If we're going to be honest with ourselves, humans have a pretty shoddy track record. That's why banks have been ditching us bipedal mammals at a staggering rate, replacing people with machines that do the same work in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost.
JPMorgan Chase is at the forefront of automation trend. Here it is with a new piece of legal software that “does in seconds what took lawyers 360,000 hours.” And here JPM is joining up with a cartelconsortium of other banks to implement a blockchain system that might help them do away with untold numbers of back-office bean-pushers. Jamie Dimon even boasted last year that “when you talk about robo and investing, well we can do that, and give it away for free if we want.”
But there's one executive at JPMorgan who still sees a place for primates in the biggest bank in the nation: Wealth Management division head Mary Erdoes. “Human beings need human beings to explain the world to them, and that’s our job,” she said at JPMorgan's annual investor day Tuesday.
In the present case, the human beings to whom Erdoes was explaining the world seemed to be the very stock pickers she employs. “The world is changing and you cannot doubt the ability for human beings to pick good stocks over bad stocks,” she proclaimed. “You too should not doubt yourself in the job you're in.”
There's plenty out there to raise doubts. Just 19 percent of active funds beat market benchmarks last year. Things are looking up in 2017, but the momentum among investors remains tilted toward passive management.
Against that backdrop, Erdoes went out of her way to cheer up her stock-picking comrades. “Siri is not going to hold your hand and help you think about getting through these tough markets,” she said. In contrast, JPMorgan's fund managers will gladly hold your hand.