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Citigroup CEO Predicts A.I. Will Replace Tens of Thousands of U.S. Call Center Jobs

Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said tens of thousands of the bank’s U.S. call center workers could be replaced by cost-cutting A.I.

With 209,000 workers worldwide, Citi (C) is under pressure to rein in its costs. The fourth-largest U.S. bank, it spends $8 billion a year on technology, the Financial Times reports, but this is the most explicit the CEO has been about how that investment might affect jobs.

“When you think of data, A.I., raw digitization of changing processes, we still have tens of thousands of people in call centers, and we know when we can digitize those processes we not only radically change or improve the customer experience, it costs less to provide,” Corbat told the FT.

While the most common customer questions are easy for A.I. to handle, Citi has no plans to get rid of humans in its call centers altogether. “There’ll always be the kind of thing where you’ve actually got to have someone to help solve,” Corbat said. “We don’t want people frustrated in that.”

Two years ago, former Citi CEO Vikram Pandit said as many as one-third of the bank’s jobs could be replaced by A.I. within five years. Bloomberg reported that Pandit’s forecast was in line with what Citigroup itself predicted over the next 10 years.

Call center jobs seem to be increasingly at risk as voice recognition technology improves. A startup called Pindrop has helped call centers detect fraud and is now helping to protect voice-activated devices. Democratic lawmakers last year introduced a bill to discourage U.S. companies from offshoring call center jobs, saying that domestic service jobs deserve as much protection as manufacturing jobs.

As T-Mobile and Sprint make the case for their merger in Washington, part of their pitch includes opening new U.S. call centers that would create 5,000 jobs.