The Rise of Flexible Consulting: Why Financial Services Firms Are Turning to Independent Professionals

The growing necessity to adapt rapidly to disruptive technologies and react to shifts in the market at an accelerated pace, is driving ‘agility’ in the financial services sector. Below Adam Gates, Principal at Odgers Connect, explains why the financial services sector is increasingly turning to independent consultants over traditional management consultancies.

Firms are increasingly looking at how they can evolve their organisations to operate more flexible business models and become more responsive to customer expectations. It’s a growing trend that is reflected in the way financial services firms are using consulting support.

The UK’s consulting market is estimated to be worth anywhere between £9 and £10 billion. Almost one-fifth of this is being delivered by a growing number of independent professionals. Often called the ‘professional gig-economy’, this cohort of freelance consultants is, for the most part, made up of ex-Big Four partners or senior managers. It’s a pool of highly-experienced individuals that the financial services sector is increasingly calling upon.

Offering a blend of strategic direction and hands-on implementation, independent consultants are a highly flexible resource that can be used for a range of business issues. Our latest research has found that it’s because of this level of flexibility that 43% of financial services firms are choosing to work with independent consultants over traditional management consultancies.

Of course, when it comes to meeting mass capacity demands, the big consultancies have teams of people available. It’s why 57% of businesses in the financial services sector cite this as the primary reason for working with a traditional consulting firm. This is however, becoming an unwieldy approach to delivering strategy, especially when staying ahead of the competition means operating at pace and being able to adapt to the whims of regulators and shifting market currents.

This competition is coming in the form challenger banks and ‘digital native’ fintechs who have a level of inherent flexibility that is enabling them to bring products to market faster and more readily adapt to the needs of customers. As a result, a trend towards agility is emerging in the financial services sector which coincides with the use of more flexible consulting support.

What’s more, owing to the level of experience they have built during the course of their careers, independent consultants tend to deliver a better quality of work, which is why most financial services firms will seek out specific skills from independent consultants, rather than from a big consultancy. This ‘area expertise’ means organisations will often expect an independent consultant to ‘get things moving’ within the first couple of weeks of coming on board; something that links an independent so closely to this aspect of flexibility.

That said, quality assurance remains an area of contention. Whilst an independent professional offers that much needed level of flexibility for financial services firms, a mainstream consultancy can often be seen as the safer bet; if things aren’t going well, you can always escalate the problem ‘up the chain’.

It is clear however, that with organisations in the financial services sector now focusing on meeting the changing expectations of their customers at the same time as staying ahead of continuous disruption, flexible consulting support is going to become that much more critical.

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