The key thing banks have to get right? Workforce planning

Adam Rhodes, Principal Solution Consultant, Finance (UK&I) at Anaplan


It’s no surprise that the financial services industry is facing a tough time right now. We are seeing definite signs that the global economy is going through its most tumultuous period since 2008. In the UK, bond yields have skyrocketed as government borrowing costs hit levels seen during the global financial crisis. Challenger banks are not faring much better than traditional players: the digital finance app Monzo reported a net loss of £116 million for the 2023 financial year.

At such a time, retail banks are doing everything in their power to preserve their customer base. Competition in this sector is fierce, given the similarity of each individual bank’s product offering. If a customer is unhappy, it is relatively simple for them to move their capital elsewhere. As such, banks need to provide flawless customer service to ensure their customers feel looked after.

Of course, the definition of good customer service has also undergone change in the past decade. Digital banking has become completely ubiquitous and replaced many in-person interactions and analogue processes. The pace of change sped up further during the pandemic when banks were forced to re-evaluate their digital and physical footprint and closed branches, redirecting in-person services to more call-centre and site-driven contact.

In this new setting, success for retail banking is synonymous with spotless workforce planning. Adequate staffing levels mean customer queries are resolved efficiently, and customers have a frictionless experience. Banks armed with a strategic workforce plan will be best placed to succeed amid 2023’s gruelling conditions.

It sounds easy enough – but getting workforce planning right is a complex and delicate process. It needs a forward-thinking yet agile mindset and intelligent forecasting tools to factor in both changing trends and customer needs, as well as process vast quantities of data.

With a few considerations, leaders can get a handle on workforce planning and maximise customer success.

  1. Harness the power of AI and machine learning.
Adam Rhodes

AI has been making headlines for many years and months, especially since the release of ChatGPT. While there have been numerous controversies since, that does not take away from the wide array of benefits AI can bring, especially concerning speeding up planning processes. AI and ML can complement human brainpower and increase the precision of workforce planning, allowing planners to build various disparate factors into forecasts, from socio-cultural events that can spark changes in customer behaviour to interest rate fluctuations.

By way of an example, let’s look at major sporting events. Data has consistently shown an increased risk of scam and fraud activity around such events for various reasons, such as reckless sports betting or rushed online ticket purchases. This means that fraud-focused call centre teams will face a spike in call rates over a short period of time, and therefore must be staffed appropriately. Otherwise, the bank faces not just the risk of dissatisfied customers, but also an increase in losses as a result of unaddressed and repeated scams.

AI and ML-driven forecasting is valuable in situations like these, as they can automatically take into consideration sporting events into workforce strategies by making well-informed decisions and accurate predictions about call centre traffic by relying on historical data and weaving in external factors. Banks can then use this insight to design staffing plans that optimally cover the peaks and throughs throughout the year and allocate resources effectively. The overall result is increased confidence in planning and, most likely, better customer support and more value provided, which protects customer loyalty.

  1. Step away from spreadsheets.

Workforce planning is one of the more complex business processes as it is based upon sets of complex, constantly changing data. From compensation and benefits to location, performance, skills, training times and content, various kinds of information need to be considered.

Despite the complexity of the task, many companies remain tempted to use static spreadsheets to keep track of these different data sets. This is difficult to engage with and extremely time-consuming to update. Just think how long it would take to individually update a spreadsheet every time an employee was hired, promoted, received a pay adjustment, relocated, or quit the business. This is a difficult task on any day, let alone with a workforce of several hundred people present in multiple markets with different employment laws. That takes exponentially more time and becomes near impossible to maintain with fresh and accurate data – and decisions made with outdated data won’t reflect the business’ and the customers’ needs.

Banks require a modern solution for optimised planning that is automated and cloud-based and stores data in a single environment, with changes reflected in real time. This way, banks will have visibility over their resources at any given time and be better positioned to allocate people correctly across the business.

  1. Think about upskilling and re-skilling.

Workforce planning is more than just a numbers game: to satisfy customer needs, it’s also important to get the right people in the right roles. The rise of digital-first banking places more emphasis on roles and skills in retail banking.

This can mean focusing on hiring for certain roles or reskilling or upskilling the existing workforce, for example, training in-person tellers to be call centre agents. An agile planning model supports this endeavour, too, as it allows planners to work qualitative and quantitative considerations together in different staffing scenarios.

Planning solutions can also provide key insight for employee retention. Banks can use workforce data to model out the potential risk of attrition. Factors such as benefits, compensation, organisational changes, and manager turnover can all be gathered to identify high-risk employees. Leaders can then focus on engaging with these individuals by, for instance, investing in training programmes that help them feel motivated and engaged, thereby minimising the risk of attrition.

Banking habits continue to shift with consumer behaviours. Banks must take this into account to maximise customer satisfaction. Workforce planning tools can inform strategic plans that increase retention, mitigate risk, and keep the business afloat amid difficult circumstances in the next financial year.


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