U.S. banks seen slashing 200,000 jobs over next decade in biggest headcount reduction in history


The jobs most at risk are those in branches and call centres

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U.S. banks stand to shed 200,000 jobs, or 10 per cent of employees, over the next decade as they manoeuvre to increase profitability in the face of changing customer behaviour, according to a banking analyst.

“This will be the biggest reduction in U.S. bank headcount in history,” Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo told the Financial Times. If his forecast bears out, this year would mark an inflection point for the U.S. banking sector, where the number of jobs has remained roughly flat at 2 million for the past decade.

The jobs most at risk are those in branches and call centres as banks prune their sprawling networks to match the new realities of post-pandemic banking, Mayo’s report found. That is consistent with Department of Labor statistics that predict a 15 per cent decline in bank teller jobs over the next decade.

Banks must become more productive to remain relevant. And that means more computers and less people

Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo

Historically, layoffs, particularly for lower-paying jobs, have been a contentious issue for the banking industry, which is often held up by progressive politicians as an example of a wealthy industry prioritizing profits over people.

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But the threat of technology companies and non-bank lenders chipping away at the business of payments and lending, which have traditionally been dominated by banks, has intensified over the past year, making job cuts necessary, Mayo said.

“Banks must become more productive to remain relevant. And that means more computers and less people,” he said.

Most of the reductions can be achieved through attrition over the next 10 years rather than cuts, reducing the risk of a backlash, Mayo said.

The new research, reported first by the FT, comes on the heels of disappointing jobs data that showed the U.S. economy added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply missing estimates of 1 million. Structural elements of unemployment like accelerated automation that took place during the pandemic could pose stronger than anticipated headwinds to a recovery in the labour, economic officials said following the report.

Pandemic activity pushed headcount up roughly 2 per cent last year as banks hired staff to meet the sudden demand for labour-intensive mortgages and government-backed small-business loans. But that trend is likely to be reversed in the near-term as lenders refocus on efficiency to compete more effectively with technology companies that increased their share of business during the health crisis.

If I was giving advice to my kids, I’d say you probably don’t want to go into the financial industry

Mike Mayo, Wells Fargo analyst

Increased competition from lightly regulated companies such as PayPal Holdings Inc. and Amazon Inc. entering financial services was one of the principal concerns JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon outlined in his annual letter to shareholders last month.

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Mayo estimates that banks currently represent just a third of the overall financing market.

“Digitization accelerated and that played to the strength of some fintech and other tech providers,” Mayo said.

Many of the bank branches that were closed during the pandemic will probably stay that way, and even those that remain open are likely to be more lightly staffed as branches become more focused on providing advice than facilitating transactions. A large amount of back-office roles also stand to be automated but those numbers are harder to quantify, the report said.

Mayo said his team 20 years ago was twice as large and responsible for half as much. Doing more with less was the new norm across the industry.

“If I was giving advice to my kids, I’d say you probably don’t want to go into the financial industry,” Mayo said, adding that technology and customer or client-facing roles are probably the only areas that will see growth. “It’s likely to be a shrinking industry.”

© 2021 The Financial Times Ltd

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In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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