Jurgen Ingels is the founder and former CEO of Clear2Pay; he is currently the managing partner of Smartfin Capital. In this interview he informs us of the talent development challenges for the financial industry.
Banking and Insurance companies need to be smart in terms of assessing talent, potential, and ambition. They need to find ways of accompanying employees in shaping their careers in a win-win.
What do you see as the main challenges for the financial industry and how does it have an impact on the careers of the employees in the industry?
The main challenge, of course, is to keep up with technology. The industry is steadily building on the construction of the digitalization of its services. Consumer satisfaction however is not up to standards (Gartner, 2018). To build the digital bank and insurance industry, its employees need to acquire new knowledge and skills constantly. This has a huge impact on how people work and how careers take shape within the industry.
I remember that when I graduated, my fellow graduates and I thought we were set for the next 40 years, just like the generations before us were. We knew the first ten years would be better than the last ten years, but still we considered our university degree as a solid base on which to build our careers. Today, the reality is that knowledge becomes outdated after only 5 years and we are fast evolving towards a situation in which constant schooling will be the standard. Learning agility and adaptability will be key for professionals in order to stay relevant. Additionally, employees will need to self-manage their careers as careers in the industry will become even more unpredictable and dynamic.
What kind of Talent culture can support this reality?
I think the financial industry will need to make some shifts in the way talent is supported and developed.
First, I see many institutions are still set on ‘owning’ the talent they need for innovation. You do not necessarily need to own a car in order to get somewhere, you just need to know how to drive one. The industry will need to organize ways of working together with external professionals in a flexible way.
Second, the industry will need to focus more on what brings meaning to a job and a career in the financial sector. Traditionally, and very understandably, the focus was on making money and experiencing stability. Today, employees, not only young professionals, look for meaning beyond these things. Moreover, since the financial crisis, the reputation of the financial industry has suffered a huge blow. How can the industry make a financial career attractive again?
This brings me to my third shift. The focus should be on talent. What are people good at? What gives them energy? The industry has a history of developing the gaps rather than building on strengths. In that respect, my own experience in the industry was frustrating. In the early years, I felt like I got nothing but negative feedback. I was constantly made aware of all the things I could not do and pushed to develop competencies that I felt were taking me off my track. I was already playing with the idea of Clear2Pay and showed it to the leadership. One member of the board called me a ‘pirate’ and another one told me ‘to focus on my job’. Looking back, I can see how it was all part of the ‘zeitgeist’. The idea was then that you needed to be a generalist in order to advance in a career. I was supposed to know the bank inside out. Besides the fact that this approach was not particularly motivating to me, it is also not possible anymore. Keeping up in your own field of competence nowadays is a challenge in itself.
Mind you, knowing what you are good at is not something that comes easily to everyone. People need to be guided in this process of sharing, comparing, and finding out. I see it over and over again with my own employees. Some of them want to develop competencies in which they will never excel. I spend a lot of my time giving feedback and challenging the career outlook of my employees. The industry will need to be smart in terms of assessing talent, potential, and ambition; it will also need to find ways of accompanying employees in shaping their careers into a win-win.
The final shift I see for the talent culture is about development. Learning & development departments will need to step up a gear or two. The approach to learning will have to change radically if the industry wants to keep up. I have a vision in which employees leave the organization for a 6-month training and come back with a new set of skills that make them 5 times more efficient.
We will also need to organize parallels in working and learning. This will make ‘timesqueezing’ possible. How can we set up learning in such a way that the learning curve can be shortened, because people have seen an issue they are confronted with in current their work context that they tackled before in another context? A good example is the eco-system I set up for start-ups and scale-ups, where entrepreneurs learn from each other. For the big players in the financial sector this approach is in an experimental phase. I see examples like the Common Wealth Bank of Australia and BBVA in Spain, who invest in spin-offs and spin-outs. In Belgium, Belfius is taking steps towards such a collaboration with ‘theStudio,’ an innovative lab where people have time to do research and prototype innovative solutions. Entrepreneurship is currently being valued more than before. I guess my younger self would have made a better fit in such an environment than I did 25 years ago.
We cannot see past the disruptions in the financial industry in Belgium. ING and Fortis have chosen to lay off hundreds of people. What is your take on that?
I must say I share the indignation about such a waste of talent. We collectively seem to think that people over 40 have little added value. That is just not true. They have tons of experience which is equally important as knowledge and skills. The challenge for the industry will be to update the knowledge and skills of this group. I believe this can be done. Only, we have not organized it yet. I can see a place for a ‘practical digital university’. A place dedicated to crash course employees on Access, database queries, social media, multimedia and so on.
Letting go of the older workforce is a short-sighted solution that puts the burden on society as a whole. This is not a sustainable position and I think the government should play its role in this issue.
We urgently need to be more pro-active when it comes to the development of people, both in terms of knowledge and skills as well as in their ability to adapt. If we don’t, I can easily see how new waves of layoffs will follow the current ones in even shorter cycles.
How can Career Intelligence be of help?
The use of software can definitely help in the process of spotting talent, ambition, risks and potential. Everything becomes data. We now have the luxury that we are past the era of samples, statistics, and correlations. Computer capacity has become so powerful that we are in the unique position of being able to have a clear view of every individual and act custom to every individual. The data gives us insight on what our conversations should be about and leaves space to focus on the qualitative aspects of the relation. More emancipated and focused interaction allows us to discover how we can motivate people and help them to develop themselves. The key is that we don’t only learn how to spot talent, ambition, risk and potential, but also how to nurture them so our organizations can thrive.