Strategic Workforce Planning in Investment Banks: What Do Employers Need to Know?

Nicola Hancock from Alexander Mann Solutions looks into the biggest challenge that the investment banking field is faced with.

We’ve all heard of the so-called ‘war-for-talent’ within the US’s Investment Banking and Financial services field. In fact, it’s no secret that there’s an ever-increasing demand for specific and niche skills, but short supply of the requisite talent.

According to EY, over the next two to three years, machines will be capable of performing approximately 30% of the work currently done at banks: yet the ability to attract technology experts into investment banking is arguably presenting the greatest challenge for many employers.

Regulatory changes, coupled with digital advancements, mean that business models are adapting at a rapid rate. Today, automated electronic trading powered by AI and machine learning mean that the skills of the top traders of yesteryear are quickly becoming obsolete. However, the data scientists and programmers needed to drive today’s systems are in short supply. And with increasing reports of tech firms such as DeepMind, the Google artificial intelligence division, stealing top tech talent from the world of investment banking, this is only going to get more difficult in the coming months and years.

Today, automated electronic trading powered by AI and machine learning mean that the skills of the top traders of yesteryear are quickly becoming obsolete.

Furthermore, recent research from Accenture has found that just 7% of US graduates see banking and capital markets as a top industry to work for. However, by predicting both the behaviors of internal employees and market demand fluctuations, investment banks can map out a coherent plan to overcome forecasted skills gaps and bring in expertise to guarantee future growth and profitability.

Despite the clear benefits of implementing an effective strategic workforce plan, a 2014 Workday/Human Capital Institute survey of 400 HR professionals revealed that 69% consider the function either an “essential” or “high” priority, but that only 44% actively engage in it. This is not because there are not tools available – there are. Both internal data and industry trends are usually an excellent source of knowledge of individual jobs’ attrition rates, which can lead to a surprisingly detailed forecast of skills needed for the future. Technological tools can also be used to predict the likelihood of employees jumping ship, including through social media monitoring applications. So why is this disparity in numbers?

Although increasing percentages of businesses are recognising strategic workforce planning’s place within their growth plans, it can still be difficult to implement and sustain effectively. As well as needing the support of a CEO – or at least, a board member – to drive the initiative and free up resources, HR departments must also be star players in its success. This is because they can provide reliable data regarding which employees are eligible for up-skilling/re-skilling, helping to predict gaps within the workforce – although these may open and close as market demand fluctuates. In this way, the data can also be used to implement a policy of growing your own internal talent, which can subsequently help to close projected managerial gaps in the future. You can see that it is important to remember that technology is just a support tool and should not overshadow the input of your stakeholders – they also have real insight in the business’ needs.

The traditional trading desks of Wall Street in the early 80s are now well and truly a thing of the past.

One common misconception about a successful workforce plan is that it is rigid and set in stone when in fact, almost exactly the opposite is the case; what might be needed for a financial institution now may be totally different in five years’ time. Naturally, it is important to address the organisation’s most critical needs first, and not rush to implement an overarching strategy. This allows for progression and, critically, facilitates the avoidance of paying premium rates whilst trying to fill immediate skills gaps.

The traditional trading desks of Wall Street in the early 80s are now well and truly a thing of the past. But just as open outcry and hand signals have been replaced by predictive analytics and machine learning, no one knows what the future will hold for the profession. With this in mind, an effective plan must be adaptable and almost constantly fine-tuned in order to stay in line with market demand, new platforms, emerging markets and regulatory change – especially when reacting to or predicting competitors’ moves.

In fact, it is intrinsically important to keep your competition at the very front of your mind when constructing a workforce strategy. It is highly likely that you will be fishing from the same talent pool down the line, and predicting skills gaps means that your business will be able to create pipelines and contacts within these areas long before anyone is needed on board. This provides the best chance of winning the top talent – and these acquisitions can be the difference in staying a head and shoulders above the rest.

 

About Nicola Hancock:

Nicola Hancock has over 15 years’ experience in resourcing for financial services organisations. During her time with Alexander Mann Solutions, she has led a number of key clients globally, including RBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and BAML and has built extensive experience and understanding of financial services and the challenges and opportunities this brings to talent acquisition and management. 

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