Long reads

Banks are winning the war for talent and employees are the victors

It seems almost quaint now how animated we used to get about feisty Fintechs taking on lumbering legacy banks. These days the distinctions have blurred.

Digitisation, accelerated by the pandemic, has consumed everything from cashless payments to KYC compliance. As a result the line where pillar bank stops and disruptive challenger starts is less clear.

Banking the changes

It’s not just the move from cheques and cash to cashless payments. Remittances and business payments have been upended too, as Silicon Valley increasingly moves into financial services’ territory.

Peer-to-peer lending platforms and alternative investing are all part of the same tectonic shift. Data intelligence and AI are providing new ways of assessing banking risk while regtech and cybertech mitigates it. 

Out of office

Many employers have seen remote working become the new norm, requiring them to implement new people management platforms as well as global-but-local payroll and tax solutions.

The good news for employers is that such intense digitisation has placed the inherently conservative financial services sector at the heart of innovative technologies, a sexy space.

The bad news is that it makes the battle to attract and retain top talent more competitive.

For employees, it’s all good

Even before the pandemic, Deloitte’s report Future of Work in Financial Services found that the ability to attract and retain top talent had already become a “make-or-break” differentiator in financial services.

“To win in this space, the future financial services organisation must create a ‘simply irresistible’ working experience that is mutually beneficial for all stakeholders,” it said.

That means a “smart approach” that “puts employees at the centre, treats them like customers, and works to enable their success”. Happy days.

In particular, the “old, cold stereotype of an uncaring bank or brokerage will not succeed with a younger, more agile workforce,” it warns.

What do employers need?

The Financial Services Skills Taskforce report from TheCityUK, the industry-led body representing UK based financial and related professional services, reckons the organisations “that will become the most successful, and the sector’s likely future leaders, will be those that combine technical and functional knowledge with digital fluency and strong inter-personal skills.”

They will use these skills to harness new trends that benefit their customers. But in order to do this, the sector needs to invest in its people, working with them to develop the new knowledge, skills and behaviours required, it cautions.

A continuous learning mindset is now essential. “A mindset shift for employers and individuals will be necessary to achieve this, putting learning and skills at the heart of business strategy and planning,” it points out.

Skill-up for success

Management consultancy McKinsey suggests redeployment with effective reskilling is 20% more cost-effective than hiring and firing, as it reduces the number of new hires and the number of layoffs needed. “It also boosts an employer’s brand reputation by building a healthy employee value proposition marked by robust investment in people.”

The sector has responded with, for example, legacy giants such as ING fully embracing all the buzzwords that were previously the domain of the Fintech upstart.

“Tech is simply at the core of what we do”, it says, offering prospective candidates such carrots as “cool projects, latest technologies, IT festivals and hangouts” as well as agile working in small collaborative teams.

Both sides deploy the same weapons

If you’ve got your sights on a career move, some of the employers winning the battle for talent in innovative ways today include Oaknorth Bank. It offers an “entrepreneurial spirit, driven by the unmet financial needs of millions, and delivered by data-driven tools.”

Unlike the hierarchical banks of old, it takes pride in a flat organisational structure “where every single employee feels empowered to speak up, share ideas, and challenge the norm.”

But the borrowing works both ways.

Robinhood, a pioneer of commission-free trades via mobile app, deploys such HR best practices used by traditional financial services as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which provide support for staff, resulting in Rainbowhood, Parenthood and Sisterhood, to name just a few.

When it launched in 2010, Metro Bank was the first new high street bank to launch in the United Kingdom in over 100 years. Today it offers a mix of remote and office working, the chance to do paid volunteer work and a packed library of online courses to support upskilling.

Digital challenger Starling Bank says it is on a mission to “radically reshape banking” –  starting with its team.

“You’ll be encouraged to pitch your ideas, however big or bold”, the company says. 

It describes itself as a Fintech with a banking licence. “We’re a bunch of techies, artists, marketers, customer advocates and supporters, UX specialists, ops people, and the people that do the all-important risk, compliance and finance stuff.”

What it doesn’t say is that today, that’s increasingly true of all parts of the financial services sector.

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