Banking brain drain: Why finance risks losing its best talent to the FinTech sector

Katherine Kaplan
88 per cent of millennials prioritise “work-life integration” (Source: Getty)
Britain's FinTech sector is a particularly bright spot in the UK’s recovering economy. Investment in London FinTech grew by 136 per cent last year, with the capital receiving 42 per cent of all European FinTech investment in 2014. But one less-discussed aspect of this is the potential impact on talent within the wider financial services sector.
Once upon a time, a career with a major financial institution was an obvious choice for the ambitious, the adventure-seeking, and those desiring to earn big money. Since the crash, however, this perception has started to shift. Increased regulation, the withdrawal of banks from certain investment activities, and the furore and controls around remuneration have changed the game. Averaged data from Chicago Booth, Wharton, Harvard, London Business School and Insead shows that the percentage of MBA graduates entering finance fell by nearly 20 per cent between 2007 and 2013.
By contrast, the technology sector has enjoyed a renaissance: the percentage of MBA graduates taking up careers in tech doubled from 2007 to 2013. Graduates and chief executives alike look enviously at the rapid success of the Googles, Facebooks, Spotifys and Ubers of this world.
This could potentially hold serious implications for traditional financial institutions. The current environment is such that, during periods of business as usual, the myriad of new regulations means activity is limited and highly controlled. This can lessen the draw of finance for a certain personality type. Particular skill sets will thrive, which is why we’ve seen the rise and rise of compliance experts, but more entrepreneurial types may feel stunted, and without the same remuneration prospects to keep them there.
As a consequence, we are seeing an increase in senior people being tempted to make the jump across – to get in at the ground floor of an exciting startup, accepting lower salaries in return for equity. FinTech is the perfect meeting place between the two, and its rise could catalyse this migration.
Given the centrality of talent to the business model of financial services firms, this is a concern. If the industry wants to regain a long-term, sustainable footing, it will need to re-think how to attract and retain the very best. On the other hand, as the FinTech sector matures, it will face its own talent retention challenges.
The world of work – and what employees want and expect from a career – is undergoing rapid change. A 2014 study of the career preferences of millennials showed that 74 per cent strongly valued flexible work schedules, 88 per cent prioritised “work-life integration”, and 79 per cent would prefer their managers to act as mentors rather than as traditional bosses.
In this respect, Google & co are ahead of the curve. They have successfully fostered working cultures that are less hierarchical. Technology firms tend to offer more exciting workspaces, where those with passion and skill can more easily fast-track up the ranks. Non-conventional perks are becoming increasingly important, as is flexibility.
Traditional financial firms will need to adopt some of these ideas where appropriate. And if FinTech can ape the tech sector in this regard, it will be in an ideal position to capture talented financial workers looking for a change.

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