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Post-COVID-19 employee challenges extend beyond automation 

Jun 11, 2020 / Consumer Banking
employee training

Even prior to COVID-19, financial services, like many other industries, felt disrupted by technological advancements. The pandemic has accelerated much of what we predicted about the future of work into a considerably shorter time frame.

The pressure to adapt that traditional financial services organizations have been feeling will only increase after COVID-19. While these institutions have advantages such as regulatory scrutiny, decades-long customer trust, and relatively high cost of acquiring new customers, they are not standing idly by. There is a paradigm shift happening as banking and investment professions become intimately tied to technology. It’s no surprise that JPMorgan Chase already refers to itself as a technology company, employing 40,000 technologists.

Disruptive impact to the financial workforce

According to research from the World Economic Forum, finance industry workers are experiencing greater “skills instability,” with the need for continuous retraining just to keep up in the digital economy. Accenture’s Workforce 2025 report estimates that tech automation in the financial services industry will unlock up to US$140 billion in productivity gains and cost savings. Companies should reinvest these savings into strategic education programs for their employees. They cannot solely rely on recruiting efforts to fill the gaps.

Forward-looking CEOs and Business Roundtable members publicly acknowledge this issue and are doubling down on human capital investments. In 2019, CEOs from major U.S. corporations, redefined the role of a corporation, outlining five commitments including “investing in our employees” through additional education and training. Promises they’ve made should be kept in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Companies are emerging as natural providers of learning opportunities for their employees. The old model of front-loading education earlier in life and relying on it for decades is no longer feasible. Education and upskilling are important tactics for financial services CEOs to close the skills gap within their organizations. The challenge is finding effective ways to do this, especially when so much of higher education is in the process of being disrupted.

Bank of America’s Academy program makes career-pathing a reality for many entry-level workers, resulting in a thoughtful education program that provides the opportunities employees seek and the future-ready workforce employers need. As banks become larger and more complex, CEOs are prioritizing worker training, retraining and leadership development. In 2019, the Academy invested in the careers of more than 45,000 participants from the Consumer & Small Business and Merrill lines of business.

Target high-demand areas for upskilling

Upskilling initiatives should focus on high-demand areas such as data science, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. Reskilling efforts are particularly important for employees in roles that are susceptible to automation. Helping them move into future opportunities is part of managing a successful talent strategy.

Together, these efforts can form part of a broader culture of learning, growth and innovation. Universities have also been quick to keep pace, adding classes in cryptocurrency and digital ledgers. More than half of U.S. News & World Report’s top 50 global universities now offer at least one course in fintech, up from around 40% in 2018.

Employees are receptive and even eager for these opportunities. According to a Bain/InStride study, up to 70% of employees say they are more likely to stay with an employer or start a job with an employer who offers educational benefits. These workers want frictionless learning and development opportunities that can assist them as the pace of change advances. As adult learners, they recognize how important it is that these opportunities match their lifestyles and are easily accessible any time and any place.

And more can be done by CEOs within the financial services industry to help their employees attain the life-changing benefits of a college degree, similar to what companies like Starbucks pioneered with its Starbucks College Achievement Plan and Uber has initiated for workers in the gig economy. Helping employees develop the skills that will allow them to thrive in an ever-changing workforce is critical for boosting confidence and contributing to retention of an organization’s best employees.

Especially in times of uncertainty like we are currently experiencing, let’s not underestimate the power of educating employees and investing in their experience. The impacts of lifelong learning pathways are transformational for businesses, employees and communities alike.


Vivek Sharma is the chief executive officer and founder of InStride.