How to keep your job in the back office as machines take control

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automation, automated, robotic process automation, RPA, ops, operations, tech-ops, fintech, buy side, asset management, Northern Trust, Wall Street, finance, financial services, jobs, careers, skill sets, career paths

The robots are coming...

Automation may be the single most impactful trend as fintech transforms the asset management industry. The potential impacts of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) on investment decision-making, operational processes and thus staffing are immense.

This is a challenging period for mid-career professionals with eight-to-20 years of experience who have invested the time to learn about how investment operations work, developing specialized skills and a commitment to the industry. Many financial services companies have created innovation labs that adopt the best practices of Silicon Valley to spearhead their technology infrastructure, product development and automation.

We are only going to see more aspects of our industry incorporate robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning and other forms of AI. But you should see automation as an enhancement to your work, not a replacement for it.

Here are three maxims to position yourself for the future as back-office roles evolve.

Let machines do repetitive tasks

Machines thrive on patterns. Auditors are being spared from relentlessly dull tasks like matching paperwork. The same thing is happening in finance – “normal” orders are increasingly completed by machines. I encourage junior people to try to break away from this rote work and see if they can incorporate more complex, strategic, “big-picture” thinking as part of their jobs.

Be ready for curveballs

Automation falters when it encounters the unexpected. The job of an operational professional is increasingly one of an escalation specialist and problem-solver who can handle the instances when something has not gone according to plan. For the foreseeable future, there will always be problems that only humans can solve – so it’s smart to make sure you have the skills to solve them. You need to become more comfortable handling things outside of your routine, as your time will increasingly be taken up by the unexpected.

Question the status quo

Finance and technology are converging. Financial services professionals should not be held back by legacy rules and stale procedures. We are in an era where the best talent recognizes that some outdated processes will only slow down progress.

Fortune favors the flexible. You cannot stop progress – or automation – but the good news for operations specialists is that there is going to be a place for you in the future if you anticipate firms’ needs and continue to enhance your skill set and expand your areas of expertise. The very best people are helping to build financial services organizations where man and machine work side by side, creating products and systems that deliver better results for clients.

Dan Houlihan is the head of Global Fund Services in North America at Northern Trust.

Photo credit: iLexx/GettyImages

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