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Winning the war for talent

Managing the return to the workplace is just the beginning.


The best-performing financial services companies have long prioritized talent. They recognize the importance of attracting and retaining top people who can help the organization achieve its goals.

In 2022, one of the most important drivers of success for financial services companies will be an ability to develop solid strategies that address the changing preferences of the workforce. In addition to addressing higher-than-normal turnover as part of the “Great Resignation,” these companies must also strengthen their recruiting value proposition to stand out in a competitive job market.

How people want to work, how they use technology, how they set priorities and how they allocate their time—the pandemic has changed all of this. Working from home has given people more control over their schedules. Continuing to provide that flexibility is critical, as is a commitment to professional development. Upskilling and reskilling will enable employees to evolve into new roles that may better match their expectations for work.

People need to believe in their company’s mission and feel good about who they work for and the work they do, whether their physical workspace is in the office, at home or a hybrid arrangement. A strong and vibrant culture is the most important determinant of success in attracting, developing and retaining talent.

Challenge your conventional wisdom

When I started in banking many years ago, people made jokes about “bankers’ hours.” But back then, young and ambitious employees knew that the way to advance in the organization was to put in long hours. It meant asking for more projects. Visibility mattered a lot—it affected your ability to develop valuable relationships with customers and senior bank executives. It was how you got ahead.

But that was then and this is now. With new preferences and modern technology, face time is no longer a measure of commitment or a driver of results. Today’s workers have different views about how to advance while satisfying their requirements for balance and flexibility. You need to understand what your employees value in terms of how they want to work, and be open to testing new models.

Banks and credit unions should also remember they aren’t competing for talent exclusively with other financial institutions. The results of our talent management benchmarking study suggest that the average time to fill open positions has expanded over time, especially for higher paid and more specialized roles.

Be creative in professional development

Career pathing is so much more than outlining the steps an employee needs to take to move up to the next level. Today’s workforce doesn’t think in yesterday’s linear terms, and neither should financial services leaders. New approaches can also help organizations become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

In the early stages of the pandemic, banks of all sizes were deluged with applications for the Paycheck Protection Program. Many quickly reassigned employees from across the organization to small-business lending and, within days, trained them to support small-business customers in the PPP process. What if staff development took on more of this sense of mission and urgency? Imagine the hidden talents that could be uncovered that would be good for both employees and the bank.

When a bank’s employees tell their networks that their employer has encouraged them, trained them and prepared them for new opportunities, the bank develops a reputation for having a culture of development and advancement and for being a highly desirable place to work.


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Recognize that leadership matters

Gone are the days when financial services companies competed solely on the size of their compensation packages. To a growing degree, pay and benefits are table stakes; culture and leadership are more powerful differentiators. It isn’t easy to build a culture that enables employees to contribute at high levels and work in ways that largely match their expectations. But it can be done with exceptional leadership.

People are more likely to be proud of the company they work for if they believe in their leadership—the C-suite, middle management and their direct managers. Exceptional leadership at all levels of the organization provides clarity, inspiration and support to help employees do their best work.

The pandemic has provided a laboratory to test a variety of models using different tools, approaches and technology. Leaders can and should use this experience to make substantive changes that will improve how they retain, develop and attract top talent.

Success will be all about creating a culture in which people can do their best work, in the way they want to do it, working for leadership they trust and admire—in 2022 and beyond.

Debbie Bianucci is president and CEO at BAI.

As you’re fine tuning your financial institution’s strategy for the new year, gain insights on emerging industry trends in our Executive Report, “A look ahead to banking in 2022.”