future-proof the banking sector: millennials have a message for you

April 22, 2015

In 2015 banking continues to show a moderately encouraging picture: stability is being rebuilt, market access regained and business models revised. We’re glad to note that this year more banks are on the road to a recovery after the 2008 global financial crisis. That said, restoring the sector’s lost luster still has a long way to go. According to a recent Deloitte survey of 108,000 business students globally, banking is a far less popular career choice than it used to be. The survey’s results show that the attractiveness of working in banks fell by 5 places to 35th in the ranking from 2008 to 2013. In other words, long gone are the days when banks could sit back and relax while candidates were vying to get a foot in the door. 

Looking ahead to the sector’s future growth, bringing cultural change has been recognized as a key driver. As with other changes in the business, CEOs and their HR teams are aspiring to achieve this transformation with a future-driven mindset – in this case, getting an injection of fresh talent who embodies the new values. 

It goes without saying that banks should look no further than the Millennial Generation (those born between 1984 and 1996), who is quickly taking over the workplace, for their future talent supply. Deloitte estimates Millennials will make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, which brings me to my first piece of advice: if you want to future-proof your business, make sure it’s Millennial-proof first. 

millennials expect to see bigger progress in gender diversity

Studies reveal that Millennials in every region of the world see gender diversity in the workplace as a critical factor when choosing employers. However, the vast majority of them associate banks with a male-dominated culture and don’t expect to find the diversity they hope for. This is a gap that must be bridged.  

In response to the crisis, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde once said that a male culture of reckless risk taking was at the heart of what happened in the financial world. Although it was meant as a joke, Lagarde’s comment has put a spotlight on the gender imbalance in the financial services sector. 

In the past, many banks saw encouraging gender diversity in the workplace as a matter of branding, rather than a strategic way to positively impact the bottom line. However, many studies have found strong evidence that increasing the number of women on the board has a wide-range of benefits including higher sales, higher returns on equity, and higher profitability. 

I’m glad to note that gender diversity has been identified by most banks as a key area for improvement. Just as with their male counterparts, developing great female leaders doesn’t happen overnight. If we want to see improvements in the representation of women in leadership positions, we need a pipeline of talented women in more junior positions. A good place to start is by taking a look at Societe Generale’s “Promoting Women In The Workplace” program. It’s a great example of how a forward-thinking bank ensures its brand promise measures up to female employees’ expectations, and leverages storytelling to drive engagement. 

millennials put personal development ahead of money and status

Some people in the industry assume that the young generation’s sharp decline in their interest in banking can be attributed to reduced financial rewards and diminished social prestige. I’m afraid I have to tell you, those who share this notion: you have the Millennial Generation wrong. 

The Deloitte survey shows Millennials care more about personal development than money and status. When asked which job attributes they find most attractive, respondents rated “professional training and development” 1st out of 40 attributes. In contrast, “earning a competitive base salary” only comes 7th, and “performance-related bonuses” ranks 19th. 

Among the respondents who ruled banks out of their list of ideal employers, “limited potential for professional development” turns out to be one of the most commonly cited reasons. But as far as I know, most banks heavily invest in top-class training schemes. So what caused this awkward “lost in translation” situation?  

I think it can be attributed to a misalignment between brand messages, and what truly resonates with millenials. Are you still actively talking about benefits that the younger generation no longer cares for? Does your brand message to tomorrow’s best and brightest hit the sweet spot? Does your employer branding strategy reflect changing talent needs? If you can’t give straight answers to these questions, I suggest it’s time to take a look at your employer brand from a holistic perspective. 

In short, HR leaders in the banking sector need to address the needs of the new generation. Embracing greater diversity and prioritizing training and development are vital to building a robust pipeline of talented people who aspire to help you achieve your business success. 

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