The Managing Director of Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan, has defended the role of technology in the financial institution after it was projected that the adoption of technology would lead to the sack of workers in the banking sector. The projection must have forced Standard Chartered Bank to abandon its expansion plan and Union Bank to close down its branches.

Akinwuntan dispelled the fears of massive job loss in the next coming years. According to him, the infusion of technology has widened the services needed in the financial space and so, technology has created more jobs than the banks would have naturally created. 

The Ecobank MD’s comment is contrary to what the President, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Uche Olowu, said late last month. Olowu disclosed that Nigerian banks were beginning to review their business model – which was very much the traditional banking system – as technology penetrated deeper into the tasks that workers carry out. 

Olowu said technology would take up 30% of work in the bank, and the staff expected to be affected are tellers. According to him, they would be the major casualties of the onslaught of technology. The impact is likely to be felt in the next two to three years. 

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However, during an interview with Nairametrics on the sidelines of The Colloquium 2019 (a Students’ Investment Conferenceheld at the University of Lagos (UNILAG)Akinwuntan argued against such narrative or outcome. He said technology had enabled Ecobank empower 6000 Nigerians who now work in the financial market as entrepreneurs. 

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“Actually, it (technology) creates more jobs. We have about 6000 agent locations. We couldn’t have employed 6000 new staff, but we are able to create employment for 6000 merchants within a short space because we are leveraging technology.  

“When you are able to open an account online straight on the phone, either Ecobank Online or on the mobile phone, it means that you are empowered to participate in the financial system in Nigeria. And you can therefore be your own employer and your own entrepreneur. 

“So, we are creating jobs by supporting both the digital ecosystem, by creating more opportunities to create more entrepreneurs, and of course by having competent professionals joining Ecobank… We support small and medium enterprises. We launched Ecobano Payzone in all major markets in Nigeria where we are supporting entrepreneurs.”

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He added that apart from technology, the lender was nurturing future bankers through Ecobank academy.

“We have close to 400 new Ecobankers at our academy which is now accredited by the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and with our partnership with Investment Society, we look forward in being able to attract young talents.” 

It’s not a win-win situation: While Akinwuntan is right that technology is creating jobs, it is also preventing job creation. The advancement of technology in the financial services has made some banks to shed their expansion plan. 

Standard Chartered Bank announced that it wouldn’t be investing in the expansion of the bank, stating that investment in brick and mortar would stop to allow the banks to invest in technology or the digital space. 

Union Bank also revealed that some branches would be closed to enable the bank focus on its digital solution and agency banking (which is the focus of banks now). 

The shutdown and cancelling of expansion will affect bank jobs even though technology will create some side jobs. If banks close their branches, there is a possibility of job losses in the sector, and when banks don’t expand, the undergraduates studying and hoping to get bank jobs will find the already limited opportunities further reduced.

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