The Robots Are Coming for Investment Bankers, Not Just Truck Drivers

Hunter Walk
Sep 7, 2016 · 2 min read

The whole process had taken just a few minutes. Generating a similar query without automation, he said, ‘‘would have taken days, probably 40 man-hours, from people who were making an average of $350,000 to $500,000 a year.’’

Fascinating New York Times article of the impact an analytics startup called Kensho is having in investment banking. High frequency trading driven by algorithms have dominated the transaction side of public markets and it makes sense to see software crawl (literally in this case) down the stack into research, analysis and other more sophisticated tasks previously rate-limited by human capacity.

‘‘In 10 years Goldman Sachs will be significantly smaller by head count than it is today.’’

Goldman Sachs is Kensho’s largest investor. It’s also, per the quote above from Kensho’s CEO, likely to transform its human resources as well. Maybe in ten years investment bankers will stand alongside truck drivers in discussions about safety nets, universal basic income and skills retraining.

Personally I’m a techno-optimist, in the sense that I believe technology grows the overall pie and provides over time, great opportunity for human beings in terms of quality of life, economic mobility and so on. But I also strongly recognize that these changes do create negative impact for groups and segments during every phase, and we have a societal and civic need to figure out to support those individuals.

In late 2013, two Oxford academics released a paper claiming that 47 percent of current American jobs are at ‘‘high risk’’ of being automated within the next 20 years. The findings provoked lots of worried news reports about robots stealing jobs. The study looked at 702 occupations, using data from the Department of Labor, and assigned a probability of automation to each one, according to nine variables. The conclusions made it clear that this was no longer just the familiar (and ongoing) story of robots replacing factory and warehouse employees. Now software is increasingly doing the work that has been the province of educated people sitting in desk chairs. The vulnerability of these jobs is due, in large part, to the easy availability and rapidly declining price of computing power, as well as the rise of ‘‘machine learning’’ software, like Kensho, that gathers and assimilates new information on its own.

Hunter Walk

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