Learning and development (L&D) programs have been a fixture in corporations for decades, especially in highly regulated industries like financial services, where organizations can face serious legal trouble if workers don’t know how to stay in compliance with complex requirements. Historically, these trainings have focused on supporting specific business functions — like rolling out one-size-fits-all programs for every manager, or lining up training to prepare an employee for a promotion.
But business needs in financial services — and employee expectations overall — have dramatically shifted in recent years. Today, general-purpose learning and development programs are no longer enough. Banks, credit unions, and other companies in the financial services sector must build a more holistic culture of L&D to ensure their organization remains competitive in the marketplace for both customers and employees.
“[L&D] is no longer a perk,” said leadership coach Meredith Turney. “[It] is going to be considered…just part of a job — investing in your team and [their] growth. Because employees have a lot of choices now, and they are going to go where they know they'll be invested in.”
Here’s why learning and development is so critical for the financial services industry in today’s work environment, and how to roll out programs that keep employees engaged — and companies competitive.
Learning and Development Programs Help Financial Firms Stay Competitive
When financial services firms shift from offering training programs that just check a box to a more holistic L&D culture that addresses the needs of the industry and its workers, they can reap big benefits — from an organization able to quickly pivot to address customer expectations, to an engaged and motivated workforce. This shift allows organizations to stay competitive, both within the industry and in attracting top talent.
Competitive in the Industry
The financial service industry is in the midst of a digital transformation. Traditional banks are increasingly competing with fintech companies for customers, and organizations are harnessing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence to transform the customer experience. Training courses ensure team members have the skills required so organizations can stay nimble in this fast-paced environment, as new technologies are deployed and old processes are digitized.
“[L&D] helps prepare for continuous change, and that helps drive better decisions and business outcomes,” said Connie Steele, a future of work and life consultant and author of Building the Business of You: A System to Align Passion and Growth Potential Through Your Own Career Mashup.
In the past, businesses had the benefit of time — maybe a quarter or two — to bring on new programs or clients, said Manish Jain, Global Head of Training and Knowledge Management at Acuity Knowledge Partners, which provides business intelligence to the financial services sector. This is no longer true.
Today, learning and development “is more of a simultaneous function, rather than just being a reactive function,” said Jain. As soon as a business acquires a new client, one of the most important factors is knowing if the organization is prepared with the required skill set to execute the work for the client, he said. A carefully crafted L&D program will ensure that it is.
Competitive in the Labor Market
In financial services, talent shortages are a top issue for 86% of HR professionals who participated in a pulse survey conducted by professional services firm AON. In another survey of financial services organizations by artificial intelligence solutions provider WorkFusion in conjunction with research firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), 87% of respondents said retention is a major concern.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and companies continue to grapple with fallout from the Great Resignation, workers have made it clear that they expect more from their employers than just a paycheck. Along with greater flexibility, they also want opportunities to grow and develop — and agency over how they do it.
When surveyed about why they chose to work for their current organization, the number two reason for Gen Zers and millennials was learning and development opportunities, according to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey. And employers are taking notice. A 2022 report released by learning management system platform TalentLMS and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 67% of Human Resources managers expect their learning and development budgets to increase this year.
Employers in any industry must shore up their L&D programs to remain competitive to top talent, and this remains true for financial services. “As you think about how you’re attracting talent, these robust development programs are really what’s going to do it,” said Carrie Missele, learning and development practice lead for management consultancy Inspirant Group.
6 Strategies to Get Employees Engaged in L&D
But gaining true engagement in learning and development programs takes more than just rolling out a few new options. To really get finance professionals engaged in L&D, here are six strategies experts recommend.
1. Demonstrate the importance from the top down.
“[An organization’s] culture is a direct reflection of what is happening in leadership,” Turney said. “If the people in leadership, [such as] the CEO, are not demonstrating or sharing how they are personally investing in themselves, or that they’re working with a coach, or what [specific professional development] they’re working on, then it’s not going to permeate [into] the culture.”
And, Turney said, leaders and managers can’t just talk about what they’re doing for themselves; having a professional development plan for their teams must be a core part of their job responsibilities, too. “If 20% of your time is going to be focused on developing your team, then this is not just an add on; it is part of your job,” she said.
2. Provide easy-to-digest formats.
Days- or weeks-long courses, especially in the financial services industry where employees may already be working long hours, can be hard for professionals to commit to. “Over the years, we realized that people do not have that kind of patience or attention,” said Jain.
