So, on 27 September 2019, thousands of employees of South Africa’s major banks will be taking to the streets across the Southern African country to protest against the recently announced job cuts. Some of the country’s major banks have recently announced that they are in the process of retrenching thousands of employees.
According to some of the banks, the job cuts are a result of 4IR (the 4th Industrial Revolution).
Apart from the obvious confusion among some sectors of media in South Africa and bank management regarding the 3rd Industrial Revolution (e.g. digitization, computing, automation, robotics, etc.) and the 4th Industrial Revolution (eg. Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Machine Learning, Blockchain Technology, etc.), what struck me about the planned protest and the banks’ statements is that both parties want us to believe that it only occurred to them recently that digitization and automation will lead to job losses.
Think about it for a moment especially from a bank management and executives point of view. For several years, if not decades, you have been studying and observing trends regarding making your banking operations more efficient by using technology. You have already seen how implementing technology such as Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) meant less and less of your clients use your branches over the years leading to your requiring less staff inside a branch. You, as a bank executive, have also observed how such simple technology as an ATM has also improved the efficiency of your operations.
Not only that, but you have also observed in more developed countries how their shift to automated and digitized banking operations has led to their customers utilizing physical branches far less and even not using the telephone support line (with human support) much as they have moved to digital banking channels.
Now, in 2019, you hold a press conference as a bank and tell people that the closure of your branches and need to lay-off thousands of employees is a result of the sudden impact of “4IR?”
No, I don’t buy that. As a bank, they’ve seen this coming for many years if not decades. It was inevitable that it was going to be necessary that they digitize and automate their operations to stay competitive and efficient.
Yes, software is eating South African banking jobs but all these employee protests could have been prevented if the banks started preparing their employees many years ago before it was necessary for them to retrench them. 4IR, because it is the trending buzzword, is an easy scapegoat.
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