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Wall Street jobs — including some exceeding $200,000 in annual salary — are at risk of some level of automation, a new report from McKinsey & Co. found.
Highly paid financial services jobs that involve a lot of of data collection and processing are just as susceptible to automation as jobs in lower-paid professions, such as construction, retail and refuse collection, the study found.
The financial sector has the potential to automate activities taking up 43 percent of its workers' time, and high salaries in finance may help drive automation. In most cases, robots are more likely to take on certain functions within occupations, rather than eliminate those jobs entirely, McKinsey found.
Finance and insurance jobs
"The world of finance relies on professional expertise: stock traders and investment bankers live off their wits," said Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. "Yet about 50 percent of the overall time of the workforce in finance and insurance is devoted to collecting and processing data, where the technical potential for automation is high."
These jobs are among the most likely to offer robots a way into the workforce, the study found: Insurance sales agents and underwriters — who gather customer or product information and verify the accuracy of records; bank tellers — who spend time checking the accuracy of financial data; and mortgage brokers — who spend up to 90 percent of their time processing applications, a figure that could be reduced to around 60 percent by applying more sophisticated currently available technology, McKinsey estimated.
"This would free up mortgage advisors to focus more of their time on advising clients rather than routine processing," said Chui. "Both the customer and the mortgage institution get greater value."
Jobs in education were found to have the lowest "technical feasibility" for automation. The importance of human interaction when it comes to managing and developing people makes it tough for robots to act as substitute teachers.
"Digital technology is transforming the field, as can be seen from the myriad classes and learning vehicles available online," said Chui. "Yet the essence of teaching is deep expertise and complex interactions with other people."
But for bankers contemplating seeking refuge as teachers, they might want to reconsider.
"Our analysis has focused only on currently available technologies," said Chui. "If there are technological breakthroughs such as machines being able to acquire natural language abilities, the types of activities that are susceptible to automation could change."
McKinsey looked at more than 2,000 work activities for more than 800 jobs using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*Net and noted that while technical feasibility is a precondition for automation, it must be weighed against other factors including the cost of developing and deploying the hardware and software necessary to automate jobs, and the availability of labor.
"Replacing human cooks earning $10 per hour with expensive robots may be possible technically, but might not make business sense," said Chui.