Bank of America's top technology officer says finance-industry workers get spooked about their jobs because of how bosses talk about tech.

"A lot of the fear that we've created in our workforce has been exactly that: fear we've created," Cathy Bessant, Bank of America's chief operations and technology officer, said Tuesday at the Bloomberg Invest conference in New York. While automation is welcomed by shareholders, such talk can be "a little bit terrifying to people who say, 'Wait a minute, it's my job that's going away.' "

Catherine Bessant, chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America, speaks during the Bloomberg Invest Summit in New York.
Catherine Bessant, chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America, speaks during the Bloomberg Invest Summit in New York. Bloomberg News

Bank of America's efforts to automate job functions with robotics and other advances are intended to free staff for other work — not replace their positions entirely, Bessant said. Tasks such as counting money, reading checks and gathering financial data about corporate borrowers haven't been done by humans in years, but employment levels at the bank have remained fairly constant, she said.

"The whole idea is to mechanize those routine things to free up capacity for the thought and human interaction work," Bessant said. "As long as we are smart and aggressive and thoughtful about workforce transformation, and are ahead of the changes in our workforce, it's our belief that there's not some concept of job decimation that has to happen as a result of robotics."

Bank of America, the nation's second-largest bank, trimmed more than 1,400 employees from its 208,000-strong workforce in the first quarter, after adding roughly that number during 2017.

Before that, the firm had cut positions every year since 2010, when it had 288,000 employees.

Bloomberg News