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Goldman's Rise of the IPO Machines

Goldman Sachs is embracing the machines.

The firm that has long cultivated an image of relationship banking and trusted advice -- in reality Goldman was always more of a trading house than rivals Morgan Stanley or boutiques like Lazard -- now says it plans to hand over about half of the IPO process to computers.

Goldman is trying to portray the move as not being driven by pressure on fees or cutting costs. The executive in charge of the effort, George Lee, says Goldman's IPO bots won't replace actual bankers. He says it's really about giving more technology to clients. CEOs get an app to watch their IPO unfold in real time. Goldman's junior bankers get more time to focus on the slightly less grunty work of corporate filings.

But it's hard to believe that Goldman's push to automate the process is not a function of the fact that the IPO market and the fees that used to flow from it have been drying up. Last year, the global IPO market generated just $4.3 billion in fees, down from $12...