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Financial services: have you built a disruption-proof culture?

The financial services industry is no stranger to transformation, but that doesn’t mean firms always get it right. Agility and innovation are critical for survival, so building a culture that enables your business to shift focus at speed is non-negotiable. But it’s easier said than done and most organisations fail to embed these traits at the heart of their culture.

Culture will make or break any business’ ability to succeed – and, as we’ve experienced from our many years working for and with businesses in this space, it’s all the more important for financial services companies.

It is an industry undergoing significant and constant change, driven by large-scale digital transformation as companies battle to keep pace with shifting consumer expectations and increased competition in a highly-regulated market.

This never-ending cycle of transformation isn’t just about upgrading systems or designing new processes – it’s about completely rebuilding how organisations work.

Against this backdrop, understanding the operational side of change simply isn’t enough. Financial services institutions need to build a culture that can withstand disruption and capitalise when it strikes.

By cultivating and instilling resiliency, agility and an innovative mindset among your employees, you’ll create an organisation that not only survives change,but thrives in it.

You’ll not only weather the storm but emerge as a leader that can shake up the sector and overcome the threat of market disruptors.

The institutions that solve this conundrum will change the face of financial services. Here’s where to get started in your organisation.


Make agility and resilience a priority for all

No matter how prepared your business is for any type of transformation, implementing change is hard. Everyone will experience the change curve at different speeds. And navigating constant change whilst trying to do your day job well and balancing all that life throws at you (global pandemics included) is a lot for anyone to handle.

The success of any large-scale transformation is reliant on the mindsets and behaviours of those making it happen. It’s critical that your entire organisation is resilient in the face of change, comfortable with uncertainty and agile enough to flex their approach – fast. This kind of culture won’t emerge after one campaign, one training course, one email from leadership. It’s all about incremental upskilling, building trust and security, and opening lines of communication at every level of your organisation.

Cultivating empathy and psychological safety among your teams will also help your people to battle each change as it comes with the support of their colleagues behind them. It will also help them to bring the best version of themselves to work every day. Your managers can kickstart this movement by opening a regular dialogue about the challenges the team is facing and how best they can support each other to deliver for customers.  

Prioritise building a diverse and representative workforce

Unlike any other sector, financial services touch every aspect of life and, importantly, serve the whole of society. So, to truly understand and solve the needs of customers, institutions need to shape a workforce that is truly representative of those they serve.

Bringing a diverse set of perspectives and mindsets to the table in order to problem solve, innovate, survive and thrive is critical. Without this diversity of thought, you’ll struggle to achieve the breakthroughs you need to truly serve your customer base and you’ll also stifle the speed at which you can pivot in times of uncertainty.

But it’s not a simple task, because prioritising diversity of thought requires a complete re-evaluation of every stage of your employee journey.

Reflect on your hiring policies and bring in talent from outside the financial services industry. Ramp up initiatives like paid internships and apprenticeships that help individuals from lower income backgrounds to participate. Create targeted recruitment strategies for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) talent. Seek out those with disabilities who may have a different perspective on the world. Invest in employee resource groups to support your people in bringing their whole selves to work. Shape return to work schemes to support individuals returning from career breaks. Review your HR policies, such as parental leave, to ensure they really allow your people to thrive.

The list is endless – but don’t cut corners. Impacting change at every stage of the employee journey is fundamental to ensuring diversity and representation are at the heart of your business.

Break down barriers to innovation

Within the confines of regulation, process and compliance rule. Couple that with the fact that financial services firms can be incredibly matrixed organisations, often with complex legacy structures and systems from historical mergers and acquisitions, and you’ve got a recipe for stagnant ideas, broken processes and a ‘that’s how we’ve always done things’ mentality.

To create the space for innovation to thrive, you need to build a culture that empowers your people with the freedom to challenge constructively, disrupt and push against the status quo. True collaboration across the board between a multitude of voices and mindsets must be valued and upheld as a priority. Customer-centricity must be a constant focus and an entrepreneurial mindset and a culture of experimentation must be fostered. And leaders must listen to the challenges employees face, act on this information and speed up the rate of decision-making.

In short, you’ve got to be serious about breaking down silos and out-of-date ways of working. We get it – when business is good and the task ahead seems enormous, companies may be hesitant to invest the time and money sometimes required to enable innovation to soar. But, as engagement professionals, we can quickly assess whether the culture is up to scratch and test whether employees have the right support, and are exhibiting the right behaviours, to shake up how things are done within their sphere of influence.


Equip employees to ride the wave of change

In the quest to navigate transformation, your people will need to experiment – and you can’t expect them to do that without making any mistakes. Make continuous learning a fundamental part of your culture and support employees to try new things and take calculated risks – your leaders should lead the charge by role-modelling these desired behaviours.

Make sure you’re investing in the right places too. If you’re spending all of your budget on digital transformation, give it the best possible chance to succeed by investing in training and coaching for employees. Sure, they need to know how to use the systems, but they also need to build skills like resilience, creativity and problem-solving.

Evolve your learning strategy so that it supports your people to navigate the longer-term challenges posed by transformation, not just the challenge right in front of you. And be sure to cement this shift by rewarding employees for demonstrating the right behaviours – not just for hitting their commercial targets.


What’s your biggest transformation challenge right now? We’d love to discuss it with you. Reach out to the team via connie.berry@unitedcultureco.com to discover how you can help your company ride the wave of change.

Case study: How we helped empower a workforce for a multinational financial services organisation

We worked with our client, a market-leading multinational financial services firm, to help upskill more than 50,000 of their global technologists with the capabilities they need to be future fit and deliver for customers in a fast-changing environment.

Connecting and uniting a global workforce is no mean feat. To tackle the challenge, we developed a strategic programme to empower teams to put new ways of working and thinking into action across the organisation.

Working closely with subject matter experts and senior stakeholders we created an event experience and supporting learning resources to galvanise teams and get them excited about the opportunity to build their skills and capabilities.

The result?

An impressive increase in appetite for learning across the organisation. Technologists have made an enormous commitment to the programme and significant progress has been made over the past two years. The experience is now a fixed event in the annual calendar and is continually refreshed to drive interest and ongoing participation.