Meaning and purpose versus pay and perks
Digitalisation is rapidly changing the banking sector, from the front to the back office. It’s altering the skills and mindset needed for the next generation of employees, according to Katherine Graham, Institute Board Trustee and Head of Security Services, NatWest
When talking about the future of banking, the focus is often on the pace of technological change. In the last decade, the sector has placed a real emphasis on innovation and digitalisation and ‘disruption’ has become something to be embraced. As consumer demands have changed, mobile banking has expanded and evolved, with tasks in the middle and back offices increasingly being performed in an automated manner by ‘digital workers’, and the expanding use of AI and ML bringing chatbots and virtual assistants to the front office.
Throughout all this change, there is a growing realisation that the skillset and mindset of bank employees of the future will have to be very different from past generations. Twenty years ago, we were looking for people with targeted knowledge around how to perform a particular role. Now, we’re looking for people with transferable skills, and the ability to adapt and acquire the knowledge they need in the moment, and that, I think, is very different.
Will machines take over?
According to Deloitte’s Future of Work in the Banking Sector, 70% of front-office jobs in banking will be disrupted or replaced by AI solutions by 2030, with banks on track to have spent £12.4bn on AI by 2023. In some quarters, this rapid adoption has led to fears that automation will effectively remove some jobs from the industry. But I believe that technical innovation has the potential to remove the burden of repetitive tasks, particularly data entry and ‘paper-shuffling’, and give employees more time for creative, fulfilling work, focused on human interaction.
Future banking careers may be more fluid in nature. We need to tackle the misconceptions held by some young people about what a career in banking might look like. It’s critical that we talk to those leaving school about the many different departments in the bank, from marketing and PR to HR and cybersecurity, and that we explain there’s a strong possibility of moving within those departments and growing their careers in different directions. As we innovate and automate in the future, we will find ways to do things more effectively using technology and people will need to retrain or upskill. In the same way that we no longer need people to count money by hand in a bank branch because we have machines to do that, we’ll increasingly work alongside ‘digital workers’ who’ll take care of repetitive tasks, and use their greater computational power to crunch large volumes of data to augment our decision making. But that won’t mean the end of careers in banking. People will be able to take on roles that add much more value – we’re evolving as an industry.
During the pandemic, banks quickly found that they had to deploy their talent much more dynamically, moving people rapidly between teams as more services became digital. This also meant finding new ways to quickly upskill and reskill employees. This enforced change has helped banks to change the way they think about their employees. Instead of viewing someone through the lens of their job description alone, they are instead looking at the hard and soft skills that each possesses, and examining how those skills could be transferred into a different role. The classic example is the fast-growing role of the universal banker. This is essentially a hybrid of the traditional teller in the bank branch with personal bankers; marrying sales with service responsibilities. The specialism of the universal banker is that they are not specialised, so they can fit into a number of different positions with minimal extra training. The success of redeploying people into this role as the number of branches decreased has encouraged banks to think of their workers as possessing general skills that will be useful in every role – innovation, creativity, curiosity, and adaptability – along with the skills that they’ve gained along the way. Bank tellers had the critical skills of customer engagement, product knowledge and customer service, and that gave them much of the foundation needed to become universal bankers, for example.
Creating career fluidity
I fell into my banking career by accident. When I started, I was mostly doing administrative work within the HR function of a Scottish bank, managing candidates that were coming in for interview. A few weeks into the job I had an inkling that elements of my work could be done in an automated fashion. So, I got myself a book about Excel macros and I was sitting at my desk, thumbing through the pages, trying to work out how to write a basic script, when I realised that the director of the department was peering over my shoulder. We worked out how to do it together, and had a great conversation about the potential to automate some of the other repetitive tasks the team were undertaking. That opened the door for me to get involved in some great initiatives across the function.
Why am I telling you this? Because you’re not expected to know all of the answers. You don’t need to know how to code (unless, of course, you happen to be a software engineer) – being willing to ask questions, being respectfully inquisitive, and being open to try new things is often enough. A decade later, when I decided that technology is where it’s at in banking, I moved into the security function. If I can make the leap between the HR function and a technology department, anybody can! How did I do it? I asked for help. I didn’t know anything about cryptographic algorithms or distributed-denial-ofservice attacks when I first joined the security team, but I was surrounded by people who did, who were willing to spend a little time with me sharing their insights. It’s no longer about what you know, or even who you know – it’s now about whether you’re willing to learn, and to help others learn.
Diversity of thought
When sourcing the next generation of employees, that’s the kind of mindset that banks should be looking for – someone who’s willing to help and support their colleagues within an environment that’s orientated towards experimentation and learning. That’s why it’s really important to have diversity of thought in the candidate pool – people with different backgrounds and different lived experiences can help us approach solving business problems from all angles. Part of my work with the Chartered Banker Institute is in support of the 2025 Foundation, which aims to identify and support talented young people to explore a career in banking. We want to create opportunities for people who might not otherwise be able to pursue traditional routes into banking and those who have never considered this career as an option. It’s not just about getting more women or those from disadvantaged backgrounds into the industry, although those are important goals, it’s also about finding people with the ability to be intuitive and innovative, and that comes with diversity of thought. I’ve been blown away by the competence and confidence of some of the young people I’ve met through the Foundation. It’s incumbent upon all of us to help give the next generation an understanding of the varied roles that exist in banking, the different places they might go in their careers with a bank and how it can help them build up a huge portfolio of work. Giving up a little of your time to mentor a young person is hugely rewarding
“It’s really important to have diversity of thought in the candidate pool, people with different backgrounds and different lived experiences who can help us approach challenges from all angles.”
Building and connecting
It’s important for banks to build links with the education sector – and to make those connections early – before young people start forming self-limiting beliefs about the career paths that are available to them.
But these links also have to be open. I don’t believe that setting up a pipeline through a single school or university is the way to go, as the danger would be that the bank would unintentionally filter out fantastic candidates who might have been a great fit. Modern apprenticeships and charitable foundations, like the 2025 Foundation, are creating many of the right linkages, and there are some fantastic programmes looking for our support – from STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] initiatives aimed at helping young people get excited about potential roles within the technology functions of banks, through to programmes helping people return to work after an extended break.
Banks need to focus on what they can bring to the table. There needs to be a better understanding of what people today, and tomorrow, want from their career. Candidates are looking for engaging and interesting work, they are not focused on pay, perks and number of holiday days. They want meaning and purpose at work. The next generation of bankers are seeking a balance with their home lives and banks that acknowledge these needs will be stronger in attracting, developing and retaining future talent.