Lots of things in any business can be automated these days. Even some managers.

That point is hitting home hard on Wall Street. In the critical area of initial public offerings, the era of the machine has arrived. Goldman Sachs has experimented and found that half the steps in an IPO can be automated, as Bloomberg reported this week.

The initiative's progress -- described by senior Goldman Sachs executives in recent interviews -- shows how quickly big investment banks may be able to automate tasks once beyond the reach of computers. The industry is under intense pressure to improve profitability, while contending with young workers less willing to put in 18-hour days. At Goldman Sachs, managers say they're looking to new technology to free up junior bankers in particular, letting them focus on more satisfying work. That could help slow an exodus of talent to private equity firms, tech titans like Google and hot startups.

Sure, maybe they'll free up those young workers struggling with long days. Or, as someone high up in a big corporation once said to me when we were discussing "freeing up" employees for more important work, "That's what we say, but it's really about job cuts."

If you don't need as many MBAs and lawyers, put your money, figuratively speaking, on bankers wanting to cut costs and improve profitability. The fewer people they need to hire, the bigger year-end bonuses can be.

It is remarkable how quickly the automation process is spreading beyond blue collar jobs and potentially threatening people who likely still think what they do is too difficult for machines to imitate. The financial services industry is fully embracing the trend.

JPMorgan Chase has software reviewing deals "that once kept legal teams busy for thousands of hours," Bloomberg reported in February. The machine learning system can review a document in seconds. This work once consumed 360,000 hours of lawyers and loan officers every year. JPMorgan is pouring $9.6 billion a year into technology.

Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund, is also pouring resources into artificial intelligence that could replicate daily decision making, including hiring and firing.

The company is already highly data-driven, with meetings recorded and staff asked to grade each other throughout the day using a ratings system called "dots". The Systematized Intelligence Lab has built a tool that incorporates these ratings into "Baseball Cards" that show employees' strengths and weaknesses. Another app, dubbed The Contract, gets staff to set goals they want to achieve and then tracks how effectively they follow through. These tools are early applications of PriOS, the over-arching management software that Dalio wants to make three-quarters of all management decisions within five years.

How long before employees are brought before a terminal to hear, "I am sorry, Harold, but your job has been made redundant. But there is the good news that an old word processor of my acquaintance will now remain online.

The changes will mean big questions going forward for business owners. If you know your bank has drastically cut your costs, can you demand better terms? And how long before you need to include automation technology in your business to remain competitive by eliminating jobs and reducing costs?

Published on: Jun 15, 2017