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How the finance and accountancy industry needs to buckle up for the long haul

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Veteran recruitment leader, Dominic Wade, is co-founder of specialist finance and accountancy talent firm, Wade Macdonald. Himself and Philip Macdonald co-founded the firm in the early 90s and since it has weathered three financial crises and a pandemic, now working with the likes of Blue-Chip companies across the UK.

Rising inflation and interest rates, an energy crisis, an unstable government, and constant flip-flopping of policies; the UK’s economy is in stormy waters for the foreseeable. As we near toward another recession, decision-making and futureproofing is clouded by uncertainty – the government certainly isn’t giving us much hope – and it’s yet to be said what the next two quarters will deliver for businesses. Many cheered at the repeal of IR35, the most ill-conceived pieces of legislation to ever be inflicted on businesses, but the appointment of Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor who introduced it, as the UK’s latest Prime Minister has put a spanner in the works.

Regardless, the show must go on and with the finance sector being at the core of the economy, firms must buckle up for the long haul if they have a view to come out stronger than before. It’s tempting, perhaps human nature, to recede to safety in times of uncertainty but knee-jerk decisions made now can cause years of immobility and risk falling behind competitors.

Play the long game

Nothing about this economy and job market is easy. The financial challenges we’re grappling with are completely new to some, namely new businesses and start-ups entering the market post-2008, and for others, this is just ‘yet another hurdle’, but the strategy always remains the same. Be cautious but play the long game.

The challenge during any economic crisis is balancing costs and revenue to ensure consistent profit and protect staff. Weigh up what can realistically be cut back on and put efforts into resources and initiatives that will benefit your long-term goals.

The current state of play won’t last forever, and the last thing businesses want to be doing is emerging from under a rock in six months’ time to find the business and its prospects decimated.

Scoop up the talent while the competition is down

Talent in finance and accountancy is abundant if you know where to look for it. While it’s a given that staff retention should be a priority, in times of crisis it’s a prime opportunity to get on the look-out for more talent. It will seem like a counter-intuitive move until we emerge from economic crisis and your competitors who made drastic cuts are clutching at straws.

Finance professionals understand the value of a (sensible) high-cost investment in the long-term, and if there were to be any investment made it should be in people. There are skills and talent shortages, but firms need to be more open-minded in their talent acquisition methods.

According to Wade Macdonald research in its 2023 Salary Guide, which looked at the current state of play of the UK’s finance and accountancy sector and what professionals value most, approximately a third of the workforce is actively engaged in looking at opportunities, and even if they’re not actively seeking a new job, 50 per cent could be enticed away for the right opportunity.

Financial Reporting Council data shows there are still disparities in equality – the industry’s gender pay gap sits at 10.9 per cent this year. On the diversity front, research found only one of the UK’s Top 20 accountancy firms is led by a CEO from an ethnic minority background. And Reboot results of 1,000 finance professionals reported in FN London suggests those from ethnically diverse backgrounds are not offered as many career opportunities as their white colleagues: nearly a third (31 per cent) of those from an ethnic minority background said this has made them consider leaving the sector.

Additionally, this year’s Social Mobility report showed over 10 per cent of young people from all backgrounds still remain NEETs impacting every sector beyond just finance and accountancy.

This trifecta of gender, ethnicity, and social mobility employment gaps will have long-term consequences on the sector if not addressed sooner. Particularly at a time when talent is in dire need, businesses need to be widening their talent pools to plug gaps in order to strengthen their offering and business pipelines – boosting social mobility at the same time.

By pursuing talent from multiple sources, firms are likely to gain candidates with varied backgrounds and experiences, which brings the fresh perspectives and multifaceted skillsets unlikely to be found when only hiring from one stream that is potentially outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Think apprenticeships, non-red brick universities, career-switchers and returners, and temp roles.

While it’s difficult to predict what the latter quarter of this year will have in store, namely with the recession which is predicted to last into the early part of 2023, it’s important to keep in mind that business goes on. Ultimately, the finance and accountancy industry has shown its incredible durability and ability to adapt to changing landscapes time and time again– and if anything, this should be a walk in the park compared to the pandemic.

Finance

The Importance of Experienced Customer Service Advisors in Finance

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If there is one thing which can be said about the finance sector, it would be that as a customer-facing industry, the most important skills within any job position would be customer service skills. However, what would those job skills in customer service be? And what is the experience required for customer services positions? Let’s look at that in terms of the finance sector so that you can see just how important it is that customer services responsibilities are monitored closely.

What Does a Customer Service Advisor Do?

There are actually two kinds of broad categories of customer service jobs. The first, and probably most well-known, is a customer service representative who takes incoming calls or chats from a chat box. In other words, a customer service rep takes queries and handles incoming communications. A customer service advisor is more likely to initiate communications to:

  • Advise on any changes to financial terms, such as due dates and amounts
  • Follow up on late or missed payments
  • Keep the lines of communications open to maintain a positive CX, Customer Experience

While not exactly sales reps, customer service advisors can often upsell on these courtesy calls. It is one thing that basic, entry level customer services reps aren’t really trained to handle. Sometimes, they can pass calls up the hierarchical customer service ladder to be handled within the tasks of a customer services advisor who can add services or upsell financial products. However, basic level customer service reps cannot handle those kinds of services.

