Finding tomorrow's bankers
Artwork by Alex Herzog

Banks have never been so concerned with the future as they are today. And understandably so. Fundamental disruptions to their markets, the behavior of their clients, the regulatory environment and technology have been forcing them to rethink much of what they do.

When it comes to building the bank of the future, the focus so far has been on business models and technology. But there is a growing realization that, as EY put it in their Global banking outlook 2016, “transforming talent is just as important to rebuilding a viable, successful banking franchise as transforming products and processes.” This too is understandable. If it wants to be successful, the bank of the future will need to hire the right bankers of the future.

Millennial falcons

These will very likely be different kinds of people than can be found in banks today, and they will likely be doing different kinds of jobs. There are a number of reasons why.

For one, the workforce is changing. Having grown up with high technology and radical connectivity, the Millennial generation has its own ideas about what it means to work, and what work should mean. That matters, as this generation is expected to make up over 70% of the workforce by 2025.

Millennials have a lot to offer their employers. They are tech savvy, entrepreneurial, collaborative, adaptable and generally enthusiastic. But they can also be demanding: Millennials expect their employers to be as tech savvy as they are. They want flexible work environments. And while they are as interested in making a living as any previous generation, they have a tendency to prefer work that is meaningful as well – to them, and to society. That makes them more attune to, and potentially critical of, how their employers do business.

Perhaps as a result, Millennials are more prone to changing jobs and more drawn to the freelance life (or the "gig" economy as it is called these days). Employers will be challenged to retain them.

Telex meets Facebook

While the Millennials are up-and-coming, their elders are working longer into their careers. Banks, as other organizations, need to manage an increasingly wide generational divide. This can be a good thing. As UBS Group CEO Sergio Ermotti has said in an interview, when the telex generation shares perspectives with the Facebook generation, both are enriched. On the other hand there is no doubt that technological change, as well as changing work habits and roles, can be a challenge for older workers. Banks need to keep this in mind.

Finally, globalization, while leading to a more diverse client base, has also brought about a far more diverse talent pool. This is good news too. Studies repeatedly show that heterogeneous groups tend to make better decisions, take fewer unnecessary risks, and produce better, more sustainable results than homogenous groups. But building and then managing a truly diverse workforce is often easier said than done. Here too, banks will need new thinking.

I, robot

No discussion of the workplace of the future would be complete without considering the impact of emerging technology – of what some have called the fourth industrial revolution.

As machines learn to think, and to communicate with us and each other, they will dramatically alter how we humans work. Many fear they won’t leave us any work at all. While understandable, this fear is probably overblown. As in past industrial revolutions, it is more likely that as old jobs get destroyed, new jobs will be created. But the change, and the challenges of the transition, should not be underestimated: It will be a very different thing to learn to work with an intelligent robot than it was to learn to work with a PC.

Ironically, as machines get smarter, the job skills in highest demand may be the non-technical ones: communications and interpersonal skills, empathy and emotional intelligence. That will be good news to some, but not to others. Nor will increasingly intelligent technology mean the end of technologists. But the important technological skills of the future will be different than those needed now. Workers who have them will be in high demand, and companies will have to fight for them.

The skill drill

What’s worrisome is that, beyond such general statements as made above, it is difficult at the moment to predict exactly what skills people should be concentrating on. In its latest Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2020 some one-third of the desired core skill sets will be comprised of skills not yet considered crucial to jobs today. That is only four years from now.

It is hardly surprising then, that when we spoke to Patrick Stolz, Global Head Recruiting at UBS, and Stefan Seiler, Head HR P&C and Switzerland Region, both said flexibility will be the one key skill in the future. The flexibility to be open to lifelong learning, to tackling new and different tasks, to continuous retraining. This may sound daunting, but in fact it can be enriching. It is all a question of mindset.

"Flexibility will be the one key skill of the future. The flexibility to be open to lifelong learning."

Why us?

Banks that want to make their way in this brave new world of work will not just have to cope with these secular trends, however. They must also deal with a number of industry-specific challenges.

Top of the list is their post-crisis reputation problem. An industry thought to be out only for itself, and blamed for many of the economic woes that have beset the world since 2008, will have a harder time attracting the idealistic younger workers it needs. The fact that falling margins and rising costs are bringing salaries down in financial services doesn’t help the cause.

Similarly, banks have to think about not just how technology is changing work in general, but how it will change the specific roles of bankers. There is no doubt that big data and artificial intelligence will give bankers very powerful new tools with which to serve their clients. They will have to learn how to use them. They will also have to learn how to do new things. Markus Iofcea, Head of UBS Y Think Tank, says the banker of the future will have to cater to the growing need among clients for a satisfying experience and sense of purpose. This is a far cry from the stock picking financial advisor of old.

As Alan Turing, considered the father of theoretical computing and artificial intelligence, once said, “we can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” Banks should take this to heart. And they are.

The good news is that banking has always been and will remain a people business. As the world changes, the skills that bankers will need will change with it. But banks and bankers will not disappear as a group. Those banks that best understand the future of work at banks stand to benefit by having the future’s best bankers.

The artist Alex Herzog >humAndigitAl

"Today humanity is dealing with the future by trading it on the stock-exchange – a collaboration of math-science and computer-science – the developments/gradients of values and prices become the product – it is about the way we act while predicting and creating the future simultaneously – we are laying loops into/towards the future which are linked with the present – loops from a current future towards a present-to-be – there are material goods traded with a material technology by humans wanting to live emotional intelligence, transparent communication, empathy, compassionate interactions – what can be the benefits for our contemporary society?"

Alex Herzog has lived and worked as a visual artist in Zurich since 1982. Since 1985, continuously engaged in solo- and group-shows in Switzerland and abroad. 2011– 2013 MFA-MAPS at ECAV/Sierre/CH. 2013–2014 postgraduate MFA in artistic research at St. Lucas University College of Art & Design, Antwerp/Belgium. Current work includes drawing, painting, sculpture, installation.

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