Emerging technologies have the promise to unleash an additional wave of automation into the world, disrupting both industries and professions—while it’s exciting to think about the possibilities, technology providers should also keep in mind the people impacted by change. The “people” that built the company and the broader industry.
As the software we use become more intuitive, a number of jobs will be rendered obsolete. That’s why businesses implementing technology for the sole sake to make a profit are short sighted and even selfish said Michael Partnow, head of wealth management at JIFFY.ai, which offers technology to automate processes within financial services firms. Technology should be implemented for the sake of people, the industry and to make our world a better place today and for future generations.
“We’re incredibly excited about the continued journey that we’re on as we discover new and implement solutions where technology is advancing the experience across the value chain. We are doing this with incredible compassion,” said Partnow. “As a result of this disruptive technology advancing our industry, there will be individuals whose roles will unfortunately be downsized, or, in many cases, eliminated.”
But technologists—and the firms that leverage technology—don’t always have the people top of mind.
Partnow himself has encountered C-suite professionals whose top priority in engaging JIFFY.ai and implementing technology is to reduce headcount.
“On a recent visit to a client, as we were walking to the board room, weaving in and out of cubicles saying ‘good morning’ and introducing ourselves,” Partnow said. Then, upon entering the board room, the CEO opened the discussion by stating that he “was exploring ways to reduce cost through automation while repurposing the people we had just met for other growth areas of the business.” These are the ideal partners we enjoy working with as the focus is on “WIN / WIN.”
This mindset extends across the financial services industry, where many people occupying C-suite positions are encouraged to focus primarily on the bottom line and generate returns for the firm’s ownership and / or investors.
Technology should be leveraged to create a better experience, a better world today and tomorrow said Partnow, not just to cut costs by reducing headcount. Implementing automation without compassion for the employees is a major concern for JIFFY.ai—because it’s as if companies are using technology with a blind eye towards their people.
To that end, JIFFY.ai launched the Paanini Foundation to prepare those employees who may be displaced by artificial intelligence and automation.
“We’re going to invest in individuals through online training and by bringing one-to-one coaching to them,” said Partnow. “We’re also partnering with local universities to help. Where the organization cannot help those individuals redeploying their resources, we would like to, through our vast network, offer access to opportunities that exist elsewhere.”
The U.S. has already been through many waves of automation. For example, many blue-collar factory jobs have been automated through technology.
But Partnow says companies missed an opportunity to help displaced workers.
“As good citizens, did we really look to help those individuals? What steps were taken to invest in them through personal and professional learning?” said Partnow. “There are always going to be jobs and tasks for people to do—while machines are doing the work, people are going to be doing the thinking in conjunction with the machines.”
Reducing headcount doesn’t necessarily improve a business’s return on investment, according to Partnow. In some cases, layoffs and downsizing will disrupt a business’s culture and lead to a less profitable, more slowly growing company.
“Historically, we haven’t been trained that way, it’s been the quantitative over the qualitative,” said Partnow. “Most businesses aren’t run by cutthroats, but it’s how we’ve been wired. As a result, we’re just not investing in people as much as we should.”
It’s also not enough to move people from one company that has upgraded its technology into similar roles at a different company who is technologically lagging behind, said Partnow, as those new jobs are likely to be disrupted over time as well. Companies should try to help employees get ahead of the technology curve.
“Within the financial services realm, that could be as fundamental as personal and professional development, whether that’s resume writing or learning new soft skills and inter-personal skills,” he said. “On the professional side, we need to think about whether we are providing these workers with the financial literacy tools they need. We can give them online access to tools and invite guest speakers to inform them about the happenings in their industry. Frankly, I don’t think many employees are afforded these types of opportunities today.”
Organizations have tilted most of their personal and professional investment towards the executive and management levels, said Partnow. As a result, most employees are unable to advance in their careers and are stranded in jobs that are susceptible to disruptive technology advancements.
Partnow believes the job of tomorrow will be more creative and requires interpersonal endeavors as machines take over repetitive and menial tasks.
“To have a natural conversation with a person as opposed to a machine I don’t think will ever be replaced,” he said. “The utopian ideal here is marrying the ability of machines to do tasks with the human ability to think, innovate and empathize.”
Organizations will constantly try to reinvent themselves with technology to either evolve, become more efficient or grow and scale up. In order to do so, their technology stack will need to be upgraded, which almost inevitably leads to more automation with the likelihood of reduced headcounts, said Partnow.
As JIFFY.ai implements a platform that allows firms to automate complex tasks, using AI to conduct many of the now human-intensive listening, reading and writing tasks that firms encounter every day, Paanini works with the same clients to help prepare and up-skill potentially displaced employees.
JIFFY.ai is literally reinvesting part of its revenues back into the businesses that contributed to that revenue so Paanini can help those employees.
“The vision here is that machines and people will speak the same language,” said Partnow. “A number of us joined JIFFY.ai because of our passion around charitable giving, and as it happens, one of the largest shareholders in JIFFY.ai is the Paanini Foundation. Now if we can re-train everyone to think about this problem and how they are involved across the for-profit world, the world would be a better place, because we would all start making the investment in people now, and the returns would resonate forward for generations to come.”