The search for digital skills in the financial services sector

Paul Smith explains why digital skills are becoming increasingly important in the financial services sector and how businesses can get the best people for the job.

Financial services is evolving rapidly. Technological developments are fundamentally transforming the industry and disrupting established players and new entrants alike – whether permanent or contractual workers. A recent survey suggested that half of consumers now use money transfer and payment services and this is set to rise, pushing digital to the top of the agenda.

As artificial intelligence and machine learning reinvigorate the industry, do financial institutions have the personnel to cope with such enormous change, and make a success of it?

The UK’s tech strength

Reports of a financial service exodus from the City of London to Europe have frequently appeared in the headlines following the EU referendum. While there’s some cause for caution, this seems particularly premature.

There’s no doubt that London, as a financial epicentre, boasts some of the world’s most talented financial professionals. It’s a magnet for talent – with or without Brexit. And this applies to interim financial directors too, who are made up of candidates from varied career backgrounds – drawn by the chance to work with big-name firms and the rewards on offer.

The only skill in short supply amongst both groups is digital acumen – in particular, the back-end expertise that can help businesses understand and apply technology.

Now, managers must have sound knowledge of how to integrate AI developments into business models. As well as being able to harness the advent of open banking, and the ensuing sharing of customer data between financial institutions.

From problem to opportunity

How do companies respond to this quickly evolving digital brief? They can look in-house, but realistically will struggle to find the required skill set. Subsequently, they must look beyond their own employees, and industry, for answers.

For interim managers, this is presenting a wealth of opportunities, particularly for tech specialists. We’re likely to see those with a background in technology cross over into the financial sector. Banks are hunting out digital talent in the market – looking for flexible and adaptable professionals to lead digital transformation and to bridge knowledge gaps.

This digital hunt is not just confined to tech roles though, across the board financial directors and professionals are realising that having a strong awareness of digital advances increases their perceived worth internally. And their market value. Some of banks’ best future profit revenues will be generated by their technological offerings for customers – any FD identifying and promoting this avenue will undoubtedly be considered high-value.

Companies will be faced with the choice to accelerate their recruitment processes or turn to interims to bring their operations up to speed. I expect interims to be the first-choice for many, with their individual ability to deliver high impact change within a short period. They can provide hands-on industry experience and efficient leadership.

The financial services sector has resourcing challenges ahead in its race to catch up with technology, but interims are a valuable resource to draw upon. One thing is certain: all financial professionals will need to embrace digital innovations to stay ahead of the market and at the top of their game, no matter where that expertise comes from.


Paul Smith is head of the financial and professional services practice at Odgers Interim.


Photo from Image Catalog (Public Domain). Cropped.