Technology More a Blessing Than a Threat to Employees in British Banking Industry

By Frenchman, Michael | American Banker, July 30, 1984 | Go to article overview

Technology More a Blessing Than a Threat to Employees in British Banking Industry


Frenchman, Michael, American Banker


The demand for banking services in England has been increasing staedily, and the technological advance has helped to serve the growing market. Automated processes have been introduced gradually over 20 years and, according to the Committee of London Clearing Banks, have brought no redundancies and no major loss of job opportunities.

"The increase in business has been so great that it would not have been economically viable without the harnessing of technology", says CLCB's research officer. "And thousands of today's jobs in banking have been created by new facilities such as credit cards, which are only possible because the technology exists."

"New methods of working" -- a phrase so often used to conceal a multitude of painful demotions and unwilling departures for most people in British retail banking, has meant simply a change from pen and paper to screen, or from manual to computer calculation. Most of the anti-drudgery developments have been popular with bank staff. They have been quick tosee them as most efficient tools for the job, and to demand the best available equipment.

Remarkably, it is still possible today for a youngster to go into a bank at 1l with fairly modest scholastic achievements and progress to management through the bank's own training and qualification program.

"Most of our branch managers came to us at 16 and went through the system", says an executive at the National Westminster Bank. "And we expect this to continue for the foreseeable future. Perhaps more come in at a higher level (17 to 18) now because the tendency is to stay in school longer."

While the intake of graduates to staff specialist departments is increasing, the banks are still recruiting extensively at this level.

The banking unions, which are not very strong in Britain, on the whole welcome systems that make members' work less irksome and the industry more competitive. At the same time, they are expressing fears that future developments might be to the staffs' disadvantage.

"There have been no drastic staff reduction yet," says Bill Vose of the Banking, Insurance, and Finance Union (BIFU), "but we are very worried about future staffing levels." The Clearing Bank Union says that the impact of the new technology already seen and monitored is minimal compared to the potential impact over the next decade.

Rather less than a third of Britain's quarter million bank staff belong to BIFU, which is affiliated with the Trades Union Congress. Just over a third belong to the staff associations of individual banks, which come together in the Clearing Bank Union, and the remainder have no memberships.

No doubt some of BIFU's warnings about future job loss, deskilling (taking a highly-skilled worker and relocating him in a position where his talents are no longer required), and round-the-clock working are delivered in the hope of bringing in some of the thousands more members it badly needs.

The Committee of London Clearing Banks, which has an overall view, seems confident that any new developments will less than offset the growth of business. …

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