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Banks struggle to get the right talent … easy to see why

So I was listening to a couple of banking folks discussing the search for new talent.  I didn’t know until I heard the discussion, how tough it is these days.  I mean I knew that MBA students had moved away from banking in their droves to seek careers with consultancies, but generally thought banks were doing ok.  But then it’s not the search for tellers and call centre workers that is the issue, but the search for coders.

Rock star coders are difficult to attract because they are different.  This is well illustrated by this photo of the founders of Modest, recently acquired by PayPal.  Two guys – Harper Reed and Dylan Richards – who hardly look like the traditional banking type.


Bear in mind that banking has a strict dress code, and the idea of some pierced person with bodily tattooed markings and beards is beyond comprehensible.

It reminded me of Ross Perot who, when running EDS, would make it a strict rule that anyone with facial hair would not be employed.  That rule applied as much to female applicants as male.  Similarly, we have this detailed dress code policy for UBS where, working with high net worth individuals, means class and sophistication.

So how do you attract the guys and gals who like jeans and pizzas to join an institution full of suits?  It’s way hard.

Imagine Silicon Valley meets Wall Street or Anonymous meets 10 Downing Street.  It kind of does not mix.  And yet, if banks cannot mix these things and attract this hipster talent base, then they will fail.

In fact, I find it very interesting that most banks now talk about themselves as tech firms, fintech incumbents, the firms that have run on tech for years and years.  How do you transform a firm that has run on tech for years and years into a cool new firm that has attraction?  Maybe you can’t but, if you can’t, you have a problem.  Take this survey that I spotted yesterday of the hottest brands with millennials.  Of the 100 companies listed, not a single one is a financial institution.  And yet, of the 100 listed, there are many tech firms from Microsoft and Dell (!) to Apple and Samsung.   Yes, in the tech world, the old incumbents can compete and live with the new as cool brands.   But banks?  Not cool.

This is the core and fundamental challenge for financial institutions.  Not trying to be cool – that would be like dad dancing at the club – but how to attract cool.  Some banks think it’s a matter of numbers – you pay the dollars and get the stars – and that might work for a while, but most millennials are not motivated by money.  They’re motivated by the world, culture, experiences, giving, sharing and caring.

This is the real reason for the millennial divide, which I’ll talk more about tomorrow, but the core of why banks don’t feature in the millennials 100 top brands list is that the list is predominated by firms that get social media.  Banks do not get social media, as I blogged about the other day, and this is missing a huge market opportunity.   The few firms that do get social media in finance are the card companies, who may still have some reach to this new audience the banks need to attract, but the avoidance of being in the space where the future customer, or employee, sits is a big problem for banks now and in the future.

Banks need to talk to millennials in their language and in their space.  Whilst they ignore this opportunity and discussion, they will never attract the right talent.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Chris, great points. To this I might add that banking work environments are tough for some (not all, by a long shot) millennials because of bank work cultures
    1) not creative… procedures focused
    2) hierarchical and deferential to rank, age, or position
    3) risk-averse, oriented to “no” rather than “yes”
    4) slow-to-develop career paths
    Come to think of it, I wonder to which generation ANY of that sounds appealing?

  • Yes, great points, Chris & Nick. To which I might further add: there was a time (I show my age) when banks were at the forefront of technology, meaning developers had access at work to technology far more powerful and sophisticated than they had at home. Banks are often still at the forefront of technology, but not so much for the individual employee. Now my home environment is far more powerful, integrated, fast, effective–and easy to use–than the highly controlled work environment of a bank. I recognize that the latter is absolutely necessary to ensure security of customer and other data. But it makes it hard to attract talent that is looking for a much freer technology work environment.

  • Forgot to add: great picture!

  • JP

    The other key factor that contributes to this is innovation …. banks are conservative by nature & don’t have that innovative culture. The best talent wants to work in an environment where there are fewer boundaries to creativity.