Employee Growth

How to Use Upskilling for Employee Development in Financial Services

August 29, 2022
March 21, 2024
Jennifer Ernst Beaudry
Lattice Team

For firms looking to hire and retain top talent — and for companies trying to make a mark in an incredibly competitive labor market — employee learning and development (L&D) has become an imperative. This is true across sectors, including in the banking and financial services industry, where advances in fintech and evolving consumer expectations have created opportunities and difficulties that require employees to have new skills. In this ever-changing landscape, even the strongest employees can find themselves faced with new challenges that they’re not equipped to handle. This is where having a robust upskilling strategy comes in. 

According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, The Transformation of L&D: Learning Leads the Way Through the Great Reshuffle, 46% of L&D professionals cited upskilling and reskilling employees as a top priority for 2022, and 26% specifically identified digital upskilling and/or digital transformation as a top priority for the year. It’s no surprise: Both executives and thought leaders have identified continuing education and skills-gathering as a critical part of success. As Andrew Saidy, VP of Global Talent at video game maker Ubisoft, said in the LinkedIn report summary, “Learning is not an HR topic; it’s a business topic.”

But for financial firms looking to encourage and foster upskilling, questions remain. Where should companies focus their efforts when it comes to upskilling initiatives? What are the best ways to encourage employees to participate? And how can upskilling efforts be tied to individual and company goals? Below, experts weigh in on which skills are most in demand, and how to make upskilling a seamless part of your organization’s employee development strategy.

Skills in Demand

While every company will have unique needs, experts say there are two main categories that are broadly applicable across the financial services sector. Upskilling employees in critical technologies is a major opportunity — but, experts cautioned, don’t forget about more conventional social and leadership skills, too. Especially in an environment where remote and hybrid work continues to be a mainstay, there are opportunities for employees to set themselves apart, as well as advance business goals for their firm, too. Here’s where some of the biggest opportunities lie.

1. Technological skills are in demand….

The rapid rate of technological advances in the financial services sphere has made keeping up with these changes critical, and employers and employees alike need to navigate the shifts to fintech and the growing role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the field. From gaining a deeper understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, to studying machine learning or financial modeling, to diving into the technologies that underpin security and privacy, there are a number of in-demand skills that can help employees flourish.

“Technology will play a huge role in the future of financial services, so it is important for those who work in finance to understand its technological capabilities,” advised Paola Accettola, principal and CEO of HR services firm True North HR. “It is also crucial for those who work in finance to learn skills in protecting users from fraud and identity theft that come along with technology integration.” 

2. …but so are soft skills.

As important as top-tier tech skills are to the sector, a number of experts said that soft skills — things like interpersonal communication skills, strong management abilities, and customer service insight — are equally essential for employees looking to grow in the field.  

“For those working in finance, it's [just as] important for employees to have a working familiarity with finance technology [as it is to have] compassion for customers, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and practical communication skills,” said Henry Abenaim, founder and CEO of loan management software company Fundingo

 Classes and seminars that teach communication and management skills, as well as critical thinking and collaboration, can make a measurable difference, especially in remote or hybrid workplaces

“If companies want truly integrated and cross-functional teams that work well together, they must make training these communications skills a priority. It leads to better internal relationships, faster and more efficient projects, and a happier workplace,” said Josh Meyer, founder and CEO of Fintech Digital, a digital marketing agency focused on the fintech space. “When employees get these right, it's like the ‘X factor’ that sets them apart for success.”

Integrating Upskilling into Your Culture

Creating a culture where team members are rewarded for being learners means getting Human Resources and executive leadership on board and making it an institutional priority. Here’s what experts recommend to make sure upskilling stays top of mind.

1. Make upskilling available and personal.

Especially when it comes to pressing topics and skills that are generally useful for a large number of workers, making educational and upskilling opportunities available for everyone can be a smart move. Whether in the form of in-house educational seminars and trainings or learning-focused company-wide retreats, offsites, or presentations, there’s power in numbers. Offering learning opportunities for all employees or large groups of them can be an efficient way to make sure new skills are broadly applied.

Accettola recommended that financial companies set aside a dedicated budget for staff-member education, to be used toward things like enabling employees to attend conferences, pursue professional classes or certifications, or even purchase books and courses on relevant topics. Giving workers the discretion to concentrate on building the skill sets they most need and want doesn’t just result in savvier, more prepared employees, she said — it results in a better-rounded company with happier employees as well.  

Personalized learning is also an essential element in retention efforts. As the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report highlighted, employees are invested in their own growth and career paths; the top three motivations cited by employees surveyed for learning new skills all mention their careers. According to the report, team members are motivated to learn when the skills on offer “help [them] stay up to date in [their] field,” are “personalized specifically for [their] interests and career goals” and can “help [them] get another job internally, be promoted, or get closer to reaching [their] career goals.” And it makes sense that this ties back to retention: Driven employees who can see a path forward at their current job have incentives to stay.

To that end, financial firms looking to keep and grow their talent shouldn’t overlook individualized skills-building opportunities for learning at work that connect directly into growth and promotion, including job shadowing and mentorship, or even job exchanges that let interested employees explore new areas and, crucially, train in new skills. 

2. Incorporate upskilling into performance appraisals.

Incorporating upskilling into performance assessments and reviews underlines its importance to your company as a whole, and makes it more likely to be a priority for employees.  

“Incorporating upskilling into performance reviews is extremely important because it helps your employees be better and more effective,” said Abenaim. 

 Whether it’s part of the regular employee review process, either formally or informally, or an element of an individual development plan (IDP), spell out the expectations for upskilling, and make sure they’re connected directly to employee performance and career mobility.

3. Check in with stakeholders.

Upskilling initiatives are no different from any other business priority, and as such it’s critical to set checkpoints to see if efforts are paying off. Pulse surveys that regularly check in with employees can be a valuable tool for financial firms looking to launch or expand their upskilling efforts.  

Some questions your organization might seek answers to via pulse surveys could include:

  • Do employees know about upskilling opportunities and are they taking advantage of them? 
  • Do they see that knowledge paying off in their career prospects and in job and personal satisfaction? 
  • What skills have they built recently, and what skills do they still want to learn more about? 

Hearing directly from employees in this way can help HR departments fine-tune the company’s offerings and approach. 

It’s also critical, however, that financial firms assess whether upskilling efforts are paying off for their business. That’s not to say that companies need to directly connect their upskilling efforts with balance-sheet growth or decide they aren’t worth the investment. Rather, financial firms should evaluate efforts to make sure their upskilling initiatives are supporting and advancing the company’s big-picture needs, should they be a better-equipped workforce, increased internal promotions and job satisfaction, reduced turnover, or growth in innovation and inspiration.  

“Make sure your learning is aligned with business skills,” Lori Niles-Hofmann, senior edtech strategist for business consultancy NilesNolen, said in the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report. “Rather than looking at hours of learning and course-completion rates, instead focus on identifying what skills are lacking in your organization. With that alignment and clarity, L&D can create a skill-building program that’s in lockstep with your business strategy.” 

 Knowing that upskilling employees is critical to success is one thing — making upskilling efforts an entrenched part of the company’s culture is another. But experts say the benefits can’t be ignored. From a Human Resources perspective, the right training programs bolster the talent pipeline, preparing current employees for new roles and closing any skills gaps by building the competencies the firm needs to stay competitive. 

In a highly competitive market for talent, thoughtful, targeted career development and upskilling programs can be robust tools for employee engagement and retention. The bottom line? A rising tide lifts all boats, according to Accettola: “When leadership makes development a priority, employees are more inclined to learn to improve the industry,” she said.