Article: 'Disruption in the financial services industry is inevitable'

C-Suite

'Disruption in the financial services industry is inevitable'

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, BT’s Bernadette Wightman talks about the shifts in skills and the role that business and HR leaders need to play in accelerating learning.
'Disruption in the financial services industry is inevitable'

Bernadette Wightman is the Managing Director for Banking and Financial Services at BT. Her current role involves leading a global sales team across 129 countries that support the top 200 banking and financial customers. Prior to BT, she was with Cisco, where she had a global role working across Moscow, ME, and Canada. 

Wightman talks about the shift towards digital skills, the need for multiple stakeholders, and the emerging challenges ahead for leaders. Here are the excerpts of the interview.

Two-thirds (64%) of financial services leaders expect to be mass adopters of AI over the next two years, according to one study. What are the new emerging jobs? And what sort of job roles are becoming redundant?

There is no doubt that AI is affecting financial services at an accelerating pace – in fact, it is to be a key business driver across the industry. According to the World Economic Forum, AI is expected to be used for purposes beyond cost reduction, such as revenue generation, process automation, and even risk management, among others. Within 20 years, 90% of all jobs will require some digital skills. However, as technology starts to gradually alter job functions, disrupt business models, and transform business functions, it becomes critical to foster trust and effectiveness in AI adoption. 

Digital skills aside, study after study shows that while technology will alter many roles directly, it is also set to have indirect effects. As demand for mathematics, computing, and data analysis grow, so too will the need for human attributes like creativity, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation. Roles in human resources and leadership quickly rise in importance, in areas such as nurturing staff, upskilling and equipping young people with tools, to ensure that the business equilibrium is not only maintained, but also operating at optimal capacity. That means we also need strong cultures that promote mentoring and the development of soft skills. 

In one of your articles on the need for reskilling, you talked about the need for lifelong learning. How can companies foster a culture of lifelong learning, given that the initiative is going to be primarily dependent on the individual?

Technological literacy in the broadest sense is what matters, and BT aims to build better digital lives for not just customers but also our employees, giving everyone access to the digital skills they need and supporting good causes. We recognize the need for a wide-ranging development of these skills, and we are now seeing more and more unique ways to impart these capabilities. BT’s Skills for Tomorrow platform offers free online or face-to-face courses to everyone from small-business owners to teachers and parents, helping learners advance from mastering the basics and keeping safe online, to accessing public services, and enhancing wellbeing. At BT, you can also get your degree while working as a cybersecurity apprentice, gaining real business experience, while also learning about security, identity, vulnerability, and risks in the digital age. While responsibility indeed lies within the individual, everyone including the organization has a key part to play in ensuring that lifelong learning is an exciting, ever-growing process.

There’s the need for multiple stakeholders to work cohesively to tackle the skilling/reskilling challenge. Who are all the stakeholders critical to tackling the challenge and what is their role? 

Gradually, there is growing recognition that bridging the skills gap can’t be done via several company and government initiatives, and public and private partners are waking up to the idea that working together will generate far more sustainable and scalable solutions. Individuals aside, stakeholders such as social entrepreneurs, educational institutions, industry associations, labor agencies, as well as the government, must collaborate to create the holistic ecosystem for the future of skilling in the labor market. They also need to cooperate on reskilling at a much larger scale now than in the past, given the rapid change of technological transformation. Some partnerships are already in place. Future.Now is a new coalition of leading companies, including BT and Lloyd’s Banking Group, as well as civil society groups working in collaboration with government to boost the UK’s digital skills initiative. Elsewhere more than 20 multinational companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, Nestlé, BT and Vodafone, have joined up as founding members of the Global Alliance for YOUth, which prepares people for the professional world.

How should leaders prepare for the upcoming disruption in the financial services? What is your one advice for leaders who are preparing to future proof their organizations on ‘people and work’ related priorities? 

The upcoming disruption and transformation in the financial services industry is something that is inevitable. However, leaders can exercise the initiative of taking stock of where we are and calling for an end to working in insolation. Executives at every level, and in every industry, must seize this moment to cement their legacy and ask: how can my organization do more? And who can we join forces with to best equip our people for the workplace of tomorrow? Starting early, challenging ourselves to do better and fostering inclusivity throughout the process is key to ensuring that we are well-equipped for the digital future.

Given how quickly skills are changing and evolving, what are the other new challenges that the world of work will need to brace up for?

Another challenge that deserves just as much if not more attention is gender-based digital exclusion. Fewer women than men work directly in ICT roles in almost every country in the world, and a European Commission report found women to be less interested in digital-sector higher education, jobs or entrepreneurship. To ensure that this gap closes rather than widens further, all stakeholders have the ownership to include, upskill, and innovate. This translates into advocating for female entrepreneurs, promoting education, and challenging these stereotypes. While there are several robust initiatives in place with the aim to encourage women’s employment in digital, what’s just as important is reminding ourselves constantly that we upkeep this strong momentum in social and economic diversity.

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Topics: C-Suite, Strategic HR

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