Artificial intelligence (AI) alone cannot provide sustainable advantage. As the impact of AI on jobs—along with the tremendous benefits of human-machine collaboration—becomes clearer, it’s important that FS leaders start to ready their workforces.

The AI revolution is already underway and the news is good—as AI becomes more pervasive, many jobs are being reconfigured: almost a third of FS respondents to Accenture’s 2018 Future Workforce Survey: Realizing the full value of AI, which reaches across banking and insurance, indicate that they have redesigned jobs to a large extent.

These jobs will add value to the business, its customers and the workforce. The very real challenge for FS will be reskilling the FS workforce to fill these new roles.

While AI can deliver well on iterative and predictive tasks, humans are better at leading, creating, improvising and empathising. As intelligent technology begins to take on more of the repetitive, mundane and transactive work, humans will be freed up to do more complex, sensitive and higher value work, like building relationships and dealing with exceptions.

Consider the change this will bring to typical FS roles.

Today Tomorrow
A contact centre agent answers customer calls and messages, handling both minor and major issues. Virtual agents and automation take care of simple queries and issues, allowing the human workforce to manage relationship portfolios and deal with exceptions and major issues involving complexity and sensitivity.
A communications specialist reads comments about the bank on social media and responds to those likely to have the greatest impact. Supported by comprehensive scanning of social media, the specialist develops a strategy for optimising the bank’s profile and trains intelligent machines to respond to comments, rapidly and at scale.
A financial advisor spends a significant amount of time onboarding a potential customer, taking personal details and interrogating his financial situation. Then she goes away to do the research and hopefully secure the relationship. The prospective customer goes online and uses AI to onboard himself. He completes the other administrative requirements and provides relevant research which he has sourced. This allows the financial advisor to focus on the true value of her offering: building the relationship and providing quality advice.

For the organisation to benefit from the higher value that human skills in combination with AI can deliver, reskilling is critical.

It can be done.

In its effort to rapidly pivot more than 160,000 of its employees to be conversant with new IT skills, and more than 100,000 to be job-ready in less than two years, Accenture developed a “new skilling” framework based on a progression of skills from awareness to expert, while relying on a suite of innovative learning methods grounded in neuroscience research.

One Accenture client, a leader in the high-tech industry, has produced a human-AI hybrid workforce where algorithms predict which orders have issues, such as a risk of cancellation or payment disputes. Employees can therefore spend more time paying attention to high-risk situations and be more proactive in mitigating negative outcomes. This approach has required that people be trained to help them develop a range of expertise and capabilities—from industry sector knowledge to analytics and data interpretation, to the soft skills required to work with customers in new ways. The investment is paying off, with a potential of delivering cashflow improvements of over $50 million along with increased working capital and a bottom line profit of more than $10 million in the first year of implementation.

However, the challenge of reskilling the workforce should not be underestimated.

Our FS research shows two clear gaps emerging in terms of AI:

  • While 60 percent of organisations are increasing their investment in AI, less than 5 percent are planning to significantly increase their investment in reskilling in the next three years.
  • There is also a gap in perception between leaders and their employees. Leaders underestimate the willingness of staff to reskill, yet more than two-thirds of employees are keen to work with AI and three out of four say it is important that they acquire the necessary skills.

Why the lack of investment? I believe the traditional view of AI as a cost and efficiency driver rather than an enabler of innovation and growth needs to change. To deliver on the value that AI can generate, we really have to invest in human skills, understanding and creating new roles and new ways of working.

The full potential of AI is achieved when intelligent machines are combined with human ingenuity across the enterprise to solve complex problems, develop new products and services, and break into or create new markets. To achieve this – which Accenture calls ‘applied intelligence’ – three key actions are indicated by our research:

  • Re-imagine work. Audit all activities, from back-office functions to contact centres, to understand where intelligent machines can play a role in your business. Then look at workforce planning across both humans and machines.
  • Re-direct people to where they are most useful. Having looked at where AI can help, think about where you want your people to focus their energy and time to give you the best value.
  • Upskill people. Train people to work with the new technologies.

It’s important to start the upskilling journey now. Pick pivotal roles or skills, and map out the path to future roles and skills. To start this journey, HR should strategically partner with the major transformation projects that are underway.

Next week, we will unpack some of the challenges and outline the skills—including the soft skills—that the workforce will need to build.

Meanwhile, for more on reskilling for AI, see the banking and insurance versions of the 2018 Accenture Future Workforce Survey: Realizing the full value of AI.

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