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Tech talent: why financial services needs to shift mindsets

By Janine Chidlow, Sector Managing Director of Retail Banking at Alexander Mann Solutions

There’s no doubt that every business across the globe is involved in the war for tech talent in some way and the financial services field is no different. In fact, recent research from The City UK – ‘Fuelling FinTech: attracting the UK’s tech talent into financial services’ – revealed that “a limited pool of tech talent, further drained by a reduction in the flow of EU tech graduates into the UK, is making recruiting and retaining the right people an ever greater challenge for the finance sector.”

Janine Chidlow, Sector Managing Director of Retail Banking at Alexander Mann Solutions
Janine Chidlow, Sector Managing Director of Retail Banking at Alexander Mann Solutions

However, as employers across the sector have become savvier to the urgent need to attract from the ever-short tech talent pools in the UK and further afield, I’d argue that attention has been too heavily focused on attracting existing niche experts.If we consider that digital skills are highly sought after, then joining the fight for the few will only serve to exacerbate the situation. We can’t get around the simple fact that there’s not enough trained professionals to deliver against the demand that we’re noting.

What employers across financial services can do, however, is buck the trend by supporting the training and development of non-tech talent. As the likes of automation and AI look set to eliminate some job roles but also lead to the creation of brand new positions, there’s a huge pool of potential high performers seeking to retrain and learn news skills that is being largely untapped at the moment. When we further consider that the pace of change in the world of digital transformation is so quick that even the best tech professionals need to constantly retrain, then looking at developing potential staff makes absolute sense.

For the financial services field, which has unfortunately had to buck a fairly negative reputation since the financial crash, showing this commitment to developing new skills will help not only improve employer branding, but will also assist with retention levels. So how can these organisations go about achieving this.

Rethink what skills you really need

With the above context in mind, it’s perhaps fair to say that focusing on tech or digital abilities when sourcing candidates needs to be ranked further down the list of requirements – or struck off altogether in some instances. So, what should you be looking for when identifying the perfect applicant for a tech training role? I’d argue that softer skills are now much more important, with attributes such as resilience, ability to adapt and remaining steady under pressure or in the face of change are now much more important. In order to really identify individuals that have these traits, though, there needs to be a significant shift from skills-based to cognitive assessments in the hiring process.

Look beyond the usual talent pools

It perhaps sounds like a given that employers need to hire beyond the usual suspects, but knowing where to look is crucial. There’s a number of under-utilised talent pools that financial services organisations will find hugely valuable. Consider, for example, your approach to social mobility. How do you engage with your local community across every outlet in the country? Could your firm work with others in the area to help those out of work find employment through retraining?

Don’t allow misconceptions to rule out certain talent pools either. While for many the first picture that springs to mind when thinking of digital experts is arguably someone from a younger demographic, those that form the ‘ageing workforce’ hold just as much potential. There’s a vast number of these individuals in the employment market who are seeking wider opportunities and are eager to learn new skills to help them excel in today’s business environment. And employers need to grasp this with both hands. In fact, at Alexander Mann Solutions we’ve worked on hugely successful campaigns that have seen retirees retrain for new digital roles or take on an apprenticeship to kick-start their career change.

A new talent attraction approach

Of course, this shift towards targeting brand new talent pools will require changes beyond the assessments mentioned above. All employer brand messaging will need to be relevant and appealing to wider audiences. While there’s definitely some great examples of financial services organisations investing in ‘quirky’ recruitment marketing activity that engages with tech-savvy audiences, providing a tailored experience that audiences of all demographic can relate to is now critically important. So, if you’re lining up a funky new hiring campaign to source new digital skills, ask yourself if it’s also appealing to local communities, work returners or retirees as well.

Financial services undoubtedly needs more tech resources to deliver the digitalised consumer experience that its customers are increasingly demanding. But with global competition for these skills, focusing purely on ‘buying’ these resources won’t deliver the results needed. Instead, an approach that combines an equal weight of build, borrow and buy will be much more sustainable and valuable for the sector.