It’s easy to see why banks and fund managers alike are in love with automation – in terms of management, scalability and cost, machines are a lot easier to lover than people.

Yes, it’s true, machines lack flexibility and the warmth of human interaction and yes, they outsource the problem-solving to the customer but they have been something of a revolution when it comes to profitability.

In December in Germany and Holland the outperformer in the lending sector was ING Da – a business which has no branches and only online services – leading ING – the big Dutch lender to declare that the branch is dead.

The driver behind this declaration was the hidden economic data that the Germans, after being a nation of home renters are, in a continuing low inflation rate environment, starting to become a nation of home buyers and few of the German banks and their hundreds of small credit providers are good at processing mortgages.

However, the very interesting data on the rise of the machines hasn’t come from banking research or from the usual consultancy sources – instead it’s leaked out of the reports from Davos – the annual Swiss think tank attended by academics, Government ministers and interestingly this time by the Chinese premier Xi Jinping, Joe Biden from America and we are reliably informed, Westpac’s Brian Hartzer.

Technically, the information wasn’t a leak – it was a presentation from Eric Jing – who runs the financial services arm of Alibaba on what they have been able to achieve; a presentation which as far as we can tell went largely unreported.