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The return to office is here, so what’s next for the financial services industry?

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By Sof Socratous, VP for Northern Europe at Poly

 

Offices around the globe have welcomed employees back. And after some false starts, the finance industry is hoping that the return to office will finally stick. Banks including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Bank of America have all brought in policies and eased restrictions to encourage people to come in.

However, there is a challenge facing the financial services sector: employers are expecting employees to come into the office four or five days a week, to strengthen collaboration. Whereas employees want far less time in the office, pointing to first-hand experience that working remotely is both convenient and productive. In fact, 96% of financial industry professionals say they would prefer a mix of office-based and remote working in a post-Covid environment.

Research also shows 54% of the finance sector are fully prepared for the future of hybrid work, whilst 34% are only prepared in the short-term. And many firms are concerned that hybrid working could have an impact on customer relationships, with questions being raised: “How can you build trust without meeting clients in person? How can you look and sound your professional best on video? How can you train new remote employees in the art of managing relationships and closing deals?”

What they need to realise is those who get it right can actually earn a new competitive advantage in retaining talent, boosting client relationships, and optimising collaboration workflows.

Customers want hybrid too

What firms must realise is that employees are not alone when it comes to reaping the benefits of hybrid working. Clients too are embracing hybrid work schedules and choosing to do more meetings virtually for convenience.

Many years ago, the only way to access finances would be to visit a bank in person and have a conversation over the counter with the teller. But in today’s digitalised world, there isn’t a need to physically venture into a bank, given the time that can be saved by interacting online. Times are changing and clients will reward firms that can expedite decision-making, provide immediate access during crisis moments, and streamline routine and procedural matters via on-demand video calls.

It’s time to meet employees’ needs

Hybrid working is also an essential perk in a competitive market with a talent shortage. By offering employees the option of hybrid work and providing them with the technology to be able to do it successfully, firms can attract and retain top talent. After all, research shows that over half of organisations (56%) believe that if they don’t address their hybrid work plans, they’ll start to lose staff and will be unable to attract new talent.

It’s in employers’ best interests to ensure that the work-from-anywhere culture they create is one with equal opportunity and experience for all at its core. The goal should be to provide a consistent, professional, and friction-free experience regardless of location so everyone has an equal seat at the table. This means understanding each employee persona and taking a people-first approach to then equip workers with the right enterprise-grade headsets, desk phones, and video conferencing devices – no matter where they decide to work from.

The financial industry is composed of many different types of businesses, so enabling hybrid working should not be viewed as a one-size-fits-all situation. For example, sales and contact centre agents have very different needs to client-facing deal teams in M&A. Call centre agents need to be comfortable, with hands-free headsets that prioritise clear audio and enablement of a distraction-free environment while deal teams need embedded technology to track speakers as they talk so they can hear every nuance and give equal weight to all those involved in the interaction. No single communication and collaboration style fits all.

Concerns around training new remote employees can also be eliminated, as the right meeting technology makes it easier for mentors/managers to find that human connection for guidance and continue nurturing skills when they’re off-site. And not only will this adoption of technology create an equal collaboration experience among colleagues but also maintain the same level of professionalism as they would meeting with customer in person.

Taking the leap to hybrid will reap rewards

By its nature, the financial services industry is risk-averse, and that can get in the way of making changes. But, the benefits of blending on-site and remote work are rich. Firms that can make the shift to hybrid with the right technologies can build stronger customer relationships, improve operations with better communication and collaboration, and attract and retain top talent. Ultimately this will separate the winners from the losers in this challenging market.

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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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The FTX collapse: Lessons learnt for the CFO

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‘A complete absence of trustworthy financial information’ were the words used to describe the cause of cryptocurrency exchange FTX’s demise last week. Although an extreme example of incredibly poor risk and data management, it brings to light – yet again – the importance of getting financial planning right.

