‘Developers are the new bankers’: Wells Fargo analysts predict wave of job cuts

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The era of bankers dominating banking is over as software developers rise — and a record wave of job cuts will soon sweep the industry.

Photo by Bloomberg Mercury

That’s according to Wells Fargo & Co. analysts led by Mike Mayo, who estimated that the technology improvements and automation these developers bring will allow the industry to cut 100,000 jobs over the next five years.

“New job additions could lower reduction levels, but our conclusion is still that this will be the biggest reduction in U.S. bank headcount in history,” Mayo, along with six other senior equity analysts, said in a note to clients late Monday.

Banks spend more on technology than any other industry and had to set aside a whopping $200 billion for information technology last year alone. That’s meant the technologists they hire play an increasingly important role inside the world’s largest financial institutions, the Wells Fargo analysts found.

Many of the job cuts will hit lower-paid roles. The financial-services industry — which operates some of the world’s largest call centers — will likely “aggressively” reduce headcount in such locations, the analysts said. Branch workforces may drop 20% over the next several years, and could account for as much as one-third of banks’ total reduction.

Software developers wield greater influence over lenders’ purchasing decisions and budgets for their tools are ever increasing, the analysts found. That means banks are looking to add technologists and front-line employees to help manage their apps and websites as consumers rapidly adapted to new finance tools during the pandemic.

“Developers are the new bankers,” Mayo and the analysts said in the 110-page report. “These tend to be higher-paying positions, so it may be the case that while banks reduce headcount, they don’t lower compensation as quickly.”

Lenders have had trouble improving back-office functions, the analysts found. That’s partly because banks are deliberately cautious when upgrading those systems and they face extra regulatory oversight when doing so.

“Progress in the back office remains a slog,” Mayo and the analysts said in the report, noting such employees currently account for about half of all bank employees. “Some will succumb to technology, but others may require changes in regulation or laws to be fully eliminated. In any event, banks should be able to significantly cut back-office headcount over time.”

Banks have spent years promising that the extra spending on technology would ultimately help drive down costs. While it might be bad for job prospects, it’s finally poised to help profitability, the Wells Fargo analysts found.

If interest rates normalize over the next five years, it would shave more than 9 percentage points from the industry’s efficiency ratio — a measure of profitability that represents how much it costs to produce a dollar of revenue, Wells Fargo found.

“We believe tech requires banks to better compete, enables the biggest structural change in history, and puts record efficiency within reach,” the analysts said.

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