Banks and the future of work

December 2, 2017

Finance industry workers are facing increasing pressure as banks seek to maximise their already hefty profits. Our jobs are becoming increasingly precarious, and all the while our wages and conditions are being threatened with cuts.

These days, if you walk into a bank, you’ll find very few staff and a lot of ATMs, which not only give cash but do almost everything a teller can do. You will also find a concierge, whose job is to shift customers to self-service via online banking. Tellers have performance targets for shifting customers online.

These measures go hand-in-hand with the banks’ move to close down as many branches as possible. Almost every month, banks announce another round of branch closures and job cuts. Hardest hit are regional and rural communities where job opportunities are few and far between.

The same is happening in the banks’ call centres. Every statement by call centre staff is recorded. Any deviation from the call centre script, even forgetting to say “thank you” or “hello” could be considered a breach of policy and result in performance management, or being placed on a black list.

Call centre workers are in constant fear of losing their jobs offshore where workers are paid a fraction of the Australian wage.

The same trend is happening in the back offices, which provide support for the frontline staff. When it comes to outsourcing, no area has been hit harder than information technology. It is not that the work is not there. The problem is that the banks see back office staff as an expense and not a revenue earner like the front office staff. So these jobs are always on the line.


The National Australia Bank (NAB) announced recently it would sack 6000 workers despite also revealing a $5.3 billion profit. These jobs are defined broadly enough to include multiple job types in a single role, which means up to 8000 people could lose their jobs.

NAB said it will add 2000 new jobs in its “digital” area, and promised to redeploy as many of these people as possible. But it is always cheaper to hire new staff with the relevant skills than to retrain people.

ANZ Bank has announced it will restructure its Australian Division into smaller units that would operate as small “start up” companies. ANZ said it would be adopting “Agile” methods to form tribes, made of squads, which are made of scrum teams.

Many large multinationals have embraced the Agile concept as the future of work. In fact, it is just another new way to exploit workers.

Using concepts such as daily “stand ups”, time boxing, showcasing and visual boards, Agile monitors workers every second of the day. Their output is tracked on a board, which shows where people are up to compared to others.

These corporate transformations are pushing workers to the limits, without adequate training or time to adapt. Their performance is then viewed as being “below expectations” by management, leading to performance management and, ultimately, the sack.

Future of work

Westpac recently launched an initiative called “Workforce Revolution”. It was meant to give “hope” back to staff. It invited a “futurist” in to provide a vision of what the future work would look like. That was scary.

They predicted that rather than having a single job in a company or industry, workers would have multiple jobs for which they would compete against others. So, for instance, a person might be a bank worker for one day in the week, and on the other days they might be a gardener or a delivery driver. This would be “enabled” by technology that would allow workers to “sell” their skills on a virtual market from which bosses could pick and choose the cheapest person.

Does this sound familiar? It is the gig economy where you can be an Uber driver one day, a Deliveroo person the next and an Air Tasker the following.

Gig economy workers are some of the most exploited workers in the world, without an enterprise agreement or a union to protect them.

This is apparently the future of work. We can either accept that capitalism has free reign to decide our future, or we can fight back and demand a voice in how the economy is shaped.

The Big Four banks make combined profits of about $30 billion a year. These profits come from: branch closures and staff lay-offs; increased workloads; naming and shaming “under performers”; sending jobs offshore; pushing workers onto one-year contracts; and sales-driven performance management.

The most insidious attack of all has been the introduction of the Conduct Background Check. This is essentially a black list that allows bank bosses to put any bank worker onto a register, to which other banks have access, for any breach of policy.

Being on this register could mean the end of your career.

Royal commission

There has been scandal after scandal in the banking industry, highlighting the sales-driven, profits-at-all-costs culture, which is being driven from the top. These include: dodgy investment advice; selling loans to people who do not need them; CBA’s rejection of insurance claims for genuine cases; rigging interest rates; and money laundering.

The government’s backflip — agreeing to a royal commission into the Big Four banks — has only come about because of mounting pressure from below. The fact that the Big Four banks asked for it, to clean up the banks’ image, is revealing.

In April last year the Finance Sector Union called for a royal commission into the industry but warned that it needed to focus on the “systemic problems caused by failed leadership of our industry”. It also said that the terms of reference must ensure that it is not allowed “to become a witch hunt that focuses on individual workers”.

Over the next year, evidence given to this commission will provide many openings for union and community campaigns to drive the point home that the banking industry must be renationalised and control of our money given back to workers and the community.

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