Competence creates productivity and well-being

The financial sector has been shaken by massive changes over the past decade. Perhaps the biggest force of change has been digitalisation, which has transformed services at a rapid pace. It is not the only driving force, however: customers’ changing needs have also made it necessary to update operating models. The sector can best prepare for future challenges by ensuring the competence of its personnel.

Between 2014–2015, the Finnish financial sector launched a project to increase profitability, competitiveness and workplace well-being. This project was called Healthy Financial Sector.

With the project, Finance Finland (FFI) and its partners sought to support employers and employees as they prepare for the challenges that arise from the changing nature of work and working environment. The project involved all of the financial sector social partners (i.e. employer organisations and trade unions).

The project began with workshops between employers and employees. Involving employee representatives, companies’ HR and business managers, and a wide selection of experts outside the sector, these workshops were key to the project’s success. They made it possible to map out a picture of the sector’s future and its development needs. The participants reported that the workshops were the best part of the project; an opportunity for the parties to increase their mutual understanding and establish a shared vision of the future.

The project also surveyed employees’ opinions on productivity and workplace well-being, as well as customers’ opinions on financial sector services, customer experiences, and wishes regarding their future development. In addition, a study on the effects of digitalisation on the sector was conducted at Aalto University as part of the project.

Working life development has continued in many ways after the project ended. In 2019, FFI and the employer and employee unions developed an evaluation and discussion tool that can be used to increase mutual trust in the workplace and improve the competence and well-being of employees. Financial sector companies have shared their best practices on these topics in various formats, such as video clips. Spreading the word on the valuable results of the project is important for there to be concrete changes.

One of the most important findings of the Healthy Financial Sector project concerned the significance of competence: having the right skills for the task was found to be beneficial not only for productivity, but also for workplace well-being. Due to this, the sector has begun to survey future skill requirements annually and has invested in strengthening the skills of current employees with additional training. The Financial Academy, a cooperation network founded two years ago, connects the sector and its educational institutions in order to make the education of new employees entering the sector as useful, relevant and practically-oriented as possible.

Social and digital skills deemed most important in Nordic foresight study

Finance Finland has commissioned several studies on the future skill requirements of the financial sector. In these studies, adaptability and self-development frequently come out on top. They require not only the personal willingness to keep learning throughout one’s career, but also the opportunities to do so.

The Nordic countries’ modern financial services have been a step ahead of the rest of the world for a long time. Concrete examples of this include the low level of cash use in the countries, early abandonment of cheques, early adoption of online banking, and the popularity of mobile banking.

For now, financial sector companies have fared well in competition. Customers have remained loyal, and new kinds of businesses and service providers have sped up the race to develop better digital services. Many customers consider financial services a highly personal matter and prefer to use a service provider who is well-known and proven to be trustworthy. Before a service provider can establish itself as such, however, its services must be up-to-date and its personnel skilful and dependable.

To find out which skills have the highest demand in the future, the employer associations in Finland, Norway and Denmark organised a survey in each country. The countries share similar challenges and opportunities in their work, as the operating environment is transformed by customer behaviour, digitalisation, robotics and AI. Financial sector companies were presented with a list of 36 skills and personal qualities and were asked to pick out the five most important ones for their employees.

According to the survey, social skills ranked among the top five categories in all countries. In Finland and Denmark, social skills even rose above technological skills, whereas in Norway it was the other way around. Flexibility, digital skills, and strengthening competence were high-ranking categories in Finland and Norway. Denmark valued skills in customer relationships the highest.

New changes and new challenges continuously emerge in financial sector, and the demand for skilled people will only grow. Keeping competence up to date is a responsibility shared between employees, employers and managers. It also requires that the society, and the educational system in particular, are able to adapt and respond to changing requirements – not only in Finland but everywhere in Europe.

The article was originally published in the January 2020 issue of InforBANCA, journal of the Portuguese Bank Training Institute IFB

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