The future of talent in a digitally-enabled financial services industry

Algorithmic Mechanic.

Conversational Interface Designer.

Digital Process Engineer.

Partnership Gateway Enabler.

Does any of this sound like you? No? then think again about a future in the Financial Services space. These are likely to be some of the in-demand roles in Banking as per futurist Tom Cheesewright and banking giant HSBC.

Whilst earlier bankers were only responsible for their core function with the technology related work being outsourced to the ‘IT department’, today each professional must be digital-first, technology-savvy in her thinking and approach- regardless of whether you are in front, middle or back-office functions.

So, what is really driving this changing role and profile of the ‘new age banker’.

It is the adoption of ‘ABC of Emerging Technology’ – Artificial Intelligence (or Automation), Blockchain and Cloud computing.

Let me break this down for you

  1. Automation/Artificial Intelligence– Probably the most disruptive technology trend that will impact the future of banking. There are estimates that AI could cut up to 2.5mn jobs in Financial services and save banks up to USD 1tn in costs by 2030(1).  So what areas are likely to get impacted the most. The three with most potential, according to me, are:

(a) Customer Service– AI powered chatbots, robo-advisors providing personalized financial advice at scale etc.

(b) Accounting – Combination of Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision (all branches of AI) to automate repetitive accounting tasks like reconciliation of accounts and transactions, preparation of financial statements etc.

(c) Risk Management- Use of predictive data analytics to develop credit underwriting models using combination of structured and unstructured data; real-time fraud management using neural network techniques and many more.

  • Blockchain- Another big disruptor, Blockchain is a decentralized ledger-based database that offers key advantages of security, anonymity, and openness. It has the potential to save banks billions in cash by dramatically reducing processing costs. In fact, a World Economic Forum report(2) has predicted that by 2025, 10% of global GDP will be run on blockchain based technology platforms.
  • Cloud computing- There is a growing movement away from a clunky, inflexible, on-premises IT architecture of banks to a cloud native, cloud first architecture. Cloud, as we know, offers banks the flexibility, reliability and scalability in its IT architecture that is needed to keep adapting to the changing customer needs and technology developments.

The above will form the bed-rock of Banks in the future and clearly, talent that is well-versed with the above trends and that possesses the related technical skill sets will have no dearth of opportunities in the FS industry in the medium to long term.

So, does that mean that only these ‘hard skills’ will be the key to success in future?

Ironically, the more tech heavy the industry becomes, the more valuable will be the ‘soft skills’. Going forward, the ‘human skills’ are likely to also be in great demand-empathy, curiosity, creativity, adaptability, cultural sensitivity and navigating ethical dilemmas amongst others.

But it is not a zero-sum game when it comes to the critical skill sets. As professionals, we need to think of ourselves as ‘hybrid bankers’ i.e. those that are equipped with a combination of knowledge and understanding of the technology driving banking transformation as well as the ability to have an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset that is comfortable working in an ever-changing environment.

The next logical question you may have is – what exactly do I need to become a hybrid banker?

In my opinion, there are 4 skills and characteristics that will define the hybrid banker of the future

  1. Be a friend of the machine– There must be a general level of comfort with technology and openness to lifelong learning and need to upskill. To some, this may not come naturally. Especially, if they have never really paid attention to the likelihood of their jobs getting disrupted by machines. However, there is no escaping the truth that banking in future will have as much a role for machines as for humans. The silver-lining to this challenge is that as technology moves to a low-code/no-code design configurations, it will allow career bankers (with little or no IT background) within organizations to develop, test and improve new capabilities.
  • Be an Entrepreneur– The roles within banks are likely to become more fluid, less well defined and in constant need of being adaptive to change. As a result, employees who are proactive, take initiative and go out of their way in search of new opportunities for their organizations and customers will have a higher chance at success.
  • Be a problem-solver- If banking will become more mechanized then why should bankers be good at problem solving? After all, isn’t that what technology is supposed to do for us. The reason is that trust in humans will still be mighty important, especially when it comes to complex products like mortgage, retirement planning etc. The ability to empathize with the customer, stand in her metaphorical shoes and to apply logical reasoning and financial know-how to turn tough situations into opportunities to generate business will separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ so to speak, when it comes to talent in the FS industry.
  • Be socially and emotionally intelligent-As more and more jobs are automated, the need for basic cognitive skills will diminish and that for interpersonal skills, such as social and emotional intelligence will rise. The ability to build and maintain relationships- with customers and colleagues, to build value-added customer experiences will be much sought after.

In Conclusion, it is quite clear to me that the talent profile of the banker of the future will undoubtedly shift towards a more digitally fluent and adaptable persona as technology becomes mainstream in financial services. Bank leadership should embrace this digital disruption with open arms and maximize this opportunity to up-skill existing employees as a route to better customer service and innovative products. Simultaneously, bank professionals should look at this transformative age as an opportunity to develop a digital-first, human centric approach to banking.