We are all creatures of habit and this includes the myriad of ways in which we manage our finances. So, as new and innovative technologies claim to make financial transactions faster, easier, more efficient, or even safer, resistance proves the natural inclination. Trees be damned, I love most things paper made — hardbacks over e-readers, notepads over laptops, and checkbooks or cash over electronic payments. However, like most global consumers, my love of paper has hit a technological wall, and in an increasingly electronic world the prevalence of Cash App, Quick Response (QR) codes, mobile banking, and digital payments has forced me to integrate the new with traditional financial matters.

According to Consumer Reports, eight in every 10 Americans prefer banking digitally to visiting a physical branch, which explains the improving mobile and online banking adoption statistics in the country. Mobile and online banking by age statistics reveal that consumers aged 50 and above will make up nearly a third of mobile banking logins two years from now.

But with the adoption of more digital platforms, many fear the loss of jobs for human bankers, associates, and customer service representatives. This belief, fueled by headlines like: Robots to Cut 200,000 U.S. Bank Jobs in Next Decade (Bloomberg, 2019), Europe’s Banks Slash 60,000 Jobs as Outlook Turns Negative (Financial Times, 2019), and U.S. Bank to Cut Thousands of Branch Workers in Digital Push (American Banker, 2019), continue to feed the fears of traditional bankers.

But as Forbes reported earlier this year in the article, “Journey to Digital: Banking in 2025,” the industry will never do without human workers.

“As advanced as conversational interfaces and emerging technologies have become, the likes of Robo-advisors currently act to facilitate and streamline customer engagement rather than replace humans altogether. They are, therefore, a fantastic example of machines augmenting employee roles within the workplace. Currently, these technologies are not and will possibly never be at the stage at which they can replace humans entirely.”

A great case and point: My annual European vacation runs seamlessly from one country to another using a single money card that allows me to load U.S. dollars, British pounds and European Union euro. The card allows the transfer of one currency to another, access to ATMs, and contactless point of sale purchases, without a hitch. Until there was a hitch in 2018 — and I needed to speak with a customer service representative. Thousands of miles away from home, I did not want to press a bunch of buttons or listen to automated instructions. Only a person would do.

Consumers agree. In an informal Washington Informer poll of 200 area bank visitors, 85 percent said that the major drawback to digital banking is losing interaction with human customer service agents. In fact, comments aligned sharply with stories conducted in this edition by Lindi Vilakazi, who charted the shift from traditional banking platforms by D.C. residents to new age ones.

“It feels like overkill for a lot of people — irrespective of their ages — who enjoy the ease of paying for items through PayPal or transferring money through Cash App, but who also want the specialized courtesies and interaction with bank tellers, store clerks, and friends,” Vilakazi said. “I think some people have disconnected from the ‘ritual’ of shopping or some banking transactions, which can make it feel less pleasurable for consumers. That amounts to ‘bad business.’”

Like it or lump it, new age banking and commerce is here to stay. This Washington Informer Financial Literacy supplement offers a guide to understanding some of the latest technologies and hopes to warm our readers to many of the benefits of “going digital” — a bit at a time.

Read, Learn, Grow.

Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman

Dr. Shantella Sherman is a historian and journalist who serves as the Informer's Special Editions Editor. Dr. Sherman is the author of In Search of Purity: Eugenics & Racial Uplift Among New Negroes...

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