Training, leadership and building healthy cultures in banking post Covid-19

  • Joanne Murphy
  • 22 June 2020
  • Career Development | Leadership & Strategy | Blog

Speaking at a rearranged online Conference, on education, skills, and improving culture and diversity in financial services last month, I remarked that my invitation to the event was in the pre-pandemic world, and that since then I had reflected on whether a discussion on building healthy cultures would have been different, had the crisis never occurred. My initial feeling was that the behaviours that support healthy cultures to develop would be consistent. However, I argued that an organisation’s culture, whether in financial services or in a different profession, will have made a significant impact on how well they adapted to the initial crisis, their future sustainability and the lasting impact on their most valuable commodity – their people.

In the run up to that Conference, I came across an insights piece on “Shaping and safeguarding the banking workforce after Covid-19” by the consultancy firm, McKinsey’s. The article focused on Banking in the United States, but there are, I believe, some important crossovers with the situation in the UK.

Their observations on training are very similar to our own (and our Institute’s approach). On training they state that, “workforces are being asked to engage differently with customers and respond to new shifts in customer demand, especially heightened expectations for paperless servicing and remote advisory. Talent remain the biggest asset and source of capital for all institutions, and the challenge many are facing is how to quickly skill their team members to meet this demand in a contactless environment.”

As a leading professional body, we are providing support and guidance to our members during these difficult, and unprecedented times, including releasing relevant micro-learning to support customers in crisis or those becoming increasingly vulnerable. We are maintaining an oversight of the knowledge and skills needed to help navigate the current climate, sharing resources, webcasts, and an extensive range of thought leadership with our members, and the wider banking community. Our Institute was one of the first to move away from traditional exam diets (where large numbers of candidates gather in a room on a set date) more than a decade ago, our professional qualifications are assessed on demand, allowing candidates across the globe to choose a date, time and location that work’s best for them, whether this is in a test centre or their bedroom. In a relatively short space of time, we are creating new ways of working to stay connected, and as trends emerge, we are adapting our resources to reflect the needs of our members more rapidly than ever before.

This crisis has also thrown up a whole set of new challenges to banks too. Physical distancing is creating a vacuum of needs, habits, and a significant change to business as usual for many organisations and their employees. In such circumstances, it is quite right that there is an even greater emphasis being placed on employee wellbeing, complex decision making, digital capacity and trust, and it appears that it is more important than ever, for organisations to show a shared sense of identity and purpose. I would say this is actually critical in building a sustainable organisation.

The pandemic has also pressed fast-forward on some longstanding barriers to inclusion and progression, such as presentism, the need for time autonomy and of course home working. I would argue, that “people-centric” companies achieve better business outcomes over-time for a number of reasons:

Organisations who focus on their people have greater confidence levels in trust, empathy and transparency in their leadership and are more resilient because their colleagues are empowered to do the right thing and call out poor outcomes for colleagues and customers. 

Human-centric design prioritises learning, which in turn, accelerates change by developing skills and capability, as well as building a talent pipeline and collaborative practices that support innovation and creates organisational disruption. As a result, barriers to change and resistance to technological advancement are shifted, allowing firms to become more agile in their support of their colleagues and clients’ experience. The crisis has amplified the voice of front-line colleagues, and therefore the voice of the customer.  Consequently, this has accelerated the pace of change never seen by organisations before, and there is no going back. Longer term, the crisis will ensure banking is better prepared for the next crisis, which history tells us will be along again, 10 or 15 years from now. 

Having almost entire workforces working from home has already challenged the long-held notion of “presenteeism”, this has also been a barrier indicated by our membership to career progression. This crisis is proving is that people and teams can work effectively when they are working remotely.  Changes to office environments have accelerated the opportunity from home working, and although not right for everyone, I hope this will remove barriers to those who have caring responsibilities, or the less able-bodied, allowing them to re-engage with the workforce. 

Other countries are taking this opportunity of having their workforces working remotely, to actively encourage their employees to micro-skill, upskill and reskill utilising digital learning resources and connectivity. If the UK wants to maintain our position as a world leader in financial services, then banks and banks’ leaders should be encouraging this too; now is not the time to reduce the learning budget, yet according to the Financial Services Skills Taskforce Report (Jan 2020), the amount financial services firms spend per head of training is among the lowest in the economy. Spend per employee in 2017 was an average of £1,300 compared to an average of £1,530 across all sectors.

In McKinsey’s conclusion they provide their thoughts on leadership; “As banks transition to that next normal, they will require a new model of leadership. Leaders will need to actively create links in a distributed network and connect the necessary people to solve problems together. They’ll also need to engage frequently to understand roadblocks and adopt more radical transparency with honest communication about their experience – and about the level of uncertainty that they and the organisation face” This suggests a wide, experienced, ethical and empathetic leader – pretty much what we’d hope would be reflected across our own membership – leaders who value wisdom brought through inclusion, are proud to be a professional, and view banking’s core purpose through a wider societal lens.

Which brings me to my final thought on building healthy cultures in financial services, during and after the coronavirus crisis and that is, as leaders in banks and financial services address their Covid-19 response strategies, they must ensure that diversity and inclusion efforts are not put at risk and learn from the new ways of working. Rebuilding our economy for the benefit of all in society requires balanced leadership, which is both diverse in mindset and inclusive, ensuring that under-represented groups are not disproportionately disadvantaged. We have a window of opportunity to restore trust, reflect those we serve across society and build a sustainable future for all - the gateway starts through an inclusive culture.