Are you ready?

The landscape in financial services is shifting apace. Be prepared, writes Camelia Ram

The average lifespan of a company listed in the American stock market index Standard & Poor’s top 500 US companies (S&P 500) has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today. From a multigenerational workforce to artificial intelligence and changes in workforce values that reflect inclusion, wellbeing and individualism, the ability to manage talent will increasingly be a differentiator for organizations in future. Nowhere is this more acute than in financial services, which continues to strive to attract, develop and retain talent in what remains a low-trust sector.

In the same way that rideshare companies have created trustworthy, simple mechanisms to access and pay for a service, financial services firms must develop similar finesse for any number of spending and saving decisions that their diverse customer base makes. The financial professional of the future will be expected to find creative ways to win access to an individual’s life, so that financial transactions are perceived as seamless and supportive of their short- and long-term financial goals. They will also need to elicit positive emotional reactions through the design of their services.

What does this mean for a financial services professional today plotting the next steps in their career? How do we develop appropriate expertise over time to maximise overall long-term career success? How do we develop a portfolio of transferable skills that can be flexed over time to meet changing contexts?

Clearly express what matters to you and why

Being clear on what interests and motivates you helps you position the value you can bring to others. Mellody Hobson is president of Ariel Investments, and board member at Estée Lauder, Starbucks and DreamWorks Animation. Hobson has championed the cause of financial literacy for most of her life, underpinned by her own experience. “I was desperate to understand money, desperate for financial security,” Hobson wrote in Lean In for Graduates. “I felt like financial security would be the biggest gift I could ever have, ever. Even though I will never be evicted again, I am haunted by those times and still work relentlessly.” Whether your passion is driven by necessity or natural curiosity, the ability to position your personal brand will matter more as the industry is automated. Develop the capability to tailor your story to diverse stakeholders, regardless of your role to inspire confidence in the value you can add.

Invest in marketability

Disruptors such as Credit Karma, Mint, Lending Club, Square, and robo-advisers like Betterment and Personal Capital, have all based their business model on using machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide proactive analysis and advice. Acting as a neutral intermediary, these disruptors serve as a platform for content that others provide. This is in stark contrast to traditional financial services institutions, who have tended to require their customers to check-in for information, guidance and tools they need to understand their options and take action. The rapidly evolving nature of such services makes it imperative for professionals in the sector to be ever more aware about how career choices can be made today that offer a more diverse set of options in future. Skills such as the ability to synthesize information, support decision-making based on an awareness of rational and emotional factors, as well as technical and design capability to create solutions tailored to an individual’s objectives, are key transferable skills.

Choose stretch opportunities where you can add substantial value

When Starbucks’ share price dropped almost 50% compared to the previous year in 2008, the company chose to reinvigorate customer attachment to the brand through the Starbucks Experience, which offered a ‘third place’ beyond home and work for people to gather. The hugely successful Starbucks app, released in 2009, was key in driving this. It allowed customers to locate the nearest store, learn more about the company’s coffees, order their drinks in advance and access premium digital content in-store, delivered via a free wifi connection. The app has been successful not merely because it is linked to the story of the brand, but because its design and delivery has formed part of a powerful portfolio of initiatives, such as optimization of the marketing media mix to yield convenience for customers, an upgrade in point-of-sale technology, and reduction in processing fees. To achieve this, they created teams with marketing, digital and finance expertise, which, when combined, could explore a holistic view of the Starbucks experience. The lesson for financial services professionals is this: by taking on seemingly non-traditional assignments, which allow you to hold on to depth of expertise and apply skills in a different context, can act as a career accelerator. To this end, it is invaluable to seek honest feedback on performance and potential inside and outside the organization. In this way, gaps that might exist between current individual capability and future marketability can be managed.

Nurturing readiness

As the financial services sector undergoes disruption, for those with specialist expertise in the sector, the message is simple. Expand your horizons. Consider how your role fits into a broader ecosystem. Address problem-solving by being diligent about how others with relevant insights may frame issues and options for solving them. Position the value you can add in context of these perspectives by facilitating cross-fertilization of ideas. Ultimately, pursue those opportunities that give you the best chance of making a noticeable positive difference. Regularly engage others to challenge your assumptions about the value you are creating to be able to course correct before your skills are redundant.

— Camelia Ram holds a PhD in operational research from the London School of Economics