I think the biggest change over the course of my career comes from large scale automation. When I started my career in the financial services industry, there were many processes that required people to make decisions to run the business. As technology capabilities grow stronger, technology costs come down, and staffing costs go up, there is a relentless drive to take the people out of the equation. For someone starting their career now, I suggest you develop a mindset of constant learning and developing skills such as creativity, problem solving, decision making, and analysis. The pace of change is probably faster now than at any other time in history. The ability to reinvent yourself is the key to success.
In my early career, I worked in an area that was typical for a team of 400-500 people process a multi-billion dollar end to end. You might see a desk of 20 traders process the market making or flow business across the various product lines. Now, you might have one or two technology folks overseeing the algo trading infrastructure processing volumes many times higher than those 20 traders ever did. As long as you don’t have system failures or programming bugs, your algos do not make mistakes. These things were referred to as “fat finger” back in the old days when a trader accidentally miskeyed a trade. Beyond the actual act of trading, you also have all the back office processing which are handled with “Straight Through Processing”, where non person needs to touch these trades through out the entire lifecycle. These days you can probably run the same business with about 1/3 of the people you needed back in the 1990’s.
What are the jobs where people are still required and can make an impact? The jobs usually involve structuring custom solutions to meet the needs of the customer. The processes generally have some heuristics but are difficult to translate into discrete logic that can be automated. There is much talk about artificial intelligence in our industry, but allowing machines to make decisions that people have difficulty controlling or explaining is probably not going to get accepted any time soon. If you are working in a role which can be automated, you can bet it won’t be too long before it will be automated. You may even want to automate the work yourself so that you can get yourself into a role that is more challenging and harder to automate.
The march of automation continues faster with each passing day. I suggest everyone to face the challenge head on and grow your skills. Be nimble and adjust your position as the market evolves. If you don’t keep up with the changing world, you probably won’t be able to live on your own terms.