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James Price, Engagement Manager at the AAT discusses the skills shortage facing financial services institutions in the UK and what can be done to help close the gap

The UK is one of the most influential financial services hubs in the world. For the UK economy specifically, the financial services and insurance markets contribute significantly to GDP – in 2014,these markets added £126.9 billion in gross value (GVA) to our economy, counting for 8% of the UK’s total GVA.

However, the financial services industry has changed significantly in recent years. Now, due to the demands of increasing regulatory pressure, financial services firms are required to employ workers with a variety of skill sets across a number of specialist audit functions. Whilst this is creating exciting opportunities for key specialists, unfortunately the number of specialists is not keeping up with demand.

A recent survey conducted by Robert Half (“2014 Financial Services Salary Guide”) found that for 99% of firms surveyed it had become more challenging to find skilled finance professionals. A huge 95% of board level executives feared their CFO and top performing finance staff would leave the company – a 28% leap on the year before.

Similarly, a recentreport by PwC found that only 5% of financial services firms are confident they can secure staff with the skills the organisationreally needs, and a report by QBE discovered that over a quarter are concerned about the availability of talent.

It then becomes evident that to maintain an edge over their competitors,financial firms need to invest in high-quality training and better inform, guide and empower their staff. One of the many ways that this can be achieved is through formal training or via the continuous professional development (CPD) programmes offered by professional accounting and financial services associations such as AAT.

The results above are confirmedby those from a similar study conducted by one of AAT’s key training partners,, which found that over half of survey respondents (52%) had not received any form of training in their current role. Furthermore, only 8% received numerical based training despite 65% saying these skills were required for their job.

James Price

James Price

A number of other skills were cited as being essential – nonetheless the training received was close to non-existent.

  • Checking skills (covering skills such as attention to detail) – 64% stated they needed this skill, but only 9% received training in this area
  • Self-management skills (encompassing time management, planning, organisational skills and self-motivation) – 64% vs 11%
  • Initiative skills (covering problem solving and creativity)– 65% vs 9%
  • Literacy (encompassing language skills, written communication and editing skills) – 64% vs 5%
  • IT skills (including computer and technology skills)– 61% vs 24%
  • Influence (covering presenting, negotiating, leadership skills and interpersonal communication) – 55% vs 18%
  • Enterprise skills (including external communication, dealing with clients and commercial awareness)– 50% vs 14%

Looking back to their time at school and university, Filtered’s research shows that only 61% of people working in financial services received numeracy training at school and more worryingly only 34% received training at university. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, only 5% of people said school equipped them well for the workplace and only 10% felt university equipped them very well.

So where does this skills gap come from? And what can be done to change things? Time pressures were cited as the biggest hindrance to training (40%), followed by the cost of training (20%).

AAT is working with Filtered to respond to these particular issues and address the skills gap in our industry. AAT and Filtered have been working together since 2011 to offer Excel training to AAT members (download our one-page case study here).

The reductive approach Filtered offers – which consists of stripping out anything a user already knows or doesn’t need to learn at the beginning of each course – perfectly suits the learning needs of our busy user base. Over 5,000 AAT members have signed up to improve their Excel skills so far.On average, AAT users have increased one level of Excel proficiency, with an average Excel IQ on course completion of 115.

The secret is in the personalized approach. The days of one-size-fits-all types of training are well over.  The courses we’ve employed provide business relevant e-learning resources, in short and easy to understand training sessions that can be fitted into even the tightest of schedules. All this is supported by real customisation that allows our members to tailor their learning to real training needs.

I would urge more financial services institutions to invest in staff training in the future – not only will this enable them to remain competitive within the industry but it will also ensure that the UK retains its position as one of the world’s leading financial hubs. The stakes couldn’t be higher: unless we improve training, we could also lose a significant portion of our GDP.

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