This week the BBC has been running a series of programs on artificial intelligence. The first program asked the question
I’d give it a read if you have a lazy hour in the evening. The paper covers the history of technological innovation as useful context. But its central idea is that
the current trend towards labour market polarization, with growing employment in high-income cognitive jobs and low-income manual occupations, accompanied by a hollowing-out of middle-income routine jobs
In short, work with your hands or your brains but don’t compete with computers for the boring stuff in the middle.
If you are interested in examples that touch upon financial services , I can think of three
- Managing Funds with no idea how to beat the market (closet tracking)
- Manually conducting selection exercises for workplace pensions
- Constructing bespoke portfolios for people with small amounts to invest
For computerised alternatives to your job, try respectively ETFs, Pension PlayPen and Nutmeg.
The reality is that the application of knowledge that created these three products is exactly what the authors of the academic paper are discussing. The paper was written in 2013, the emergence of services that replicate high value problem solving at an everyday price is what FINTECH is all about.
This useful article about the introduction of threshing machines into agrarian England (detailing the antics of Captain Swing and his mob) shows remarkable similarities to the behaviours of active fund managers, HNW IFAs and employee benefit consultants.
For me, the issue is not about capitulation to the FINTECH sump into which middle order jobs are disappearing, but in how to organise our careers to clamber away. Clearly there are two directions we can take. One is towards manual labour where our flexibility is prized, albeit more in terms of personal interaction than financial reward. Examples are the caring professions including jobs with Pension Wise and broker consulting.
The alternative is to become the masters of the algorithms that control the machines that took our jobs. There need be no more than a dozen people to operate a nuclear power station but those people can be very highly paid (unless they are called Homer).
But we cannot mourn announcements from insurers that they are cutting hundreds of jobs without recognising this process and the redeployment of (our) labour. It is beholden on us to understand our skills and skill gaps and learn how to get to the areas of high value.
Otherwise we have no value, we – like the farm labourers of the 19th century- become valueless – our threshing skills are o’ertaken.
The masters of the algorithms need not be those that write them, they can be those who adopt them and use them for their benefit. Those who can use ETFs, Pension PlayPen and Nutmeg as a means of turning menial work into meaningful value are mastering technology. Rather than being defeated by the machines, they are turning the monsters to their vantage.
Nobody teaches a child how to use a phone, it comes naturally to emulate, practice and ultimately supercede the previous generation. That is why our kids use apps better than we can. Infact we turn to our kids to learn the skills to meet the challenge mentioned in this article.
As children know, there is virtually no job that cannot be delegated through an app, other than the dish-washing without which the means to pay for the phones would be cut off!
They are the exempla of the new labour market,