The financial services industry is facing a skills crisis that could hamstring the economic promise of intelligent technologies. This looming crunch is different from today’s talent shortages. Incremental change to education and corporate learning systems won’t cut it.

The financial services (FS) industry is approaching a tipping point. Game-changing technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) are not simply driving the demand for skills and talent models that are different from those of yesterday—they are creating a world in which the required skills will change continually and rapidly. The FS industry will need to anticipate the skills tomorrow’s workers will need, reinvent how it prepares the workforce, and—most of all—create workplace cultures that embrace online learning.

Staying still is not an option.

Recent economic analysis from Accenture throws the looming crisis into sharp relief. The United States could forego $975 billion in GDP growth over the next decade if it cannot meet the demand for new skills related to intelligent solutions. Across 14 of the world’s leading economies, the growth at risk reaches $11.5 trillion—equivalent to more than a full percentage point of GDP growth over a decade.

The cost of failing to meet this challenge will go beyond foregone growth. Accenture’s analysis shows that, in addition, it would contribute to higher rates of unemployment and greater income inequality.

A shifting matrix of roles and skills

There is an obvious solution to this problem: train more people with the required skills. But this response does not address the core of the issue. Nor does assuming that intelligent systems will simply eliminate some jobs and create new ones.

The future of work in FS will require not only new skills but more effective ways of learning and of dealing with change, as in-demand skills will change at an accelerating pace. Even the most efficient and effective talent-sourcing practices will be unable to avoid critical skills shortages. New technologies will move from distant concepts to industry game-changers at speeds so rapid that very few workers will have the necessary skills. FS organizations will need to radically improve their training capacity or risk being left behind. They will need to foster lifelong learning in the workforce.

Roles and skill sets are already shifting, of course. For instance, Accenture analysis shows that in 2008 technical equipment engineers had to calibrate equipment once a week on average. Today they do that half as often—and collaborate with colleagues to install complex machinery daily, instead of monthly as they did in the past. As this kind of change becomes more common across FS, the industry will need to reimagine its talent and training models.

Instead of asking which jobs will prevail in tomorrow’s workplace, we should instead ask how roles will be redefined and in what ways tasks will be affected by intelligent technologies. For example, as FS sales teams utilize intelligent systems to automate repetitive tasks, more of their time will be freed up for client engagement. How will FS talent practices need to change to source and support the sales teams of tomorrow? How will the industry equip its workforce to learn the skills it needs—not just for this paradigm shift, but for the next one and the one after that?

How can the industry prepare workers to thrive in the innovation economy? In my next blog post I’ll begin to answer this question. In the meantime, you might be interested in the Accenture report on this topic: It’s Learning. Just Not As We Know It.

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