines…Why Didn’t Teller Jobs Disappear?

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1970 ATM

Last year in June, the ATM celebrated its 50th birthday. So, if tellers have been “automated" for over 50 years, why do we still have tellers? And what does this tell us about the AI threat to jobs that everyone fears? Many people thought that the ATMs would eventually wipe out teller jobs, but in fact, teller jobs increased over the entire time…since 2000 teller jobs have actually exceeded labor force growth as a whole! There are two lessons from ATMs and tellers.

The first lesson is from an economic perspective provided by James Bessen in his book “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth.” It turns out that pre-ATM days, bank branches needed about 21 tellers, but with automated assistance, 13 tellers could provide the same service. The cheaper labor cost of operating a branch meant that more branches could be opened, increasing the demand for tellers. Introducing technology often drives down the price of providing a service or good, making it more affordable for more people…and with more demand, since technology rarely completely replaces human input, there will still be demand for people skills.

From James Bessen Learning by Doing

The second lesson involves the nature of the teller job, and what it required of human skills in the face of advancing technology. Teller tasks shifted from mundane jobs such as counting bills and coins, to higher level people skills. They essentially became marketers for the bank, more responsible for customer relationships. Such skills require empathy, judgment, emotional intelligence, and good decision-making, all of which technology cannot yet master.

It is probable that teller jobs will transform even further. The Financial Times reported in October 2016 the UK banks, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, were planning to incorporate AI technology that could take customer questions and problems, and continually learn to improve its answers. A survey last year of bankers found that 3 out of every 4 thought that AI would become the primary way banks would interact with customers within 3 years. One bank official anticipated that bank employees would move to more judgment-based roles, such as making decisions on loans. Banks expect that even as human interactions decline, the quality and value of those contacts would increase.

We all have to adapt to technological change. Human skills in the job marketplace become increasingly important. Soft Power Skills Academy is about helping you develop those skills–values, attitudes, and abilities–that lead to meaningful change. In our 4-week online workshop, you engage with like-minded high-performers and our experienced Challenger Coach to explore and employ leadership and soft power skills. Please take a look at https://www.softpowerskills.com/ to see if this opportunity to step up to the challenge is for you.

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