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Addressing the Gender Issue and Securing the Future of Fintech

By Charley Brooke Barnett (Content and Marketing Associate)

TheCityUK and Santander explore the talent gap present in financial services in their March report ‘Fuelling Fintech’ and suggest potential steps for the industry over the next five to ten years.

The report was released alongside a panel discussion chaired by Marcus Scott (Chief Operating Officer, TheCityUK) and featuring Anne Murphy (Managing Partner, Odgers Berndtson), Professor Phil Sutton (Imperial College London), Mark Hoban (Chair Skills Taskforce) and Josh Bottomley (Global Head of Digital, HSBC).

The breakdown of stats is eye-opening. The fintech market is worth £7 billion to the UK economy, employs 60,000 people and had a year-on-year investment growth of 154% in 2017. The UK is also the leading exporter of financial services across the world, with more banks’ head offices being located in London than any other city. Given this, fuelling fintech is a tremendous responsibility.

A tug of war has emerged between finance and tech firms over who can attract the best recruits. How do you bring in top talent to finance, when you’re competing with the likes of Google, with their slides, massage rooms and sleep pods?

The fintech market is worth £7 billion to the UK economy, employs 60,000 people and had a year-on-year investment growth of 154% in 2017.

Murphy believes the financial industry “Suffers from a brand issue.” Having asked graduates for their perception of a life in finance, many expressed concerns over the limited roles available. She observed that the industry is not doing enough to promote the rewarding aspects. A critical failing at a time when people (mostly millennials) are sacrificing pay cheques for purposeful careers which adhere to their values.

IWG recently conducted a survey which found that 80% of Brits prioritise flexible-working jobs. Barclays are making strides with their ‘Dynamic Working Programme’, where 57% of the firm’s global employees embrace flexi working. Encouraging such trusting workplace cultures could aid recruitment (and bolster five star Glassdoor reviews!)

The report underlines how financial services organisations are increasingly recruiting within the remit of coding and software development, user experience, product design, data science and cyber. Highly specialised job roles such as ‘Data Scientist’ and ‘Technology Specialist’ are now in demand, however many applicants lack the know-how to secure them. Financial organisations have to look further afield to fill these roles and dive into a broader talent pool. In other words, not just recruiting graduates with finance degrees.

recruitmentWith this in mind, diversity is imperative. Diverse workforces bring cross-functional skills, with research showing it leads to higher financial returns. However, the gender imbalance in fintech is still woefully apparent. In a breakdown of AI talent pool courses in 2016/17, 22.5% of undergraduates were female. Jaguar Land Rover created its Women in Engineering initiative after finding that in 2013, only 1,234 female students graduated from appropriate engineering subjects in the UK.

According to the report, employers are calling on universities to make tech content available on non-tech degrees, as these skills are highly transferable across many different sectors. Introducing fintech graduate placement schemes could also be beneficial. This would help to showcase the opportunities finance can provide and, as Sutton puts it, “Push away the barriers and get young people enthused.” This should be done as early as possible, not just at university level. Bottomley agrees “Build curiosity and passion early on…combine what’s possible with accountability.”

In a breakdown of AI talent pool courses in 2016/17, 22.5% of undergraduates were female.

The panel asked for closer ties between the government, academia and the financial industry to ensure best practice. Sutton called for collaboration between universities and business:

“There is value for the sector to engage with universities and build long term relationships to develop trust and joint commitment.”

The focus should be on neutral support and not treating universities “Like a contract supplier.”

The University of London is leading the way with its degree in creative computing. Manchester University also boasts an AI degree, including programming and algorithms on its curriculum. With UK recruiters seeing a 51% increase in AI hires, these courses could be the ticket to fast track graduates through the recruitment rounds.

It’s worth addressing the potential impact of Brexit on recruitment too. The report found that since the Brexit vote in 2016, there’s been a dramatic fall in the number of graduates coming to the UK from France and Germany in particular. A LinkedIn study, which surveyed 600 hiring and recruitment managers in the UK, found that up to 20% of graduates with the necessary tech skills in the sector are from the EU. That’s a big slice of the tech talent cake that’s now out of the UK’s reach.

The focus should be on neutral support and not treating universities “Like a contract supplier.”

Senior management have a responsibility to install a digital culture to ensure their workforce and recruitment programmes are keeping pace. Hoban encouraged in-house programmes to raise awareness to make the new skills learned applicable to real-world business. A 2017 survey from Deloitte discovered that only 16% of executives believe their employees have the digital skills necessary to execute their strategy. To bridge the gap in knowledge, many firms are now developing partnerships with initiatives such as the School of Coding, to enhance tech literacy across the board.

The UK is undoubtedly at the forefront of the fintech ecosystem, sporting remarkable growth and promise. Looking ahead, the industry requires its workforce to be digitally aware, flexible and diverse in order to flourish. Young students (at both school and university level) must also be guided to develop their tech skills, thus nurturing the fintech talent pool now and in the years to come.

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