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Winning the talent war in 2019

Jan 7, 2019 / Consumer Banking

As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I weathered more than my share of heartache this year. After winning an impressive 95 games, the Cubs were just nine innings away the National League’s Central Division title. But two games later, they lost the division and were knocked out of the playoffs. Season over, just like that. Suddenly, general manager Theo Epstein was on the firing line as reporters quizzed him about the talent that let him down and the prized players he might pursue for next season.

I can’t help thinking there’s a lesson of sorts there for our industry. When I think back on all the conversations I’ve had with financial services executives about their top challenges in 2018, just about everyone identified talent. You could say it’s been that way since the beginning of time. But as 2019 gets underway, the pressures to attract, retain and develop talent will test the financial services industry like never before. As we fight to win the talent war, three external forces make this a battle like no other:

  • First, the industry continues to recover from the consequences of the financial crisis of 2008-’09. Trying to get people excited about a career in the industry viewed by many as the cause of the crisis has been difficult enough. But recent scrutiny of sales practices have rekindled some of those reputational issues.
  • Second, we’re seeing a high demand for skills and experience in innovation, particularly in digital transformation. This proves very challenging with one demographic in particular: digital natives who’ve spent their whole lives in a digital world and have the expertise our industry needs to lead and contribute to transformation planning and technology implementation.
  • Third, the U.S. unemployment rate is the lowest in decades. For the financial services industry, it hit the 2 percent mark as of October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To think: We were very challenged during and following the financial crisis when industry reputation was the central issue. Now we have two more major factors complicating the situation even more. And so comes the question that ties it all together: What do we need to do differently to attract, retain and develop talent to be in position to achieve your strategic objectives?

Attract: Satisfaction beyond salary

While it’s important to look outside your organization as you recruit talent, understanding today’s employment market, we can also glean valuable clues from the views of the current banking workforce.

BAI Banking Outlook findings show that employees derive the most satisfaction with their company’s work environment (54 percent), followed by ethics and values (49 percent). You might think compensation is of high importance, and there you’d be right: 43 percent named it an area where they were least satisfied. But another area finished ahead of it: career development at 49 percent.

Interestingly, it only gets worse over time. The number of employees rating career development as one of the least satisfying parts of their job, by tenure, grows from 31 percent (less than five years) to 48 percent (five to 10 years) to 52 percent (10-plus years).

So we need to start by entertaining the question our candidates will ask sooner or later: “Where can I see myself going and growing here?” This can introduce a different perspective to the compensation issue. What will the organization do to invest in an employee’s advancement and professional development over the long term?

We know employees will balance compensation requirements with the experience they will gain, professional development opportunities and a cultural environment they enjoy.  This is great news for banks that must compete in this tight job market.  The message to communicate is clear: “Our bank is a place where you’ll have the opportunity to do fulfilling work that makes a difference for the customers and communities we serve.”

Retain: Creative ways to meet employees’ needs

The right technology can play a huge role in making employees happy, and DenizBank’s HR in a Pocket goes a long way towards that goal. It was a finalist in the Human Capital Innovation category for our 2018 BAI Global Innovation Awards, and ups the ante on the typical bank employee app that enables standard HR functions such as scheduling vacations or reviewing benefits.

HR in a Pocket uses gamification and other of the latest design techniques to deliver work-related information such as internal job postings—but it also far exceeds that, giving employees access to financial wellness resources and even an open-table restaurant reservations system.

Every time I’ve watched the video introduction to HR in a Pocket, I am impressed with Deniz Bank’s comprehensive approach to bringing value to their employees.  Staff members can even create social profiles and enter weekly drawings for entertainment tickets. It’s an approach to goes far beyond the typical employee app.

The 2018 BAI Global Innovation Awards winner in same category, Fifth Third Bank’s Maternity Concierge, also connects to employees’ outside lives. While it’s not the bank’s responsibility to help plan a baby shower or provide child care, Fifth Third bundled services essential to expectant and new parents to provide support during this important new phase of an employee’s life. It’s another example of how a bank creatively brought greater value to an important segment of their employee base, particularly working mothers.

In its first year, more than 400 of the bank’s employees accessed the services of Fifth Third’s Maternity Concierge, which is provided free of charge. Think about how many employees have been helped by the bank sending a clear, connecting message: “You matter, and so does your new baby.”

Develop: The rotation revolution

One thing is true in any organization:  At every level in every job, people come to work to do a good job and they have a desire to improve. They want to continue to get better and smarter and banking is no exception.  The financial services leaders committed to developing the people on their teams will not only strengthen retention but also prepare the bank for the future.  This commitment to development of skills and experience is essential to succession planning, particularly for middle and upper management roles.

Some banks are very committed to rotation of functional responsibilities over the long term. When a high-potential leader is given the opportunity to hold diverse roles, they strengthen their experience and competencies to be prepared for executive general management responsibilities.  One progressive executive told me how valuable it was to “not only walk in the shoes …. but wear the shoes of the leaders of other functional areas from lines of business, risk and compliance, human resources to finance.”  It’s a very different approach than being promoted in a linear way within a narrow part of the bank.  The perspectives gained make them better leaders. So, why don’t all banks do this?  It’s an investment and it takes time.  There must be a cultural commitment to investing in this way.

Putting it all together: Workplace talent equals working it now

In the meantime, sitting on withering laurels and waiting for things around us to change is clearly not an option. Change they will—but in ways to leave us further behind in this age of accelerated technology and workplace innovation.

You can bet Theo Epstein won’t spend his off-season idly wishing that the talent will come to him or stay with him as he strives to win another pennant. In fact, the media tells us he’s already working it—now. For all of us striving to win the talent war, and likewise come out on top, it’s a fine example to follow.

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Debbie Bianucci is the president and CEO of BAI.

For more insights  like these, check out our recent executive report: Decisions bankers need to make in 2019.