The rapid integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the finance sector is reshaping the industry and its employment conditions. As AI becomes increasingly prevalent, it can bring both opportunities and challenges for workers and their trade unions. On 13 October, the 3rd workshop of the joint EU bank social partner project on the impact of AI on employment took place in Zagreb. The participants emphasised the need for a balanced approach to AI’s introduction and application in the workplace, that addresses ethical dilemmas, ensures responsible use, and prioritises the well-being of the workforce.
AI is already a ubiquitous presence in banking and can help to streamline workers’ tasks and enhance productivity. But AI’s impact has a dual nature, also leading to job losses, restructuring and additional workplace pressure.
The social partners are in agreement that the transformative power of AI requires training and up-skilling for all workers to adapt to the evolving demands of the industry.
Ethical concerns also loom large. There were calls throughout the workshop for clear European Union legislation on the ethical, responsible, and transparent use of AI. Emphasising the “human in control” principle, participants stressed the importance of maintaining human oversight over AI integration in the workplace and its use, especially in employment matters.
While acknowledging the inevitability of IT skills becoming essential, bank workers are not tech workers, and IT should rather be viewed as a tool to allow them to do their jobs and provide financial services under the best possible conditions. In such a customer-facing sector, which is also at the heart of society and the real economy, the importance of human skills such as empathy and common sense remains paramount, signalling that AI cannot and must not replace the human touch.
Key to navigating the complexities of AI integration is a genuine and open social dialogue. Robust collectively negotiated agreements are crucial to protecting the jobs and working conditions of today and of tomorrow.
The workshop’s participants also delved into the environmental impact of increased technology, particularly the energy consumption of data centres, stressing the importance of including these concerns in conversations about sustainable finance.
Davor Tomić, newly elected President of UNI affiliate SBF, the Croatian Union of Bank and Financial Employees, emphasised the need for social dialogue to improve working conditions and revitalise the finance sector. UNI Finance President Anna Maria Romano underlined the irreplaceable role of human intelligence, asserting that the finance sector is built on values that must be preserved. Michael Budolfsen, UNI Europa Finance President, cautioned against hasty decisions, urging a strategic approach to making the finance sector more attractive through competence development and social dialogue.
Marguerita Lane, Labour Market Economist from the OECD, presented findings revealing that job disruption due to AI is a reality. Workers have expressed concerns about job losses, lower wages and the potential for AI to make work pressure more, rather than less, intense. The OECD report underscores the need for government investment in training and up-skilling, with positive worker reactions on the introduction of AI linked to proper training and consultation with trade unions.
As Europe’s bank sector continues to grapple with the transformative effects of AI, the workshop served as a pivotal moment for the social partners to shape the future, finding a balance between technological advancement, ethical considerations, and the well-being of the workforce.