Matthew O’Neill, Industry Managing Director, VMware EMEA


The financial services industry has lost its mojo. There was a time – in the not-too-distant past – where it was the place to work. But the industry that we know today is no longer the place young talent. Other sectors simply have surpassed the sector on the ‘cool’ factor.

There is a solution, and it comes from an unlikely source. The pandemic. It has forced companies, including those in the financial services industry, to change working practices.

But it’s going to require a more open-minded approach, which won’t be easy for an industry steeped in very traditional views and big on security and compliance. That said, opportunities like this don’t come around very often so I’ve outlined three reasons why the future of talent in financial organisations depends on them grasping it with both hands.


Timing is everything

Wind back the clock to before 2020 and it would’ve been inconceivable for most financial firms to embrace regular remote working outside of the occasional snow day or plumbing emergency. Presenteeism largely equaled work. It has taken something as dramatic as a global pandemic to force the financial services industry into changing this perception.

Investment in corporate real estate has been a key reason for this. Companies wanted to optimise the number of people consuming the buildings that they pay huge, fixed costs to build, rent, run and manage. But culture – across sectors – is arguable still the biggest problem. Being seen in the office was considered far more valuable than actual content output.

While the flaws in both reasonings for avoiding remote working were well known, it took the pandemic to show just how flawed they were. The challenge and opportunity now are for executives to look at how they can rethink the office environment to make it one that supports hybrid working models, as well as rethink culture through different ways of measuring success.

This is crucial if you want to attract the next generation of talent. For example, HSBC recently decided to scrap the entire executive floor of its London HQ to remove the divide between C-suite office managers and everyone else. They recognise the importance placed on flexibility and an inclusive culture by the younger generations and are looking at how they can introduce changes to make themselves more attractive to that talent.


Big Brother, no thank you.

Technology, of course, plays a key role here.

The adoption of video and collaboration platforms have now gone from a nice-to-have for executives to a mandatory need-to-have for all. Traders at Barclays, for example, have adopted messaging platform Symphony, which has bank-level compliance and security to keep in touch. Installed on company phones and employee’s computers it has become, a “pure and compliant” social network for traders. This is just one example of why distributed working is achievable. Made possible by the ability to manage security, all the way to today’s distributed edge, centrally.

So, they’ve done the work that enables people to do their jobs. Now they need to take it a step further and approach technology from the angle of what makes people the most productive. That doesn’t mean – as is a possible short-sighted remedy to not having line of sight of your employees – putting in place spyware or screen monitoring capabilities to track how much time employees are spending at their computer or counting the number of keystrokes.

That starts with a mindset shift – to look at the employee experience as a productivity measurement. As PWC outlines, that means looking comprehensively at the nature of work, the activities that different employees perform, and their output. Focus on what have they created or driven rather than how many hours they spent on the phone or in meetings.

To support that further, organisations should also consider how individuals can improve their productivity through new ways of working and the development of digital skills. Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC) chief executive Claire Tunley recently stated that “investment in learning and developing is not keeping pace with the sector’s evolving needs”. By showing new talent that they offer better development opportunities or the ability to work in a way that suits them, they are going to appear much more on the pulse. And they can also better develop existing talent rather than always having to recruit from outside.

Which brings me nicely to my third point.


Choice not conformity

This is the industry’s opportunity to truly embrace difference. To start giving employees the right set of tools to do the job, in a way that they are exceptional at. To get the most from their people, play to their differences and strengths (or as René Carayol calls them, their Spikes) rather than trying to transform them to fit into a bell curve. A basic example is that some employees will want the latest version of Windows and some will want Mac OS. Organisations can make it the individual’s choice and give them a level of flexibility that makes them feel valued.

Mel Newton, Head of Financial Services People Consulting at KPMG UK put this perfectly, “flexibility is more than just allowing people to work from home on the occasional Friday. What the future workforce wants is personal choice”.

To compete for the best talent, personal choice and flexibility is what financial services firms will have to deliver. These need to be embraced, even in the most established of firms.


The draconian days are over

Rethinking working practices in financial services is long overdue. While not everyone is on board, there are far more who are embracing the opportunity for change. As Claire Tunley said, “the skills issue is bigger than any one firm” and it will get worse if organisations don’t start thinking about their people differently. They are technologically ready to do so but it’s going to need a different culture and the courage to leave tradition behind.


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