A Bank of America leader shares why tech innovations require human expertise, and sets reskilling goals to prove it

Headshot of Sumeet Chabria, Global Chief Operating Officer Technology & Operations and Head of Global Business Services
Sumeet Chabria, global chief operating officer technology & operations and head of global business services, Bank of America Courtesy of Bank of America
  • AI and machine learning will make some jobs redundant, leading to the creation of new roles with new skills.
  • Bank of America’s global technology and operations division committed to filling 80% of its open roles with internal hires.
  • Companies that want to reskill their workforce need to offer training and should be transparent about the changing needs of the business.
  • This article is part of a series about CEOs and their vision for the future called “What’s Next.”

Bank of America’s virtual financial assistant, dubbed Erica, saw a surge in usage during the pandemic.

The bank, which has been working for more than 10 years to simplify and update systems for commercial and consumer client interaction, spends $10 billion annually on technology with $3.5 billion of that earmarked for new initiatives.

Sumeet Chabria, who is the bank’s global chief operating officer technology and operations and head of global business services, said the innovation agenda stems from a focus on the customer and “operational excellence.”

“Innovation and operational excellence have to be intrinsically connected,” he said. “When we have an opportunity to improve operational excellence through digital capabilities, we innovate to get us there.”

The composition of the workforce is changing as the pace of technology innovation increases. While new jobs are created to meet the moment, other roles will disappear. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 Future of Jobs report estimated that by 2025, some 85 million jobs may be eliminated as a result of automation, while 97 million new roles may emerge.

Companies can help their employees transition to new functions, but the WEF report says that today’s accelerated pace of change, time is growing short. “The window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast,” said Saadia Zahidi, WEF’s managing director, in a statement. “Businesses, governments and workers must plan to urgently work together to implement a new vision for the global workforce.”

Different jobs, not fewer

At Bank of America, innovation has brought with it a need to reskill employees who might previously have held the kinds of jobs Erica and other modernizations made redundant. But Chabria says that doesn’t mean a reduction in the workforce, saying that the human component is essential to developing and integrating innovation.

“We’re not a self-driving car,” Chabria said. “We don’t believe that technology runs itself. ”

Still, Chabria says, it’s important to be transparent about how roles will change as a result of technology, while also offering skills training to help employees adapt to new responsibilities.

Companies should consider setting goals for internal mobility to new roles that are created as a result of innovation. Within the global technology and operations division, the goal is to fill 80% of its open roles with internal employees.

In order to meet this target, Chabria said, the bank has to commit to offering the training necessary to hone new skills. It also means encouraging managers to be open to non-traditional candidates.

“In our view, existing talent can be effectively reskilled and redeployed to emerging roles instead of heavily relying on the external resources,” Chabria said. “A great advantage of hiring from within is that you already know the teammate can fit and work within your environment.”

The bank’s internal careers site also includes career planning tools, and Chabria said that in 2019 more than 21,000 employees moved to new roles internally.

Continuous learning, at every level

Bank of America launched Global Technology and Operations University in April 2018 to provide ongoing learning experiences, to be completed at the employee’s own pace, and aligned with technology trends and emerging applications for the business. So far, bank employees have completed more than 4.2 million courses.

“We believe in equipping our teammates with the right tools and skills, enabling them to make a difference in their jobs and for our clients,” Chabria said.

Chabria said that companies looking to create or expand their own reskilling programs need to give their employees the tools for training and that there are turnkey options that make it affordable for smaller organizations.

He also said companies need to have benchmarks and metrics in place to assess how well they are progressing against reskilling goals.

Business leaders should also understand that priorities and innovation opportunities can change. “It is important to build flexibility into your strategy so you can adapt to the changing industry and client needs and wants,” he said.