General Customer Services Job Description

So, what then are some job description examples for customer services? As noted above, customer service duties are mostly limited to incoming queries and contact points. Customer services skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Exceptional communication skills
  • Ability to be an active listener
  • Knowledgeable about financial products and services
  • Ability to read into a customer’s intentions
  • A calm and quiet presence
  • Ability to think on their feet for unforeseen situations

And those are just some of the skills and responsibilities in customer services. It should be said that although a job applicant has had experience in customer services, most jobs will provide training based on their company’s best practices and policies. Therefore, customer services qualifications may require entry level experience for customer service jobs, but the onboarding process will prepare them for work at that company and within the job for which they are being hired to do. During that onboarding process, they will also be made aware of very specific responsibilities of a customer service rep.

Which Side of Customer Services Would You Like to Work Within?

It often takes a certain kind of personality able to initiate calls and contacts with customers. With so many unsolicited sales calls being received daily, many consumers are put off before the conversation can even begin. It can be frustrating, to say the least. Since they are already customers/clients of your financial products, they don’t realise that customer service advisors are simply making courtesy, follow-up calls. Are you patient in nature? If so, this might be the exact job for you!

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Financial Services Makes Gains In Employee Engagement

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By Phil Chambers, GM Workday Peakon Employee Voice 

 

A new report shows that the financial services industry improved in almost all elements of employee engagement last year. Can such momentum be sustained?

After more than two years of change, one thing is certain: keeping workers engaged has become more challenging – and more urgent. Record numbers of workers have left their jobs in the UK. And, as turnover has increased, employee engagement – people’s mental and emotional investment in their work and workplace – has been tested. In today’s climate, engagement isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative – especially as companies with engaged employees are known to reap benefits including higher productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

The financial services industry hasn’t been immune from the so-called Great Reshuffle. But, according to Workday’s latest State of Engagement Report, it did make measurable gains in employee engagement during 2021. Of the 17 industries analysed, financial services’ engagement ranking jumped from ninth to fifth place.

The report analysed nearly 9 million employee responses from almost 2.5 million employees throughout 2021. It compared the engagement scores given by employees working in different industries over the 12-month period, as well as scores for the 14 drivers of engagement – including autonomy, goal setting, meaningful work, reward, and recognition.

Organisations in the financial services industry have been considered less   quick to evolve than others. PwC recently characterised insurance companies, for instance, as “traditionally risk-averse and slow to change”. But, as the report shows, financial services clearly made some improvements. It is noteworthy given the enduring pandemic-related economic turbulence of 2021 – and the fact that during that time global engagement scores overall slightly declined.

 

Where The Financial Services Industry Improved in Employee Engagement

Remarkably, the financial services industry saw increased rankings and scores in all but one of the 14 engagement drivers that the State of Engagement report measures.

Of all 17 industries analysed, financial services took top place for goal setting by the end of 2021 (up from sixth at the start of the year) and landed among the top three sectors for strategy and recognition too. These strong results indicate the industry provided clear direction to its people at both individual and organisational levels, and appropriately recognised employees when they met their goals.

The improvement in the industry’s overall engagement, however, was driven largely by a sizable increase in its environment driver score in 2021, suggesting that a significant number of employees responded positively to having more freedom around where they worked during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, it was unusual for financial services firms to offer flexible options at all. But, in 2021, more than ever before, many firms’ employees were working remotely or enjoying a hybrid of both remote and in-office work – as and when offices started to re-open. This unprecedented choice in where, how, and when they worked was appreciated, as the report indicates, by many workers in the sector.

 

Where There’s Room For Improvement

As the report found, many employees feel the amount of work they have is increasingly unmanageable. Workload continues to be a pain point across all industries globally, with workload satisfaction scores dipping slightly in 2021. At the end of the year, financial services received its lowest engagement-driver score for workload and ranked 11th among the 17 industries analysed.

This indicates employees in the financial services industry found their workload less manageable as the year progressed, which is perhaps unsurprising when considering the pandemic’s ongoing toll in many parts of the world, and the fact that remote working can lead to ‘always-on’ work lives.

To help mitigate burnout risk and diminished engagement going forward, financial services leaders and managers will need to stay close to their employees in the months ahead to find out how they can best support them, whether that’s with additional resources, greater work flexibility, or updated benefits. By regularly staying abreast of people’s needs and taking the necessary action, organisations can spot potential problems before they lead to resignations.

 

What The Industry Should Avoid Going Forward

In recent months, we’ve seen some financial institutions try to take a “return to normal” approach, requesting their people go back to working onsite five days a week. But, as the report shows, this approach may not be the best one for everyone, particularly as the past two years have revealed that many employees appreciate and benefit from a greater degree of flexibility.

Of course, not all organisations will be able to provide hybrid or remote arrangements for all their people. But greater flexibility doesn’t necessarily have to mean working remotely. It could mean more flexible scheduling options, or a shift in working hours to enable a greater work-life balance.

Either way, to retain the engagement gains achieved in 2021, the financial services industry should resist the temptation to look back, and must instead take learnings from the past two years. Amid so much economic and societal change, and with employees continuing to shift jobs in record numbers, companies cannot simply go back to before, but need to continue moving forward, listening to the needs of their people, and leading with empathy.

Specifically, leaders and managers in financial services will need to stay closer than ever to employee feedback, going beyond listening and working fast to implement change accordingly.

For the industry to continue making positive gains in employee engagement, it will need to: consider how to retain a degree of flexibility – updating models to reflect evolving employee needs; continue to provide clear individual and organisational direction to those working remotely and on site; create and maintain more manageable workloads through prioritisation and automating repetitive tasks; and continue to reward and recognise employees for their hard work and achievements.

While great strides were made last year, it’s more important now than ever that leaders in the financial services industry determine and understand how employees are feeling so that organisations can explore and shape a future of work that works for everyone.

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