Following the collapse, the question on everybody’s lips has been – could this have been avoided? The answer is highly complex, however identifying, managing and mitigating internal and external risks should be at the top of senior leadership’s priority list – simple. The teachings here for CFOs across all industries are rooted in risk management. It was a lack of planning from senior executives that caused the current crypto industry crisis and should be considered a wake-up call to senior leaders across a multitude of sectors.

We are entering an uncertain economic winter, and CFOs are facing risks previously unknown, which are going to be impossible to mitigate without valuable insight and suitable technology. In the rocky months ahead, operational ‘leaks’ or financial losses will not be limited to crypto companies resisting the lasting effects of FTX’s collapse. If businesses across all sectors are to survive one of the most complex economic environments in recent times, CFOs will need to ramp up their risk management.

Hartmut Wagner

A Deloitte survey of CFOs found that 63% believe recession will hit within the next year and are already dealing with the sharp rises in financing costs. Additionally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecasted that global growth will falter from 3.2% in 2022 to 2.7% in 2023 because of tightening financial conditions in most regions. Ultimately, the outlook is challenging enough without the prospect of avoidable risks that can be prevented with the right planning and processes.

 

Automate systems or sink

Recent Gartner data shows that under one-third of CFOs are confident that technology they have available to them can ensure future company success. But to survive the recession and thrive on the other side, technology will be key throughout the finance function.   The Great Resignation has also added urgency for CFOs to automate more business and financial processes. The labour shortage, which started in hospitality and airlines, has hit the financial sector and has created a skill gap that senior leaders are battling to fill. No one is immune, as even Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs are suffering ‘talent wars’ as they fight to attract and retain finance professionals.**

Additionally, CFOs are facing ‘quiet quitting’, another problem that translates to increased employee disengagement which has recently gone viral across social media. The trend, gaining traction across Europe, encourages workers to avoid going above and beyond their job description and is lowering productivity levels. Automating the finance function, for one, alleviates the pressure on stretched teams by adding a virtual ‘team member’ that can take over repetitive and time-consuming transactional processes. This can break the negative cycle of further resignations as remaining employees will have more time to focus on strategic decisions, offering them the chance to become true value creators. Removing these arduous manual tasks will also attract employees and give businesses the upper hand in the ongoing ‘talent war’.

Take processing invoices as an example. It’s a simple but time-consuming task that can often be derailed by human error. Intelligent software can create efficiencies by reducing the time to completion and eradicate costly mistakes. It can also help to combat issues associated with ‘quiet quitting’ as disengaged employees will have time to focus on the tasks that they find more stimulating.

 

Achieving well-rounded cash visibility

In this period of economic uncertainty, cash is no doubt king and having a rounded view of company finances is crucial. Staying on top of a business’s cash position is tricky and slow if balances are still being drawn by hand. It’s labour intensive, time-consuming and there’s risk of being blindsided by putting valuable time into non-strategic tasks.

Instead, technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) can provide clarity on current and future cash balances and flows, meaning CFOs can anticipate potential cash flow concerns before they become a problem. Plus, the technology can provide actionable insights into the spending and cash flow trends of a company, and AI can forecast potential hurdles and scenarios ahead of a business in a way that people alone can’t. This means the CFO’s decision-making powers grow and deliver better risk management. For a job based on data, implementing technology like this should feel like a natural progression.

 

The future CFO, now

The recent FTX collapse – rooted in a lack of financial planning – only highlights further that humans, without the right technology solutions, cannot deal with the risk management complexities in the modern era. Interestingly, a Gartner Survey conducted this summer highlighted that 45% of CEOs and CFOs would cut digital investments only as a last resort in difficult economic times. Employees and technology were prioritised over investments in mergers and acquisitions, which highlights CFOs’ recognition of the success of technology in driving efficiencies and protecting margins.

Even within industries less volatile than crypto, the threat of collapse is on the mind of most CFOs as we enter a period of economic downturn. For some, the risk might seem less obvious and, therefore, it’s impossible to accurately mitigate against without the right tools. Consequently, over the coming months, it is technology what will set one CFO apart from the next.

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