Reskilling banks for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
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Reskilling banks for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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As technology continues to drive huge change in financial markets, do banks need to think differently about thinking differently?


Geneviève Douhet,
Head of innovation
global transaction banking -
Societe Generale

Technology is changing the nature of jobs within the financial industry. As fresh perspectives are required, banks should seek to create more diverse workforces, full of people who can bring different skills into play.

At stake is not only financial institutions’ productivity, which is tied to the knowledge and skills to adapt to technological shifts, but also the imperative to create an inclusive work environment, investing in people who will become active leaders in societal change and themselves promote diversity and reskilling.

According to a World Economic Forum survey,[1] more than one in four adults in OECD countries reported a mismatch between their current skills and the qualifications required for their job. In the banking sector, new digital technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence are reshaping not only customers’ experience but also those of bank employees, as processes and jobs are transformed.

As a manager and innovation director, I see every day how technology is reshaping our needs for IT talent. Reskilling is essential as some traditional skills are no longer appropriate for specific tasks. Automation and the implementation of AI, alongside digitalization of retail branch networks and elsewhere in banks, has created a shortage of IT workers with relevant skills. The shortage of skilled data scientists and other IT workers such as agile developers is particularly severe and something that I have noticed personally, as have my peers.

In addition, the nature of a banking career is changing ‒ from a linear career path to several careers within a lifetime. Business transformation cycles are much shorter than those of workforce development: a 40-year life-long career versus a transformation cycle of six months to one year doesn’t match up. The acceleration led by technologies and digital ecosystems makes a case in point: today, 90% of the data handled by an IT specialist was created in the past two years. 

In the banking activities that have not been affected by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, managers tend to tap into the talent pool of the university or school from which they graduated. This community mindset has led to low diversity among those working within these areas. Achieving innovation in an environment of homogenous skills is a challenge. But technology itself could help rather than hinder progress here.

"Within Societe Generale, we launched Simplon, a retraining programme that reskilled 15 people from inside and outside the bank to become web developers in 21 months"

Technology as a catalyst of diversity

Banks need to bring on board a more diverse range of profiles and perspectives and promote an innovative mindset among employees. By tapping into non-traditional sources for employment, banks are likely to create a more diverse workforce. Diversity can be achieved by fostering social inclusion and enlarging talent pools among under-represented schools or education courses. Technology can help here, by reaching out through different recruitment channels and reassessing qualification criteria through new lenses that can remove the inherent biases and weightings that traditional recruitment may inadvertently encourage.

Technology can be one function leading the drive towards more gender parity at work. SmartCo, which was launched by Societe Generale’s innovation lab in Dakar, is a programme designed to encourage technology entrepreneurship among women in Africa. For the first edition, 100 women project leaders, mainly from outside the group but also women staff members, were selected to develop and create sustainable solutions to problems. We believe this helps to promote tech women empowerment, but above all, it aims to set a basis for promotion and social harmony through women’s learning.

Injecting fresh perspectives

Banks, like most companies, are also working on offering a holistic employee experience, encompassing the work environment, ways of working and balance between work and personal life on offer, rather than a life-long career within the organization. A continuous feedback loop between banks and educational establishments will help both entities to create wider, more skilled talent pools of individuals with greater employability, as well as manage expectations of what both employers and new generations of workers are looking for.

Reskilling the existing workforce can also bring new perspectives to a financial institution that were hitherto unrecognized. Reskilled workers taking on new roles within the bank can bring a new vision, particularly if they come from other industries with different customer experiences that they have a new opportunity to use.

Reskilled workers will also not have the cognitive bias of replicated patterns that are developed if a worker has stayed in the same activity or industry for several years, and can work without the burden of ‘how things are done here’.

Those who have overcome the psychological barriers of reskilling might be more adaptive to future change as well, and readily think ‘outside the box‘, both in terms of skills at work and in other areas ‒ such as the promotion of social or gender inclusion, encouraging others by saying: “I have done it, why not you?”

"90% of the data handled by an IT specialist was created in the past two years"

Planning for change

In reskilling the workforce to account for the ever-increasing challenges we face around technology and skills, a bank should first map how client user experience and technology have an impact on current skills and jobs. They must define the target in terms of skills and adapt retraining programmes to reach that new goal. They should also prepare for technology-driven disruptions that will require the retraining of the workforce, even before they have reached their first target.

A programme like this should combine hiring new staff, training existing staff and reskilling others. Within Societe Generale, we launched Simplon[2], a retraining programme that reskilled 15 people from inside and outside the bank to become web developers in 21 months. 

Management has an important role to play in delivering such ambitious aims: senior managers must be able to guide the transition and impart their knowledge and experience to staff undergoing change, or simply managing the process. A key challenge is to find managers willing to welcome reskilled workers into their team and spend managerial time to facilitate their integration. The capacity – and willingness – to adapt are key success factors in any reskilling programme, as is the patience to see transitions completed.

If they want to remain to the forefront in the increasingly competitive talent race, financial institutions need to create a corporate culture that promotes learning and innovation, autonomy and empowerment, to foster self-reskilling and development. The organizations that stand still today are already behind.

[1] World Economic Forum, Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (July 2017) 

[2] Simplon is a network of social digital factories in France and abroad which has trained more than 4,000 trainees in the digital sector since 2013. It aims to make the digital sector a place of inclusion and to reveal talents among groups underrepresented in this field.

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