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News & blogs: Blogs

Blog: Why lifelong learning is the future of financial services

04 July 2017  
Fiona Macaskill

Fiona Macaskill is the Credit Services Association’s Head of Learning & Development and was instrumental in gaining Main Provider Status for the CSA on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) to deliver apprenticeship training to employers.


Last month (19-25 June 2017) was the Festival of Learning (previously Adult Learners Week), which marks the biggest celebration of lifelong learning in England.

The week before I attended the National Skills Academy for Financial Services’ (NSAFS) Skills & Apprenticeships Conference where one of the key themes was around the skills that those working in financial services will need in the future.

Both of these things got me thinking about how we can ensure that the financial services sector is fit for the future, particularly in the light of Brexit and other political/economic uncertainties which are putting pressure on the UK to increase its competitiveness on a global stage, while investing in homegrown talent. Financial services contributed 10% of GDP last year and 2.2 million people work in the industry (source: TheCityUK). We can’t afford to lose this value by not adapting to future challenges.

 

Working in a rapidly changing environment

Even more so than many other sectors, financial services has been through huge transformation in recent years and the pace of change doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon. Fintech, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), is set to transform the customer experience. It will enhance some job roles and replace others.

Ever-evolving regulation and compliance means that financial services roles have always required some aspect of ongoing learning and development, and senior roles have always required formal vocational training and qualifications. But many of the skills that these traditional forms of learning and development (L&D) teach may become defunct in the future. We need to look at new ways of embedding lifelong learning into financial services careers.

As one of the speakers at the NSAFS Conference said: Leaders and managers are going to have to know how to lead in an environment where there is rapid change and massive technology transformation. Job descriptions are already dating. Business leaders need to be looking two to three years into the future to get ahead of the game on key skills needs such as data analytics and behavioural economics.

Liz Moody from Open University who developed a fintech degree course said that trying to keep up is a constant challenge as things are moving so fast. This certainly resonated with me in my role at the CSA with the challenges we face keeping our materials up to date!

 

From specialists to generalists

Another key takeaway from the conference was that cross-disciplinary working, agility, and problem-solving will replace narrow specialisms in financial services in the future. In order to develop a workforce for the future that has all the right foundations in place, entry level qualifications and apprenticeships will be vital.

Compliance, for example, should be everyone’s responsibility, not just one person/department.

Amanda Gethin from Ernst & Young said that automation will change the profession and will change how they deliver for their clients. The rules are changing. There is a shift from doing digital to being digital and agility is coming up again and again.

The Apprenticeship Levy is a fantastic opportunity to improve productivity and deal with skills shortages but, as one of the conference speakers said, many HR directors still have “towels over their heads” when it comes to how to use it. Another speaker talked about apprenticeships as a starting point for a “race to the top” highlighting the fact that an apprenticeship is just the beginning when it comes to career progression, not the end point.

 

Recruiting for attitude, training for skills

Financial services has typically been very skills based and required high level qualifications just to gain entry. There is now a recognition that the workforce of the future will need to be more than technically very good at what they do – they will need the right social and emotional skills, and most importantly the right attitude. Making lifelong learning a part of the employee lifecycle rather than just a milestone that is reached and then completed, will help us work towards this culturally.

One speaker said that the industry constantly cannibalises talent this is not sustainable and I think some CSA members might agree! The skills needed are constantly changing but with the right people, anything is possible.

 

Tapping into new sources of talent

So, in order to be fit for the future, the financial services sector needs to diversify and adapt. The key to this is being able to attract talent from a much more diverse range of backgrounds. As another speaker said: “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to dance”. This is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s business critical. Currently, 40% of those working in the City are privately educated (source: The Guild of Human Resources). This has got to change.

The sector is already more diverse than many think, with 75% of those employed in financial services based outside of London and only 400,000 of the 2.2 million employees in banking, according to the Lord Mayor of the City of London in his speech at the conference. We need to look in new – and already obvious – places for talent.

But with the move from specialists to generalists, competition from talent is going to come from a whole range of sectors, not just within financial services.

 

Articulating the purpose

Debt collection is one area of financial services that has some major reputational barriers to overcome if we are to attract a new generation of talent who want to work for an organisation whose purpose they truly believe in. But no area of financial services is really immune to this stigma with the sector perceived as less attractive to candidates as it was in 2006 before the financial crisis.

We must demonstrate impact on society and not just ‘fat cat’ bonuses. One speaker, however, highlighted a big difference between the values espoused by financial institutions and what actually happens. If it’s not authentic, savvy candidates will see through it and retention will be poor. It requires a culture change, not just a change in recruitment/marketing practices.

 

Making L&D more practical/relevant

The key takeaway from the conference for me was how we make learning and development in financial services more practical/relevant. And vocational qualifications designed and delivered by employers/trade bodies, especially apprenticeships are the answer.

At the Credit Services Association , we’re proud to be at the forefront of skills/apprenticeship reform in our sector and are coming up with practical ways to give our members access to this through things like group buying power. Our Main Training Provider status for apprenticeships means that we can bring our industry knowledge and insight into the programmes and make them as relevant as possible.

There are many challenges ahead but I’m excited about the future of L&D in financial services and how the Apprenticeship Levy will help us to create a workforce fit for the future.


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