Alistair Collier, Regional Director at Sanderson


In many sectors, a combination of technology and changing social expectations has now enabled agile working practices to become standard. It seems that the financial services sector has been somewhat slow on the uptake, however, with just a third (36%) of businesses in the industry offering flexible working. At the same time, competition for skills is heating-up, from both other sectors and from fintech start-ups that have been founded with flexibility in their DNA.

In recent years there has been a cultural shift away from pay being the main driver of job choice to a more holistic view; the full package, including working environment and work life balance now drives applicants’ career decisions. So much so that that one in four UK professionals have quit roles to find greater flexibility. We have increasingly found that candidates are not interested in even tentatively applying for roles with companies that are not offering an agile approach – it is now a ‘must have’, rather than a ‘nice to have’.

For those financial services businesses that have successfully developed a flexible working culture, the issue they often face is actively communicating their values and working practices in such a way that engages prospective candidates. In a candidate-short market, businesses that can showcase modern ways of working through their recruitment process are most likely to attract and retain the best talent.


Candidate comms

Finding the right balance might not be as distant a reality as perceived though. This is where recruiters can add real value – acting as an advocate for companies by articulating their values and demonstrating flexible working propositions through the recruitment process itself. There are several ways to do this effectively, from using websites and social media as a shop window into life at the firm, to more elaborate events targeting prospective candidates.

For example, if a financial services company is struggling to attract millennial professionals due to an inaccurate or outdated perception of ‘corporate’ culture, hosting events which give people a chance to see their office space and culture could be the perfect remedy. This is a tactic that has worked well for technology firms and fintechs – there’s no reason such networking events wouldn’t have a similar impact in other areas of the financial services sector without appearing to be pushing for a hard sell.


Thinking outside the box

Communication alone isn’t enough to solve the issue – greater agility within the recruitment process itself is vital. This has benefits for panels as well as candidates. It’s common for key stakeholders in financial services companies to be dispersed across the UK or even internationally, so time spent physically working in the same place can be at a premium. Recruiters that understand such complexities will adapt the process, making best use of technology so time isn’t wasted.

A streamlined interview process can be introduced which suits the needs of the company while highlighting flexible working processes to candidates. It may seem daunting at first, but one of the first habits to break might be the idea that all interviews need to take place face-to-face. Recruiters can develop a shortlist of candidates, then record interviews using previously agreed questions before sharing with key stakeholders to review remotely. This replaces the traditional first-round of interviews. This would be followed by a benchmarked competency test – only a candidate which passes both of these elements would be put forward for a face-to-face interview, significantly streamlining the process and making it much more agile and cost-efficient for time-poor financial services executives.

In order for this to be effective, a trust-based partnership needs to be developed which allows recruiters to gain an in-depth understanding a business’ values and proposition. This will ensure that recruiters with outsourced responsibility can act as an extension of the business, knowing intrinsically what to look for in a candidate.


Focus on candidate experience

Getting it right can not only save the company time and money but also to enhance their reputation. If the candidate experience is fluid, positive and informed but isn’t successful, they are likely to form a positive perception of the business regardless. The result could be them applying again in future but also sharing their experience with their peers, which in turn increases awareness of the brand and its values, all while helping to steal a march on the competition.

Conversely, getting the process wrong can be extremely damaging to both a business’ reputation and finances – the Recruitment & Employment Confederation estimates the cost of a bad hire at middle-management level is more than £132,000.

The UK’s financial services market is a key element of the country’s economic growth and the reputation of the businesses within the sector is central to its success. It’s therefore vital that companies ensure their recruitment processes and external communication highlight the agility and flexible working practices at the heart of their businesses. With this in place, the sector will continue going from strength to strength.



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