So Acuity redesigned their programs intp easier-to-digest bundles, Jain said. Offering micro-learning — or shorter, virtual learning segments that, for example, workers can listen to while commuting or running errands — makes it easier for employees to participate, and means that they won’t need to set aside hours a day for lengthy learning and development courses.
These micro-learning offerings rely on a hybrid model: In addition to self-paced learning material, Acuity also includes live portions (either in person or online), where employees can meet with an instructor and peers to discuss what they’ve learned and draw deeper meaning from it.
3. Keep it top-of-mind.
Don’t limit discussions about learning and development to annual performance reviews. “If you’re connecting with your employees [in an ongoing manner] and you know what their professional goals are, you can center those conversations around what that person could be doing” to further their development, said Missele, such as programs or certifications that could be relevant. “Only talking about [professional development opportunities] once a year [is] problematic,” she said.
To keep the topic top-of-mind, managers can discuss any available training programs or potential development opportunities during regular one-on-ones, for example. And organizations can recognize and celebrate employees’ learning achievements during all-hands meetings or in company newsletters.
4. Make programs relevant.
Technology is rapidly changing, and programs that were once critical can quickly become irrelevant. Organizations should constantly evaluate the programs they’re offering to ensure they are still needed — and prioritize new ones when they’re not.
When Jain first started in the industry, he was maintaining massive Excel data sheets and entering data manually — tasks that required a specific skill set. Today, technology has automated those responsibilities, and what once might have taken him two days now only takes 20 minutes.
With those manual processes stripped away, employees now have more time to focus on the work that humans do best — building relationships and fine-tuning complex analytical skills. Financial services organizations must ensure that their L&D programs address any skills gaps — teaching employees the analytical skills, as well as the soft skills they need, to address the industry’s challenges, Jain said.
And, as the industry shifts, not every skill that today’s employees need is obvious. Companies that have been focused on optimizing physical locations such as a bank branch may need to begin training people to navigate and improve the digital experience for customers, Steele said. So a bank teller may benefit from user experience design training, for instance.
“The jobs of the future will be a hybridization of a lot of different things,” said Steele. “The best employees in a company are the ones who can [adapt].”
5. Tie it to career growth.
Organizations integrate learning and development into their culture when they start looking at it as a way to bolster their employees’ career management trajectory, Jain said. “It’s not just about imparting the skills that will be required for business growth,” he noted. Rather, he added, employers must think about what they can offer their employees during their tenure with the company.
To accomplish this, Acuity uses a skills pyramid for its employees in order to track the number of people at each skills level and their tenure. This system helps the organization identify the employees who may have been lingering in one area for too long and are ready for something new.
“Very proactively, [we] can see [if a] person has been in [a] skill or business area [for a while],” Jain explained, and consider “what the next career level is that we want to give that person.”
6. Communicate the value.
Especially in fast-paced industries like financial services, attending a learning and development program can feel like a drain on an employee’s time. That’s why it’s critical for employers to communicate the benefits. For instance, a manager might relay to their direct report how a class or certification might prepare that person for the next stage of their career. Or an executive could explain how new skills will help ensure that the company is ready to meet its goal to move into a new region, or pivot to a new product or service.
“Even just communicating the objectives ahead of [learning and development] sessions is a [great] way to let people know what they’re going to come away with when they’ve invested their time,” said Missele.
Too many employers shy away from building robust learning and development programs, deterred by the cost, time, and energy required and frustrated when the employees they’ve trained move to new jobs elsewhere. But Turney encourages financial firms to have a different outlook on L&D. See it as an opportunity to invest in your people, the organization’s future, and the industry, she advised.
“[You’ll set] yourself apart in the industry by saying, ‘We invest in our team, and we have the best talent in the world,’” Turney said.
That reputation within the industry that your organization takes the time and effort to develop its people can turn into an invaluable recruitment and retention tool, attracting top talent and keeping them engaged on the job. This, in turn, will save financial services companies the time, effort, and cost to fill open positions, said Missele. Younger workers — millennials and Gen Z, who now make up a large portion of the workforce — have made it clear that’s what they want.
“For them, it’s not about money,” Missele said. “It’s about ‘What are you doing for me, and how am I a better person because I worked here?’”
A robust L&D program gives employees of all ages a reason to stay and grow in your organization. For more tips on how to keep top-performing finance professionals feeling motivated and valued, check out our eBook: Driving Engagement and Retention in the Financial Services Industry.