Implementing Robo-advisor in a Danish Bank: The role of the middle manager

Implementing Robo-advisor in a Danish Bank:
The role of the middle manager
A critical perspective

Anne-Christine Rosfeldt Lorentzen, Aarhus University,


Intelligent machines are continuously being implemented in various types of organizations providing better performance (Davenport & Ronanki, 2018), generating new occupations and making existing jobs evolve (Manyika et al., 2018). The machines are also filling more roles in management (Fuchs, Silverstone, and Thomas 2016). Fuchs et al. (2016) categorize three such roles by their degree of autonomy and proactivity: Assistant, advisor, and actor (table 1). This paper-in-progress focuses on an advisor, which bank managers use when talking to customers.

Assistant  Advisor  Actor 
Creating scorecards Maintaining reports 

Monitoring the environment 

Answering questions Building scenarios Generating options  Evaluating options Making decisions Budgeting and planning 

Passive                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Active 

Table 1: Accenture Strategy analysis, 2016: 2 

We do not know much about the middle managers‚Äô role in implementing systems based on artificial intelligence (Marr, 2018;¬†Saphir, 2018; Felten et al. 2018). However, middle managers play an important role when implementing change in general. The literature traditionally¬†describe¬†middle managers as change agents responsible for aligning subunits with the organization (Hrebiniak¬†&¬†Joyce,¬†1984;¬†Nonaka¬†&¬†MacMillan,¬†1986;¬†Nutt,¬†1987;¬†Raes,¬†Heijltjes,¬†Glunk¬†&¬†Roe, 2011). Disruptions are often perceived as active resistance (Bower, 1970;¬†Ketokivi¬†&¬†Casta√Īer, 2004) driven by individual middle managers (Courpasson, Dany, & Clegg, 2012; Zoller & Fairhurst,¬†2007)¬†based¬†on¬†their¬†rational¬†self-interest¬†(e.g.¬†Guth¬†&¬†MacMillan,¬†1986;¬†Meyer,¬†2006).¬†


Taking a less linear and sequential perspective (e.g. Carter, Clegg & Kornberger, 2008; Chia & MacKay, 2007; Chia, 1999; Tsoukas & Chia, 2002) disruptions are less deliberate and caused by 

e.g. social embeddedness (Regnér 2003); difference in sensemaking between top and middle (Balogun and Johnson 2005; Mantere, 2013; Mantere & Vaara, 2008); middle managers’ emotional stress (Thomas & Linstead, 2002); and in general the difficulties of being a middle manager (e.g. Harding et al., 2014). 

Both perspectives provide a basis for understanding disruptions related to the role of branch managers and department managers when implementing robo-advisor. However, they fall short in explaining the role of the IT Director: Preliminary observations depict both the IT Director and the employees as wanting robo-advisor to solve specific time-consuming tasks. Still, the employees are very frustrated interpreting the quality of robo-advisor negatively, even though it is state of the art. Taking a point of departure in both the ethnographic data and brief literature review, this paper seeks to answer the following: What is the role of the middle manager when employees become critical of the quality of a well-functioning robo-advisor that they do want solving time- consuming tasks? 



Ethnography (see Spradley 1980) proposed itself as a helpful method, because studying people in their everyday activities help the researcher to understand the complexity, intricacy and mundanity of organizational life (see Ybema et al. 2009). Scholars as Whyte, Goffman and Beckman (Chicago School) stated that fieldwork, participant observation, and native interpretations are the essence when investigating the empirical world (Becker, Hughes & Strauss, 1961; Blumer, 1964). 

The¬†empirical¬†setting¬†of¬†this¬†ethnographic¬†study¬†is¬†a¬†middle-sized¬†Danish¬†bank.¬†A¬†‚Äėtypical¬†instance‚Äô (Cunliffe¬†&¬†Karunanayake,¬†2013)¬†because¬†banks¬†are¬†one¬†the¬†many¬†types¬†of¬†organizations¬†in¬†which functions are continuously being automated, and an emblematic case (Silverman 2014: 73) in which¬†involvement,¬†dialogue,¬†motivation,¬†continuously¬†educating¬†managers,¬†and¬†the¬†well-being¬†of employees are of high priority, resulting in the organization often being nominated as one of the best places to work in¬†Denmark.¬†

Building on Cunliffe’s (2015) recommendations, data collecting methods include observing, informal conversation (see, for example Fenton and Langley 2011) questions at meetings with top management, middle management, and employees. Interviews, participation at events, participation in strategy seminar for the top management, and document access. Furthermore, data consists of posters made by middle managers and employees. Notes were made during the activities or as soon as possible. The ethnographic data consists of approximately 292,5 hours (table 2): 

Participant observation Approximately 211,5 hours  Non-participant observations Approximately 56 hours  Informal conversations As part of the observations:  Workshop (big focus group) 

Approximately 8 hours 



Approximately 17 hours 

Meetings with top upper middle management/shadow  5 x 8 hour meetings with all middle managers (35)  E.g.: 


During coffee breaks from 

Workshop with employees representing all departments in  Branch managers: 3 hours (1h40m, 20m, 1h) 



advisory board: 75 hours 


Meetings with top management: 25 hours 


Lunch with different ‚Äėcolleagues‚Äô: 45 hours¬†


Strategy kick off event: 8 hours 


New years party: 9 hours 


Meetings and workshops with external consultants and top management/upper middle managers: 21 hours 


Every day work in the organization: + 38,5 


5 x 1 hour morning meetings in branches 


1 x 8 hour internal course on communication 


1 x 3 Meeting with union people 

meetings in the top management, and with the middle management group. 


During transportation with upper middle management when meeting consultants, and with employees to parties/activities 

all 16 branches discussing strategy and in that regard also Robo-advisor.   

Union people: 2 hours 


HR director: 3 hours (6 x 30m) 


Communications director: 2,5 hours (5 x 30m) 


Head of business development: 1 hours (2 x 30m) 


IT Director: 4 

hours (2 x 1h + 4 x 30m) 



Implementing consultant: 45 minutes (1x) 

As is it often the case with rich ethnographic descriptions the paper-in-progress is encountering the problem of presenting it briefly (Van¬†Maanen, 2010). Vignettes presented itself as a way to solve this issue, as it is a well-established way of communicating the context and ‚Äėfeel‚Äô of ethnographic data (Barter & Renold, 2000). Therefore, the paper will present data through vignettes, and findings will be discussed in relation to the literature on change and middle management.¬†


Accenture Strategy analysis, 2016: w /br- pt/_acnmedia/pdf-13/accenture-strategy-wotf-machine-csuite.pdf 


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