Banking Must Realign Its Workforce for The Digital Future

Financial institutions are beginning to analyze the future of post-pandemic physical work spaces. While this reimagining of the workplace is important, the bigger challenge may be in retraining and pivoting the workforce for a digital future.

During the pandemic, banks and credit unions needed to adjust to a remote work environment, where collaboration was done through video engagement. Now that workforces are beginning to return to physical spaces, it is time for organizations to look beyond where people will be working, and reassess the roles leaders and employees should play.

Without a renewed focus on talent management that aligns with the digital banking transformation taking place, employees and leadership may not be prepared to respond to the shift in business models, which can doom growth for the organization and the people involved. What’s needed is a commitment to reskilling and upskilling that aligns with the organization’s strategic direction.

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Digital Transformation Requires Retraining, Reskilling and New Hiring

As the banking industry recovers from the pandemic’s impact, organizations are realizing that the business models that have served the industry for decades have been disrupted. When the entire economy was shut down, consumers embraced new ways of communicating and transacting across all industries.

The shift to digital engagement accelerated and the expectations around speed, simplicity and empathy replaced physical convenience as a key differentiator. This shift disrupted back-office processes, increased the need for real-time data and applied analytics, and put pressure on leaders and employees ill prepared for this pivot.

The emergence of new jobs created explicitly to support a financial institution’s digital transformation is occurring. In addition to new jobs, many existing jobs have been radically modified as institutions begin to introduce new technology. While some hiring will be required to support digital banking transformation, there needs to be a prioritization of employee retention and retraining as well.

The benefits of focusing on existing leaders and employees goes beyond cost. Sharing the future vision of the company with existing employees will positively impact loyalty. In addition, employees who are provided additional skills will be able to implement initiatives in the context of the roles they previously held, minimizing workflow impact. To be prepared, organizations must assess the skills needed in the critical roles of the organization not only for now, but looking ahead for the next three to five years.

Know Your Destination and Have Leadership Buy-In

In the same context that no two organizations are implementing the same back-to-work strategy, there is no single digital banking transformation strategy that will work for every bank or credit union. The starting point, the prioritization of initiatives, and the existing skillsets within the organization will dictate different digital banking transformation journeys.

While it may seem obvious, each organization needs to begin with their ultimate destination in mind. Will your organization be a digital banking leader, with the newest technology and the best in digital banking experiences? Or, will your bank or credit union follow a more staged path to digital transformation, focusing on specific product lines, services or customer journeys? What will be your organization’s differentiation in the future, understanding that the change we are experiencing today will only increase in the future.

Once the destination is determined, leadership must be prepared to embrace the change that is occurring. This includes both the  ability to communicate the change and adequately identify the gaps in skillsets within themselves and their teams. In many cases, the shift in strategic direction will be significant, with new skills and competencies required. There may even be the need to completely restructure workflows and divisions to reflect the new destination.

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Engaging Your Workforce

To many employees (and leaders), the concept of digital banking transformation is often interpreted as a potential for displacement. Especially for people who have years of tenure and vast experience in their role, the prospect of losing a job or having to learn a new skill is not encouraging – especially at a time of global stress from the pandemic. Remember, if a person feels their job is at risk, they will potentially undermine any initiative that moves the organization forward … unless communication around the change is clear.

According to an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, “The key to maintaining employee engagement is constant and bidirectional communication. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Provide information. Listen to people’s concerns. With the potential for large-scale changes, leaders need to get ahead of the rumors, and as Simon Sinek popularized, start with why.”

Employee Engagement Tip:

“This is not the time for delivering news about upcoming changes but rather an opportunity to listen and understand employees’ current challenges, fears and aspirations.” – MIT Sloan

Remember, it is often better to engage teams before the entire digital banking transformation journey is fully defined. This is because existing employees can provide valuable insights and perspectives on what the organization has done in the past and can potentially be the best path forward once they understand the why. This level of employee empowerment can limit disruption and result in a smoother transformation.

As workers return to a new post-pandemic environment, it still may not be clear which jobs will be disrupted and which may simply be modified, but it is likely that every role will either require reskilling (learning new skills for a new position) or upskilling (learning current tasks more deeply). In addition, there will often be new technologies to learn and new interpersonal dynamics to become accustomed to.

Embracing the change that will be occurring will be the responsibility of every individual, at all levels. In fact, going forward, lifelong learning will become a priority. While the commitment to learning is a personal responsibility, each bank and credit union must step up to make it possible … at a speed previously thought to be impossible.

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