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Banking & Finance

Hong Kong’s financial bosses want staff to adapt to automation at work and upgrade skill sets

Almost three quarters say office automation will not mean fewer jobs, but instead a shift in skills required of financial professionals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 3:44pm

Hong Kong’s top financial executives are embracing automation in the workplace and urging employees to enhance their problem-solving skills and adapt as machines replace manual duties, a survey has found.

Recruitment consultancy Robert Half polled 100 chief financial officers and financial directors at companies in a range of industries, including business services, marketing and logistics. The executives were questioned about their views on automation and expectations for finance staff.

Some 72 per cent agreed that office automation would not cause a loss of jobs, but instead a shift in the skills required of financial professionals.

“Rather than simply hand over control to robots, finance professionals can actively equip themselves with the skills required to leverage the capabilities of automation,” said Adam Johnston, managing director of Robert Half Hong Kong.

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“Using more advanced technology in the workplace requires additional, well-developed skills, such as advanced data analysis, interpretation skills, and decision-making skills.”

The survey found 54 per cent of corporate financial bosses wanted employees to more deeply develop their problem-solving skills; 53 per cent said staff should have strategic vision for the company; 34 per cent wanted workers to adapt; and 33 per cent emphasised communication skills.

Automative solutions are increasingly being adopted in the corporate world, from technology that frees accountants from manual calculations and tax filings, to self-checkout machines at supermarkets and department stores.

The survey also showed 55 per cent of financial bosses believed automation could bring them better decision-making capabilities; 50 per cent thought it would free up employees to take on more value-added work; and 49 per cent said they foresaw increased efficiency and productivity.

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“Contrary to many perceptions about the potential dangers of automation, the benefits of new technologies are attainable for companies who embrace workplace automation rather than resist it,” Johnston said.

“While automation may diminish some routine manual roles, it will lead to faster decision making, reduce the risk of errors, and eliminate stresses associated with laborious task-management responsibilities.”

The poll also found 51 per cent of financial chiefs believed their staff could learn new skills more quickly by embracing automation. But 69 per cent admitted companies still had “a long way to go” in adapting to the phenomenon.

“Change is happening and companies need to adapt to an increasingly automated workforce – though there’s still a long way to go,” Johnston said. “It will be an ongoing process for companies to fully adapt to change, and Hong Kong organisations understand they need to refocus the workforce to truly realise the benefits of combining the right human skills with new technology.”

Lancy Chui, senior vice-president for Greater China at human resources firm ManpowerGroup, said big companies were more inclined to embrace automation than small ones because it took money to invest in it.

“Once the implementation has started, companies realise the investment is worth it,” Chui said. “It doesn’t mean companies don’t need any staff any more, because you still need people to check that the analysis is correct.”