The debate about how to manage remote working has dominated the conversation as banks revise and finalise their post-pandemic plans. While certainly important, this factor is not the only one that will reshape the banking industry’s workforce. The breakneck pace of technology is compelling financial institutions to rethink what skillsets will be needed in the coming months and years.
In the best of times, juggling this particular supply and demand is a difficult task. The half-life of a job skill is just five years, making it difficult to keep a workforce in sync with a company’s evolving needs. And now there are worrying signs of a mismatch between the skills valued by employer and employee.
Weighing up hard and soft skills
Bank management and their employees disagree about which hard and soft skills are the most important for future success, a recent Infosys survey found. This has the potential to widen skills gaps and frustrate banks’ efforts to effectively compete against encroaching digital native firms. This worrisome disconnect could make the rapidly evolving and complex post-pandemic workplace even more difficult to balance — particularly if the feared “Great Resignation” comes to pass.
In our survey of 520 employees and managers at top European and U.S. banks, we examined a wide range of skills as defined by the World Economic Forum. The largest divide we found was among hard skills, even though they are perceived to be easier to understand and evaluate. Seventy-three percent of managers consider technology design and programming — including AI, network security, and user interface design — to be one of the most valuable hard skills. Far fewer bank employees — only about half —consider that a priority.
Skills gap is widening in banks
This divide suggests a potentially widening skills gap in areas where banking leaders are investing heavily. In another Infosys survey, 94% of commercial bank executives say they consider AI and machine learning to be an important technology — now increasingly used to prevent fraud, develop personalised offerings, and build resilience into the financial system. No-code low-code platforms can ease the demand for some technical skills, but it does not provide a complete solution. Directed reskilling and upskilling efforts are crucial to better align the workforces with the work.
Our survey also found differences in the valuing of soft skills, although these gaps tended to be smaller. The most significant conflict was the value of leadership and social influence (including empathy and persuasion). Fifty-four percent of managers consider it a top soft skill, while just 38% of employees agree. At the same time, employees value initiative and self-awareness (including seeking feedback) more highly than their managers. This misalignment of soft skills can have real consequences. LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report found that 89% of “bad hires” lacked at least one individual soft skill.
Overall, these gaps suggest the need for more open communication about expectations and a concerted effort to identify, develop, and nurture the skills that firms most need. Research shows that different types of institutions value skills differently. Digital natives have better data skills, while traditional banks have stronger context dependent skills, according to the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research. The research network found that these soft skills and strong relationships allow traditional banks to “extract” proprietary information that can be used to more accurately set contract terms or make credit decisions. Meanwhile, fintechs such as Neener Analytics use data to develop alternative credit scoring techniques that don’t require a personal connection to the customer.
Listening to your employees
A renewed focus on skills, however, should not be a one-sided effort, with management dictating to employees. Bank leaders would be wise to listen to staff, who might be seeing early shifts in customer demographics and demands. Bank employees were nearly three times as likely to list multilingualism as a top soft skill compared to their managers, an observation worth investigating.
All segments of the workforce need to understand and resolve their differences to truly succeed. It’s all well and good if they are able to negotiate how often employees work from home. But if those workers don’t have the skills their bosses expect — or if supervisors have misjudged the skills available — the optimal balance of Zoom calls and in-person meetings won’t be enough to develop and keep a talented, productive workforce.
Mohit Joshi is President at Infosys