Upskilling the financial sector must be led by the grassroots - CII

Posted On: 
2nd October 2019

A grassroots-led approach to upskilling can help the financial sector prepare for technological change, industry experts have said.

Financial services make up 80% of the UK economy.
Credit: 
PA Images

Technological change has delivered significant benefits for the financial sector but has also transformed the working environment for those working in the industry, according to a panel of industry leaders speaking at the Chartered Body Alliance’s Conservative Party fringe event.

With only 8,000 physical bank branches left in the UK, down from a peak of 18,000 and another 400 closing every year, there has never been a more critical time for workers in the sector to be supported to reskill and upskill.

But according to Professor Andrew Westwood, from the University of Manchester, it is a major hurdle for both the sector and the country as a whole.

“The bad news is that we are terrible at it in this country, and that is not a criticism of any particular government. Successive governments have been very poor at changing that culture of lifelong learning,” he said.

“There are both utopian and dystopian views about the impact of technology on work. Depending on how scared you are about robots taking your job, you can pick the worst scenario that 70% of jobs over the next 20 years in the US are at some risk of automation, we have a figure for the UK of about 33%.

“The Bank of England and the OECD put it at about 15%. But whatever you choose, that is a lot of change in the nature of occupation and the way that we work.”

Meanwhile, according to Dr Matthew Connell, Director of Policy and Public Relations at the Chartered Insurance Insititute, the insurance sector has also seen large-scale restructuring, with a massive fall in the number of people employed directly by insurance firms coming alongside a significant rise in employment in ancillary firms.

“Absolutely there is a huge challenge to create with a strategy for training in this more fragmented sector where there is much more outsourcing, much more specialisation,” he said.

But he added there was an impetus for grassroots groups to lead the drive for upskilling in the sector rather than an outdated top-down approach.

He said: “It is not about a top-down strategy, but about harnessing the power of all those local and out sourced and innovative tech firms that really understand what is happening around them, and who look more closely at what is happening with clients, and feeding that up through the system.”

“We should be reforming the apprenticeship system and making sure that that ecosystem really flourishes.”

Meanwhile, turning to the reskilling of managers in the sector, Dr Connell said there was already an overlap between how current projects are managed and how that could be adapted to overseeing AI projects in the future.

He said: “I think there is an overlap in terms of management skills, in terms of skills of managing computers, or managing robots.

“Because Artificial Intelligence isn’t like that kind of robot that is portrayed in the films. It is not something that gets it 100% accurate all the time.

“It is actually about absorbing a lot of data and making some good guesses on the back of the data.

“So, if we think about the data in our lives, like predictive text. Someone once described predictive text as like having a drunken elf in your phone, and in a way that is what the managerial skill of the future will be for people in senior management, in compliance and for people responsible for consumer outcomes.

“Understanding how artificial intelligence works, how it works differently from computers and robots now.

“And a lot of the time, how to apply the skills of managing people to managing technology. It is almost like you treat your AI as you would manage an outsourced firm.

“Something that can go off in lots of different and unexpected directions, and it’s about having the managerial skills, and the process skills and the government skills to understand what is happening.”

But Marcus Scott, Chief Operating Officer at TheCityUK, said it was vital this upskilling took place quickly given the importance of financial services to the UK economy.

“The UK is very good at services,” he said.

“Our economy is developed into services more than most other European economies. 80% of the UK is services. Our economy has been much more dynamic than that regard than other European economies.”

But he said there was a need for a “greater diversity” of skills in the sector which industry had to play its part in delivering.

“All our products can be delivered digitally, so we are well placed to benefit for digitalisation.

“However, that does also mean as we have seen in other industries, that when you get new technologies developing, the cost of entry is dropping all the time.

“New players are delivering innovative services using much lower cost platforms. So, the industry is having to respond to that, and having to respond rapidly.”

This grassroots, industry-led approach was also critical in building interest in the industry in schools, Dr Connell added.

“It is not about calling up an army of trainers to go into schools to tell them about insurance, it is about creating a community of advisers, people who really understand the sector that they work in, to equip them with the materials they need to go into schools to talk to people in their community about the profession.

“And I think that idea of building a community that can bring experts in and audiences in which is really powerful. “