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Eric Schmidt said ATMs led to more jobs for bank tellers. It’s not that simple.

The Alphabet executive chairman was citing a popular, and flawed, anecdote about automation.

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Eric Schmidt is calling himself a “job elimination denier” when it comes to automation, and on Friday he shared a popular anecdote about ATMs to support his position. The problem is, the anecdote is not completely accurate.

ATMs led to an increase in the number of bank tellers, said Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet.

“There are more bank tellers now than ever because banks are more efficient,” he said at the Global Digital Futures Policy Forum at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

He’s not entirely wrong. From 1970 to 2010, the number of bank tellers in the U.S. increased from a little under 300,000 to around 600,000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers cited by the public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute.

But he’s not really right, either.

The reason ATMs led to more bank teller jobs is that ATMs allowed banks to open more branches, since each branch could be run with fewer tellers, which also meant banks could hire more tellers overall.

But now the number of branches is on the decline, “because of industry consolidation and technological change,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal agency predicts the number of bank teller jobs will decline to 480,500 by 2024, down from 520,500 in 2014.

That technological change includes some banks allowing customers to interact with tellers through webcams at ATMs, according to BLS. ATMs are generally getting more sophisticated, the Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2014.

Of course, teller job trends don’t all come down to ATMs. There are regulations and economic trends. And there’s mobile banking, which also involves automation of work previously handled by humans.

So can Schmidt say ATMs led to more bank teller jobs? For a time there was a correlation, but that’s not the same as saying bank tellers’ job prospects have benefited from automation.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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