Highlights

  • As the financial services industry approaches a perfect storm of change, half of all business leaders say a lack of digital skills is a key barrier to transformation.
  • “New Digital Age” technologies are hitting the market in rapid succession. They are compounding one another’s impact, creating tremendous new opportunities and risks.
  • At the same time, demographic shifts, disruption, new competitors, and emerging ways of working are changing both how firms operate and how competitive advantage develops.
  • To survive and thrive, proactive financial services organizations must now transform how they work, operate, and learn.

Questions answered in this ultimate guide:

Why does the industry need to rethink learning?

The financial services industry is approaching a tremendous moment of change. The most obvious driver of this is the growing number of paradigm-shifting technologies that are coming to market.

The key takeaway from the Accenture Research illustration above is not just that “New Digital Age” tech like artificial intelligence is currently taking off—it’s that at least five different game-changing technologies are reaching maturity at the same time. Their impacts bounce off each other, creating combinatorial effects that no one can predict or maybe even imagine.

Yet technology is not the only important driver of change at play here. New ways of working, demographic shifts, and new competition are also combining to push the industry towards an inflection point.

The final outcome is still certain, but two things are clear. The first is that when it’s over, this industry will be very different. The second? The time to prepare for the future of work is now.

These trends present the industry with an imperative to reinvent the ways it acquires, creates, and disseminates new skills within the workforce. The tools and systems needed to achieve this transformation are available right now.

Viewed one way, this is a tremendous opportunity. Viewed another, it is a threat—Accenture analysis suggests that across 14 of the world’s leading economies, $11.5 trillion in economic growth could be foregone if skill building doesn’t catch up.

Is this a technology problem?

Yes—and much, much more.

New technologies are undeniably the heart of this perfect storm of disruption. But there’s much more to the story.

The Baby Boomers, who have dominated financial services leadership positions for the past two decades, are rapidly approaching retirement. In the world’s most advanced economies, birth rates are falling, diversity is rising, and many experienced professionals are working later into life. Five generations are now part of the workforce, which is more than ever before.

New competitors are also jumping into the industry like never before. From burgeoning fintechs like Ant Financial, SoFi, and Nubank to startups like Zero, Fnality International, and Wagestream—andeven including the looming impact on the sector of tech giants like Amazon and Google, the overall level of competition in financial services is rising sharply.

The nature of work itself is also changing, while freelancing and the “gig economy” are moving from niche models of work to the mainstream. The skills financial services organizations need from the workforce are shifting. Predicting what robots and machines will be capable of in the future is also practically impossible.

All of this puts growing pressure on conventional ways of training the workforce and on general business operations. Coming to grips with this moment of change requires more than purchasing new technology.

With the pace of change, the level of competition, and the stakes of disruption all set to keep climbing, the only solution is for financial services firms to embrace lifelong learning.

What is continuous lifelong learning?

Continuous lifelong learning is what empowers every member of the workforce to master new skills “just in time,” at the speed of the future. It is quickly becoming a market necessity for financial services firms.

Its first key idea is that anyone—regardless of age or education level or job description—can pick up new skills over the course of their career. This might seem counterintuitive, as it contradicts the widely-held belief that mature workers cannot learn or are harder to train than younger ones. But learning research has persuasively demonstrated that every new learning experience can create new pathways in our brains, and that the number of pathways possible is limited only by the effort of the learner—not their age.

The secret to unlocking learning for mature workers is creating the right sort of learning experiences. Even at their best, traditional workplace training tools like seminars, workshops, and correspondence courses have been mediocre at achieving this.

The most effective learning experiences also create a sense of “flow,” which is the intense experiential involvement of a learner in the moment-to-moment learning activity. When we’re in a state of flow, we’re completely immersed in the task at hand and functioning at our fullest capacity. (For more on the fascinating world of flow, check out the work of noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.)

The surprising and powerful thing about flow is that we don’t need complete isolation from the world of work to achieve it. Indeed, to be effective, learning systems for busy professionals need to make flow- state learning achievable in the course of a busy workday.

This is where microlearning comes in.

Microlearning breaks up large, complicated concepts into small chunks that easily fit into lives of working learners. While simple in theory, breaking down complicated material into small lessons without losing any crucial transmission of knowledge is a deep field of expertise. Done correctly and delivered with the right tools, microlearning makes flow-state learning on virtually any subject possible for financial services professionals.

Another key characteristic of continuous lifelong learning is that it turns the workforce into self-directed students. This is achieved with a training delivery platform that makes learning engaging, with gamified systems and social connectivity. The system must also be convenient and continuous, so workers can fit learning into their day-to-day lives no matter how busy or hectic their schedules.

What’s the best way to deliver continuous lifelong learning at scale?

Fostering lifelong learning in a single person is a praiseworthy achievement. Scaling up to a global workforce is a daunting challenge.

The most efficient way to overcome that challenge requires a learning platform that:

  • Delivers new material in “byte”-sized chunks of microlearning that can be quickly absorbed just before they are needed.
  • Can be accessed at any time, anywhere, on any platform.
  • Connects learners to their peers, so they can share progress and make recommendations for friends.
  • Can learn about its learners—and adapt to the needs of individual users.
  • Leverages the best available knowledge from curated subject matter experts.
  • Offers continuous engagement to weave itself into everyday work.
  • Is gamified, to encourage a sense of fun, achievement, and friendly competition.

Delivers just the right levels of challenge and engagement to create a sense of “flow” in learners.

What does this look like in practice?

In 2015, Accenture was facing challenges familiar to many financial services leaders today. In response, we designed and built a learning tool that would prepare our workforce for the New Digital Age. We called it the Future Talent Platform (FTP).

We knew we needed to create a learning experience for our workers that was:

  • Engaging—it had to make learning fun and help adult learners experience “flow.”
  • Customized for each learner based on their preferences and learning history.
  • Powerful, thanks to content curated by leading subject matter experts.
  • Structured to fit into the schedule of a busy professional and enable microlearning to make the lessons stick.
  • Accessible at the time and place of the learner’s choosing, whether that was in the office right before a meeting, while traveling or commuting, or at home on the weekend.
  • Made transparent through social tools and gamification, with badges and certifications for learners to display on their public profiles.
  • Endorsed and promoted by leadership.
  • Driven by the latest technologies like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Since its launch, the FTP has become the most popular way to learn at Accenture. Sixty-one percent of all employees (290,000) have completed training through the FTP and earned certification for being New IT conversant in New Digital Age technologies. Thirty-nine percent of employees have earned certifications for “rotating to the new,” and over the last year the number of employees who have become conversant in New IT has grown from 175,000 to almost 300,000.

Perhaps most importantly, the latest usage trends indicate that adoption of the FTP is still growing, and it has already played a key role in our agile pivot and strategic shift to new lines of business.

To discuss how Accenture can help you transform the learning function at your organization, please get in touch.

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