What’s keeping finance executives up at night? A number of key things: The speed of technological change and how that’s changing the industry generally; the inroads the big technology companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon are making into the sector; globally, the entrenchment of players such as China’s Alipay in the mobile payment space; the growing number of fintech companies popping up and raising the bar on consumer expectations; big data and how to use it effectively. And the question underpinning all this is “What are the critical skills necessary to drive growth in this new environment?”
“It’s not about machines taking over, it’s about a shift in skill sets and how to best use new technology. We need to be thinking about training for the future and not just filling the gaps we have today. That’s a big change. We weren’t attuned to that in the past,” says Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Toronto Financial Services Alliance (TFSA), a not-for-profit with a mandate of driving growth and competitiveness in Toronto’s financial services industry.
Of course, there has always been an evolution of skill sets in the workplace. It’s the accelerated pace of change that’s different. The result: “People across all industries, not just financial services, are thinking about how we are going to use technology effectively and the skillsets we will need to pair that technology with,” says Reynolds.
So what are the top critical skills the finance industry will need in the next three to five years? While all the talk right now may be about technical skills, it’s the so-called soft skills that will be key. Unlocking the Human Opportunity: Future-proof skills to move financial services forward, a new report from TFSA and PwC, has identified four categories of future-proof skills:
Human experience skills: These include emotional intelligence, empathy, communication and the ability to influence.
Reimagination skills: Curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and business acumen.
Pivoting skills. The willingness to change and ability learn new things quickly.
Future currency skills (digital and data acumen): Staying current and developing new technical skills will be a baseline requirement. See ability to pivot.
As for current skills and jobs that are being phased out, process-heavy areas such as quality assurance will become increasingly automated. People will still oversee these areas, but fewer people will actually being working in them.
Another key shift taking hold: a move away from specialization and towards a broader understanding of the business and how different functional groups fit together. “We need to be able to use data to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and to think bigger picture, not just in a way where we are really deep into one particular area but being able to synthesize a bunch of different areas,” says Reynolds.
This means careers will also change. In the traditional mode of financial services, when change was slower, people were typically in similar roles for much of their career. The report makes the case that is no longer sustainable. People will have to re-skill regularly. And that means career trajectories will change, too. In the past, you got on the ladder and tried to climb up. “Now, it’s more of a career lattice, where you bring core skills to different areas and continue to build new skills in new areas,” says Reynolds.
This is happening in lockstep with the emergence of the gig economy, where people (and “people” are largely defined as millennials) are no longer with just one, or two or three companies over the course of a career. “If you’re always having to reskill and pivot, people want careers to be more dynamic, too,” says Reynolds.
When it comes to leading in an environment where a state of flux is the norm, and many people are worried and uncomfortable not knowing what job they will have in five years or less, leaders will have to be just as adaptable as their employees.
This will require thinking ahead to what’s next in terms of skills, investing in people and ongoing training programs to reskill them. Leaders will have to match skills with work and not people with jobs, in order to make sure that with each new technological advance and business model revamp, people have the resiliency and support to learn something new and move on when one business area disappears and a new one emerges. This will also involve removing the stigma attached to being “restructured.”
“The time that leaders invest in talent development, engagement and culture will go up significantly,” says Reynolds. “They need to think about their organization’s value proposition to employees. What is the experience they are going to have? What are they going to learn? Will they be challenged? Is the workplace — right down to how it’s physically configured — engaging? The bar for employers is much higher in terms of making sure they have an appealing workplace.”