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Canada’s banking sector

Uniquely Human: The Future of Work in Banking

Mar 02, 2020 • 5 min

Neil Parmenter

By Neil Parmenter

President and CEO
Canadian Bankers Association

For generations, a job consisted of a structured place at which you earned wages or a salary, and your duties were composed of a range of tasks that you were required to complete. After moving up the ranks through the years, you eventually retired.

How this traditional sequence of events will be upended, segmented out and what a reorganized workplace will look like is the basis for the conversation taking place in the banking sector today and, indeed, nearly all sectors of the economy. A new model for talent is emerging, and its impact on human capital will reach our employees, our customers, and the banks as a whole.

Canada has a strong job market, the economy is healthy and gig work is still the outlier, not the rule. So, why do people feel a general uneasiness about global forces like demographics, geopolitics and technology, which are reshaping the world around us? New research by Peter Loewen of the University of Toronto is particularly insightful; he shows that perception of job loss often matters more than the objective experience of being out of work.

What’s unprecedented and undeniable, however, is how quickly technology is advancing, giving banks new capabilities to protect data, analyze capital markets, anticipate customer needs and enable always-on service delivery from virtually anywhere. Customers, too, have enthusiastically welcomed the convenience of new technologies, not only in banking but in all aspects of their daily lives.

Banks in Canada are taking deliberate steps to ensure they have the right mix of human and digital capital to navigate the journey of a shifting workforce and evolving customer preferences. This is having ripple effects throughout the talent base for banks in Canada. It has created enormous opportunities to hire new people, redeploy and retrain existing staff, and partner with educational institutions to create programs that give students the skills they need to enter the workforce to fill in-demand positions.

Five guiding principles will drive the creation of tomorrow’s banking workforce

1. We need a wide array of skills

The technology revolution in banking doesn’t mean the only desirable candidate is a computer whiz. A vast array of skills across the spectrum is in demand today. Consider the evolution of the branch experience, which hasn’t happened by accident. Major Canadian banks have hired designers, ethnographers and psychologists, as they seek to gain a better understanding of the emotional factors that customers bring to financial decisions.

Of course, we also need the digitally talented. Back offices are staffed with coders who build and maintain the software that powers contemporary banking.

Middle office cyber security experts are hard at work defending against online threats and detecting suspicious transactions to combat money laundering. Canada is a well-known leader in artificial intelligence and an increasing number of Ph.D. graduates from the field are in bank head offices.

Beyond the diverse skills mix, banks are also accommodating a diversity of working styles. Offices and cubicles are disappearing, and flexible, remote‑option schedules are now the norm. Project‑based work – yes, so-called "gigs" – have become increasingly common, as digital natives with highly marketable skills contract for defined periods of time and then move to the next challenge.

2. Retraining and reskilling the workforce

It is essential to train current staff for new skills. Internal mobility has always been one of the more attractive features of working at a bank. Now, reskilling programs add a new dimension of flexibility, plus the opportunity for institutions to cultivate talent and for individuals to build their careers.

At some banks in Canada, up to 50 per cent of staff are undergoing some form of reskilling, which has led to a re-imagining of what training looks like. Experiential learning in the workplace has replaced traditional methods, which essentially delivered existing knowledge.

3. Canada’s educational institutions serve a vital role

To narrow the gap between what students learn and the knowledge they apply on the job, we need to tear down the traditional administrative silos between workplaces and educational institutions. Fortunately, experiential education is growing in Canada, with more post-secondary institutions integrating some form of work-related learning with a diploma or degree.

Banks in Canada are active in this effort as well, with most CBA members offering summer, intern and co-op programs to mentor students and recent graduates along a career path in financial services.

The private sector, government and academia must continue to work together to ensure Canadian post-secondary institutions are future-proofing their students adequately. Canada’s colleges and universities are fantastically positioned to help transform the skills of young and adult Canadians.

4. Bank customers are also part of the equation

The future of work is certainly confronting the millions of customers that banks in Canada serve every day. Some are experiencing a profound shift in their current place of work. Others are part of the gig economy. Still others may have concerns about their next move or may be undergoing a career transition themselves. That makes getting the right advice about buying a home, saving for retirement and investing for a child’s education all the more critical.

The continued expansion of Canada’s gig economy workforce will lead banks to consider new approaches to assessing creditworthiness, as well as adjust to new legal definitions of workers in the burgeoning on-demand economy.

5. No segment of the economy can do it alone

Addressing these issues head-on requires the combined efforts of business, academia and government. It’s already happening. To cite just one example: CIBC sponsors Hackergal, a non-profit that works within public school systems across Canada to introduce middle-school girls to computer science. Hackergal is supported through a combination of public and private funds, reaches thousands of students a year and sparks an abiding interest in technology, building the next generation of women coders – some of whom, we hope, decide to work in banking.

Diversity and inclusion will remain top priorities

While we’re remaking the workforce, let’s also dismantle boundaries with respect to those whose careers we’re developing. We have a rare opportunity to shape what lies ahead with the future of work, so let’s make sure it’s an inclusive future, where a bedrock commitment to diversity and inclusion – already fundamental to banks in Canada – ensures that all employees have equal access to the next opportunities.

Read the CBA's focus sheet on The Future of Work in the Digital Economy

Ready or not, Canada’s economy is changing and the job market along with it. The next generation of Canadians is entering the workforce at a time of significant social, economic and technological change, thereby driving unprecedented disruption in the jobs and skills of the modern economy.