With the credit crunch biting deep and financial markets around the globe in seeming freefall, now may not seem an ideal time to be entering the Financial sector. But the truth is our modern world just can’t function without bankers, accountants, brokers and dealers.
According to the Financial Services Skills Council (FSSC) report The View From Europe: Productivity & Change In The UK Financial Services, the financial skills sector generates over eight per cent of UK GDP and employs more than a million people in around 35,000 companies. The industry has out-performed the wider UK economy and the wider business services sector, mostly because of superior use of technology and skills. It has consistently out-performed its European rivals and has, since the year 2000, caught up with financial services in the US.
Demand for high-level qualifications (at degree level and above) has increased dramatically and consistently since 1970. By 2014, financial services could become more dependent on highly skilled staff than any other industry apart from education, in a
shift that could see as many as 41,000 low value-added roles replaced through investment in high-level skills or the use of technology. A modest estimate based on past trends would suggest in 2014, financial services will pay a larger share of its wage bill to the highly skilled (56 per cent) than any other industry apart from education.
Sam Rees-Adams is the Director of Education at FSSC. She acknowledges the industry is going through a rough period. ‘This is a very difficult time for new employees to enter the sector,’ she concedes, ‘but those who do manage it, and develop quickly, will have a strong advantage. Experience of responsibility during financial crises and poor market conditions is highly prized in most financial services sectors.’
The report acknowledges the importance of investing in training. Skills will continue to be an important contributor to growth in the industry for the foreseeable future. Investments in IT are possibly the most important driver of the demand
for higher-level skills because once embedded into a company’s work practices, IT innovations trigger strong investment in high-level skills. But it’s not just IT skills companies are investing in. Says Rees-Adams: ‘Financial services is a specialist industry. Many of the technical skills prized by the industry require training at a very high level in order to be developed. Financial services employers generally prefer to train in-house. As with many other sectors, most of the learning going on in a given workplace is ad-hoc, but financial services employers, especially larger ones, generally tend to invest in structured training. Our estimate is that the sector spends about 3.4 per cent of its annual wage bill directly on employee training – but when all other indirect costs are factored in, the actual investment is more than three times that.’
Apparently, Research by Lifelong Learning UK found staff in banking and insurance are more likely to change roles, aided by relevant training, than their counterparts in all other sectors. Financial services companies are always trying to become leaner and flatter, and thus any given step in career advancement is as likely to be horizontal as vertical for most people. Many employers and certainly all of the larger employers, have highly structured formal training programmes in place aimed at personal development. Increasingly, companies hoping to grow their future leadership invest in fast-track schemes that take new entrants (usually graduates) through. Because of this Rees-Adams says the skills graduates need to bring to the sector are: ‘high levels of numeracy, attention to detail, strong presentation and communication skills, the ability to manage and develop client relationships, and the ability to perform under pressure, and recover from setbacks. Ultimately, employers have told us that staff attitude and commitment will be more important to the sector’s continued success than any particular technical knowledge.’
Currently, there are staff shortages in the insurance sector, in wholesale banking, and in asset management. Apparently, many employers will poach staff from other companies and this is not helping to increase the overall numbers of professional employees. One new initiative it is hoped will increase the numbers of well-trained staff is Apprenticeships, and other ‘train while gaining’ schemes – where you train while being employed by a company (see our case studies on the new Ernest & Young Degree being offered at Lancaster University Management School on page……)
All this means that although the Financial sector may be going through a rocky patch, there is no cause for panic just yet. As Rees-Adams sums up: ‘It’s very hard to predict how future growth will be affected by the current credit crisis. Our best forecasts currently suggest that asset management and broking activities will grow fastest over the next two years, increasing employment by 3.3 per cent per year. Investment and unit trusts will follow at 1.9 per cent. The key driver in the growth of investment services is demographics, as an increasingly wealthy, ageing population seeks better returns on their savings. That said, these sectors do not employ very large numbers: the major employers, retail banks, are expected to increase employment at a more measured rate of 1 per cent per year.’
The Financial Services Skills Council (FSSC) is an independent employer-led organization set up to improve productivity and business performance by ensuring the industry is equipped with the range and level of skills it needs. www.fssc.org.uk