On Technology, Robots and Automation – Are business leaders prepared for the challenges?

September 06, 2017

On Technology, Robots and Automation

Our readers would have by now noticed that Technology is one of my pet topics, I think about it, write about it and rant a lot about it (thankfully my rants are offline).

I am no tech professional, I was schooled in Economics and Statistics, did my MBA and Finance post grad education, but never had a real and complete training in coding, computer science or engineering. In the eyes of the real tech geeks, “mere mortal thou art!

Why this focus on Technology and not on the Financial markets like stocks, bonds, FX or gold, especially given my background and experience in trading for alpha, hedging risks and managing portfolios? 

Fears of the unknown. 

In my earlier post, Rise of the Technology. Friend or Foe? I wrote about AI, and the purported case where the researchers canned their own research because of their inability to comprehend their own robots. After numerous chats with peers and bright minds, man – what do we really know about our creations? Even if we think that we do, do we really know what we do not know? (Its confusing, yes sometimes life can get confusing!)

This might be outdated, I happened to chance upon a video on Cainiao’s latest warehouse – an Alibaba’s logistic and warehousing entity. Accounting to South China Morning Post, Cainiao 菜鸟 was “founded by Alibaba together with a consortium of Chinese logistics companies” and it “does not employ a single delivery driver, but operates a logistics information platform that links to a network of independent providers, warehouses and distribution centres.

The entity relies on big data and algorithms to create its unique advanced delivery solutions, where delivery routes are optimised and optimisation of resources in the full warehousing and logistics chain. 

Just today, Techinasia published an article on another Chinese tech giant that just launched its fully automated sorting center where robots and machines handle 9,000 online shopping orders per hour – with hardly a human in sight.

What is interesting is the follow up comments and analysis by the author, who seems to be suggsting that technology and automation might be leading to job losses. The founder and CEO of, Mr Richard Liu was quizzed by CNBC on the job loss concerns and he answered, “We still need a lot of workers to maintain or fix the whole system…,but if you look at the whole country, or the whole society, I think some people will lose their jobs.”

Are businesses prepared for the challenges?

Yesterday, I attended the GTR Asia Trade & Treasury Week 2017.

Kudos to the organisers for putting together such a wonderful event and inviting some of the brightest minds and industry leaders and getting them to share their ideas and views on a wide ranging amount of topics and issues.

The conference had 3 main streams that one could sit in and participate, stream a – Trade and Commodity Finance, stream b – Export and Project Finance and stream c – GTR Fintech Showcase. Needless to say, I naturally gravitated towards stream c and sat in a couple of discussions and presentations.

What strike me in the cavernous function rooms, was that there are indeed many people, business leaders from Banks, Corporations and Financial Institutions who are very interested to know more about technology, how it is impacting their businesses and what are the challenges that it will entail. Discussions on Blockchain, Distributed Ledger Technology, Fintechs, Regulations and whole lot of issues came out fast and hot. Time never seem enough, and many questions were left unanswered.

Are we prepared for what is to come? Are business leaders ready or are they still grappling with the challenges ahead?

Looking back 5 or 10 years, one might be ridiculed for talking about robotic process automation or fully automating a warehouse or replacing bankers with robotic advisers. Now, all these are realities and they have been proven and embraced by some of the very biggest players and very brightest.

How about those who are still struggling with manual processes, recording macros on excel spreadsheets and cannot afford the pricey technological solutions?

Do you have any clue?


about author

Seng Ti is currently heading a Treasury & Finance team in a MNC and is active in the Corporate Treasury scene. He enjoys reading and discussing about current affairs, politics, life, wine and lives a normal life with his wife and 2 young kids.