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Tech skill development and the route to success for financial services

February 01, 2022

Banks are under pressure to innovate, but access to the greatest and latest technology is not the quintessential element required for success. Without skilled people within the organisation, business growth will be limited. 

As highlighted in the Finextra Research and Pluralsight impact study report, ‘Addressing Tech Skills Shortages in Financial Services,’ leaders are faced with the task of aligning skills to strategy. This involves ensuring that the learning and development function is positioned in line with business strategy. Regardless of how much emphasis organisations place on acquiring technology solutions and understanding how to best utilise them, if leaders don't align employee training with the organisation's needs, they will see less progress.

The recent Finextra Research and Pluralsight webinar, ‘Creating a skill development programme aligned to strategic planning’ also explored this sentiment. Here, Jane Cooper, Finextra researcher, moderated a discussion with Ilker Bozkir, Principal Solutions Consultant, Pluralsight; Steven Marshall, Chief Product and Network Officer, Crown Agents Bank; and Nicolas Colombo Calabrese, Strategic Partnerships Lead, Citi Ventures. 

The webinar covered how financial institutions can decipher the defined requirement for skill alignment and how skill growth can be monitored and managed over time. A good starting point is solidifying business goals and outlining clear key performance indicators (KPIs) to support the talent strategy. Here are five considerations leaders must understand:

  1. The link between business, technology and learning strategy,

  2. How technology helps to deliver the business strategy, mission, and goals,

  3. How the learning and development team can support goals,

  4. How learning will impact the goals, and

  5. How to validate the alignment between skills and deliver the plan.

Trends in the skill development space

Kicking off the session, Bozkir explained that today, organisations are reserving time for employees to upskill, to learn and to grow professionally. For Bozkir, “it’s really about prioritising those opportunities. Up until now, employees were handed resources and told to learn. However, there is no focus on what the relevant resources are, where the company is headed and what resources are needed to scale up.” He continued: “Employees are gravitating towards hands-on learning. People do not want to watch videos anymore. They want to play around with technology, specifically when it comes to cloud.”

Providing the financial services perspective, Calabrese considered what has impacted this shift in the skill development space. He highlighted that while digital transformation is the new normal, consumers have been encouraged to move to online channels because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As a result, banks are exploring cloud infrastructure adoption, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation. Calabrese added: “All banks are looking at how to leverage these technologies to improve everything from customer experience to information security, manage cost structure and inform decisions. They will need the right talent and skills to do so.” 

For Marshall, increasing the digital literacy of the entire bank is crucial to identifying skills gaps and recognising that digital transformation can create opportunities. “We also have to be cognisant of the fact that we do need some very particular and different skill-sets. So, part of it is about training and education and part of it is about hiring to fill skills gaps.”


Barriers to innovation, access to resources, and improving the skills gap

Creating a functional and efficient skill development programme is no easy feat. Generally, there are two approaches to skill development: one where teams assemble learning plans and establish a one-size-fits-all model. This can frustrate employees at a higher level and leave those lower in the hierarchy overworked. 

The other approach is comprehensive and prioritises expert-led learning experiences, human curation, and AI-driven recommendations. This requires commitment, but also provides every employee with a tailored growth plan, one that incorporates personal skill development as an integral part of company progress.

Marshall indicated that bridging the engineering skills gap is critical, especially as a bank amid a high growth phase and with an “endless appetite for technical expertise.” Further, with engineering at the forefront of product management, talented people with knowledge of API-led digital transformation are of paramount importance for the future of financial services. 

Calabrese pointed out that the driving force behind hiring the right people and, in turn, improving the skills gap, is ensuring that the HR department is well-versed with the company strategy. Reiterating this point, Calabrese said that “at a minimum, they’re able to map talent, understand where the organisation creates value and how top talent contributes to that.” 

Further, with HR leading and adopting what he referred to as a “learning culture,” they focus on upskilling and reskilling of employees to keep pace with technological changes and ensuring the right talent is in place to deliver on the company’s objectives. 

“By prioritising strategic workforce planning, by reviewing those strengths and identifying future core capabilities that the organisation will need, scalable learning that explains technology across the employee lifecycle — across learning and development, performance management and workforce productivity — can be implemented,” Calabrese said. 

For Bozkir, while there is an increased demand for technology skills, “there is an infinite pool of resources out there. I think you must combine recruitment, upskilling and reskilling. If you can train your own staff, they know the company and can be trusted, so there’s benefits around that. I also think we should not forget that people are recruited with the expectation that they will be upskilled,” Bozkir explored.

A poll question was also put to the webinar audience on this topic: what they considered was the biggest barrier to innovation. 38.5% said the skills gap, and resources came in at a close second at 30.8%.


The importance of a learning mindset in tech skill development

The panellists also discussed what universities and colleges could do to support young people. Bozkir explained that graduates who are intellectually curious and eager to learn are the best at evolving and developing. Alongside this, an open attitude that is receptive can also ensure that digital literacy comes naturally. 

Marshall agreed that while digital literacy is important, “the other pieces like drive and ambition are intangible, difficult to quantify, yet important.” Calabrese, on the other hand, said that considering the pace of technology, if tech skills were taught at university, those skills would be out of date in six months, reiterating the potential that comes with “hiring on mindset and attitude.”

But what should banks be doing? Bozkir concluded by saying that what employees request time and time again is clarity. “The number-one feedback that always comes back is to make clear what they need to do and what is expected. 

“While it is important to ensure that all the relevant resources are on hand, where do I need to go as an employee? Where will I be in three years from now?” These are the questions that all skilled individuals are asking, and their employees — the banks — should be ready with the answers.