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Where are these robot accountants at Deutsche Bank?

There are robots at Deutsche Bank. Not literally, but figuratively - human beings performing repetitive and robotic activities that could just as easily be done by actual robots as by sentient creatures with a propensity for contemplating what they'll be doing this evening.

We know about these robots because John Cryan, Deutsche Bank's CEO, referred to them earlier in a speech in Frankfurt. Many of Deutsche Bank's staff are already working "like robots" and will be replaced by actual robots, said Cryan. He added that the 6,000 accountants at DB are particularly guilty of robotic goings-on: many, "spend a lot of the time basically being an abacus," and therefore might as well cede their roles to an abacus in a computer.

Cryan himself used to be an accountant (he trained with Arthur Andersen in the 1980s), so he knows what he's talking about here. But how do Deutsche's current accountants feel about being so disparaged by their great leader?

Not much, apparently, or at least not much in London. Deutsche Bank's robotic accountants aren't in the UK.

"Most of Deutsche Bank's purely number crunching accounting roles were off-shored years ago," says Tom Stoddart, director at recruitment firm Eximius Finance. "Deutsche now has most of its product controllers in Mumbai, Bengalaru and Manila, with others in Jacksonville Florida. Almost none of these roles are in London - or even in Deutsche's office in Birmingham."

A member of the finance function in DB's London office agrees with this: "Cryan's comments may have been about the offshore finance functions. Where I am we, cover highly bespoke products and transactions so no day is like the previous one really and there is not too much of a routine."

When Cryan talks of robots seizing accounting jobs, he's therefore referring to the wholesale automation of facile accounting jobs in Deutsche's offshore centres. It's not accountants in London who should be worried, but those in India, the Philippines and Florida.

Meanwhile, people in Deutsche's accounting teams in London are in fact busy working on the automation programme. For the past five years, Deutsche's finance function has been engaged in a project known as StRIDe (Strategic Redesign of Information Delivery) under which finance-related data has been reorganized on a single platform with the intention of making it easier to automate individual roles. StRIDe was due to come to an end this year, although London staff continue to busy themselves with it.

While off-shored jobs are repetitive and robotic, Stoddart therefore says finance jobs at Deutsche (and other banks) in London are now a lot more interesting than in the past. "If you work in product control in London today, you'll be doing far more than simple number crunching." Today's London-based accountants need deep analytical and interpersonal skills so that they can work with the front office on things like analysis of P&L movements and balance sheet optimization, says Stoddart. There are fewer of them than before, but they're better off than their predecessors. They're also largely immune to Cryan's talk of robots: the DB accountants who should be concerned are in "low cost" locations elsewhere.


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Photo credit: Robot Moves by reader of the pack is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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