White collar robots

Artificial intelligence is coming for your job. There are benefits and drawbacks to this, Rathbones head of multi-asset investments David Coombs notes, but he thinks society will end up taking it in its stride.

By 7 June 2019

Automation and digital disruption cut a swathe through manufacturing and we are all now watching retailers buckle under the strain of change. We believe IR4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution) has a way to go yet. Lawyers, accountants, hell, even asset managers, bankers and dentists’ assistants could be replaced by robots and algorithms. Of course, the people won’t be replaced – only their jobs. They can go on to do more interesting roles in their industries or perhaps do something completely different. Only a cracked person or a clinical optimist would argue that everyone will fall into a better future because of this wave of change. More than a few of us will be enraged by these changes (which will intensify the political shifts we spoke about earlier). Most of us define our identity by our profession, always have done: that’s why so many of us have surnames like Smith, Fletcher, Turner and Cooper. And the more senior the casualties of IR4.0, the more invested in the vocation they are likely to be, therefore the greater grief.

It’s all a bit concerning and gloomy. Many people find uncertainty unsettling, so it’s no surprise that tales of future woe make an impression on people. The future is inherently unknowable. Yet hope is always best. The future has a habit of flowing into the present without much fanfare while people do what they have done best for millennia: adapt. Many of us still carry with us the legacy of our forebears’ trades, yet few of us fire horse shoes, make arrows, work a lathe or build barrels for a living.

You have to be the cheapest supplier in your market or you have to offer the best-quality alternative that people with more cash cannot resist.

We believe IR4.0 won’t spell the end of the human touch. Instead, it will deepen a dynamic we’ve been following for sometime; you have to be the cheapest supplier in your market or you have to offer the best-quality alternative that people with more cash cannot resist – the middle is and forever will be toast. It seems likely that artificial intelligence and greater automation will be a way to cut costs and make it alluringly easy for customers to deal with a business. But there are many areas where it will make sense for these savings to subsidise skilled humans. Whether to sort out complaints, help with unusual queries or offer a luxury service. It could be a winning strategy …



It hasn’t always been easy going, but Rathbones’ multi-asset strategies have come a long way since they were first launched a decade ago, and David Coombs, our Head of Multi-Asset Investments, takes the opportunity of this 10-year anniversary to reflect on that journey in his report 'Cracking on'.

Visit our 'cracking on' hub.