By Nicola Deas, Practice Leader, Career Management, at Right Management

The scars of the financial crisis continue to run deep and a succession of scandals including banker bonuses, tax avoidance and insurance mis-selling have only added to the ‘brand damage’ being suffered by the financial services sector. The last few years of flux have undoubtedly been challenging for financial services firms but they could also be the wake-up call that organisations need to do things differently for their customers and their employees. Many organisations are already leading the way by putting the rebuild of their brand at the heart of this change, in order to restore customer trust and create a resilient workforce that can both survive and thrive in times of turmoil.

Brand matters
It’s been over five years since the recession started, and for many, the blame still sits squarely on the shoulders of financial giants. New regulatory frameworks and an increasingly competitive market should certainly go some way towards creating a more ethical and sustainable sector. But how can businesses start to repair the brand damage they have suffered?

When it comes to banking and financial services, brand is everything, as is trust. This is true for both consumers and the workforce. Customers will want to know that their money is safe with an organisation and employees will want to know that their career is secure as well.

This isn’t just about sticking to the letter of the law in the latest wave of regulatory changes; it’s about invoking the spirit of it. Financial brands have to live and breathe these virtues in everything they do, from how they offer transparency and confidence to their customers to how they map out their people’s career paths.

It will still take some time for the tide to turn for larger brands but for mid-tier firms, there’s a real opportunity to demonstrate their own unique offering to customers and staff, both existing and potential. They have a unique opportunity to look at the growth possibilities that the fall-out from the recession can offer and people are a key part of this.

Change begins with the C-suite
The majority of trust in an organisation stems from its leaders, showing that they are standing true to the company’s values and have the right vision and skills to move the business forward. More than ever before, senior figures need to ‘talk the talk and walk the walk’ by embodying the brand and exciting the rest of the organisation about the opportunity ahead.

Nicola Deas, Practice Leader, Career Management, Right Management
Nicola Deas, Practice Leader, Career Management, Right Management

A key part of painting a positive vision of tomorrow is thinking about the future senior team and building a clear succession pipeline. Assessment can be used to identify the skills and behaviours needed to shape the brand of the future. Our client, Phoenix Financial Services, an independent financial adviser company, is a good example of this. We worked with them to design an Executive Development Centre that aligned internal talent to strategic business needs. The aim was to foster commitment from the ‘top ten elite’ managers and to accelerate their leadership capability with a focus on leading and driving the business strategy.

By talking to key stakeholders, such as the CEO and senior managers, we were able to define key business problems and design a set of innovative and challenging business simulations and supporting leadership diagnostics. Today, our coaches are working with managers to accelerate their development, having gained a clear understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, motivations, aspirations, potential to progress and leadership behaviours.

This kind of assessment is invaluable for getting to the heart of what makes a good leadership team for a business, and ensuring that the team is the right one to drive the business forward and safeguard the brand.

Creating a resilient workforce
Strong leadership is a vital step in rebuilding a brand but the wider workforce also needs careful consideration. Interestingly, despite month upon month of damaging headlines there still seems to be a strong appetite amongst younger people to join the financial services industry. People are still motivated by attractive salaries and the promise of performance-based rewards. In response, graduate schemes and entry-level positions are still highly sought after. This is good news for the industry but if you look further up the ladder of command, a different picture unfolds.

The financial services workforce has been hit hard. Months, even years, of significant upheaval in the workplace, pronged periods of stress and anxiety and awkward questions about their employer’s ethics have taken their toll on experienced employees. Investment in employee wellbeing has dwindled, career paths have been washed away by a tide of uncertainty and in short, employee loyalty has taken a hit.

Historically, financial services firms were able to rely on high salaries and a strong bonus culture to encourage loyalty to the brand. However, the public backlash against bonus cultures and a disengaged workforce is forcing many financial services firms to rethink how they motivate, incentivise and ultimately retain staff.

To retain existing talent, financial services brands need to actively embrace more ethical policies and shake off the ‘sell your soul’ culture they’ve become renowned for. They must demonstrate how they have become more risk averse and people-centric. Businesses stand a much better chance of financial success if they are driven by a motivated, healthy and productive workforce that positively views the organisation.

To achieve this, financial services firms should take time to engage with their employees and recognise employees’ concerns over the firm and their role in it. If employees have a good idea of what is expected of them and their future career prospects, they are far more likely to be more confident and perform better in their role.

It may be time for the tide to turn but ultimately, financial services firms who have survived the maelstrom of the last five years stand to come back even stronger than before. In order for this to happen though, they must take time to rebuild the brand and look at creative and sustainable ways in which they can take both new and existing talent on this journey.

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