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Barclays CEO nails why machines haven't completely displaced bank tellers

Julia La Roche

One of the big themes that emerged from the inaugural Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit was that we’re going to live in a bipolar world, where things could either go really well or really badly.

That might not be such a bad thing, though.

“In a way, we’re going to get used to a bipolar world. Bipolar means there can be some great upsides and really positive things can be happening,” Barclays CEO Jes Staley said.

In the closing conversation of the summit, Staley told Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief that he read a great book over the holiday — “Thanks For Being Late” by Thomas Friedman — which had him thinking.

“I think so much is going on in our society driven by technology that is providing great opportunity, great uncertainty, great disorientation, great innovation.”

He pointed out that Barclays was the first bank in Europe to develop an ATM machine. The idea was rather than having a bank teller dispense cash or take deposits, a machine would do it. Naturally, the fear was that jobs would be lost.

“You would think we’d have far fewer tellers. Barclays has more tellers today than when we rolled out the ATM machine,” Staley said.


He explained that the first lesson the firm teaches the employees at call centers is to be empathetic to their customers’ challenges.

“I don’t think technology is going to replace the power of human connectivity.”

Referring back to Friedman’s book, Staley noted that there’s an anecdote where the author asks the Surgeon General about the biggest medical challenge facing us today. His response: isolation.

“I found that to be fascinating. I think all of us need to recognize that people are scared by the pace of change and it is creating a sense of isolation,” he said. “What we need to do as a society is fight isolation and bring more connectivity.”

Earlier in the day, BlackRock’s Larry Fink noted that he was feeling “bipolar” about the world economy, citing a number of reasons. That theme pervaded throughout the day, with other panels expressing similar sentiments.

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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