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Building the talent pipeline for the future of Canada’s financial services industry

The Globe and Mail by Jennifer Reynolds 19 April 2018

Speak to any CEO in the financial sector and they will no doubt cite attracting top talent as one of their highest priorities. It is also increasingly one of the industry’s top challenges as the pace of technological change accelerates and transforms traditional business models. Today, the industry must not only attract talent for the roles it has open now, it also needs to anticipate the skills it will require in three to five years in this rapidly evolving landscape. Shifting customer preferences, increasing competition from non-traditional players, big data and emerging technologies are all changing the way financial products and services are delivered. Too often the discussion around talent today focuses on what skills and jobs will disappear, not on the skills we need in the future and how we are going to find and attract that talent.

A recent Toronto Financial Services Alliance study done in partnership with PwC looked at how roles and skills will change in the financial services industry across key functional areas, including customer service and sales, product development, technology, operations, and risk and compliance controls. In the context of automation, big data and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, the study sought to identify the skills people working in the industry will require to harness the value of these technologies. Key skills of the future were found to be more highly weighted to critical thinking, innovative problem solving, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills such as the ability to communicate and influence. In environments where change is expected to be the norm and not the exception, the highest value talent will have to be able to pivot and quickly acquire new skills and take on new roles. Holding key technical skills will be critical for employees; however, those in-demand skills will evolve and shift, so employees and employers will need to proactively build those new pools of expertise.

To support this more agile, innovative and skilled work force, talent management in the financial services industry will need to take on a more integral role in the strategic planning process and in the performance evaluations of leaders and managers at all levels in the organization. A greater focus on anticipating the new skill sets that will be required and on developing strategies to attract and retain that talent will be key competitive drivers for organizations. Hiring for core skills that can adapt to new job descriptions and adopt new competencies will provide a stronger talent pool with lower friction costs. Retraining and regular education will need to be a principal element in any successful talent strategy.

Undoubtedly, all this will mean managers and leaders will spend considerably more time managing and developing talent. As the investment in the talent pool increases, attracting and retaining that talent will be increasingly important to organizations.

To facilitate the evolution and development of the skill sets required for the future, academia and the private sector will need to work together to ensure Canadian post-secondary institutions are equipping students with skills that are relevant and in-demand. A critical role that the private sector can play will be to create more work-integrated learning experiences for students. These practical work experiences will allow students to graduate with more sophisticated and well-rounded skill sets and enable them to transition into careers more effectively. The financial services industry is increasingly recognizing the value of these programs for students and is creating a growing number of co-op and internship opportunities, both through independent programs and as part of collective initiatives such as ASPIRE, a sector-wide, work-integrated learning program led by the Toronto Financial Services Alliance. Reaching students earlier ensures organizations can help equip the future work force with the skills our economy requires.

Technology is significantly and rapidly shifting the landscape in the financial services industry and those who lack the expertise to leverage that technology will surely fall behind. For Canada’s financial sector to remain globally competitive, the industry will need to revolutionize how we think about talent. This will require a much higher investment in both our future and existing work force in the financial services sector. Organizations will need to prioritize bench strengths such as people development and coaching skills much more highly than in the past. Rapid change and continuous retraining and upgrading skill sets will challenge both employees and managers, but if successfully navigated, can be a defining element of success.

As we head into new and uncharted territories in the evolution of the financial services industry, and the economy more broadly, we should not underestimate the competitive advantage that can be derived from investing in the development of a leading world-class talent base in Canada.

Jennifer Reynolds is CEO, Toronto Financial Services Alliance.