Apprenticeship Levy, Data Analytics

Digital and Data Skills in Financial Services

11 October 2021 by Heidi Marshall

Corndel’s Sara Bresler joined Liz Williams MBE at FutureDotNow for a City HR Association event discussing how HR teams in Financial and Professional Services can boost digital skills across their organisation.

The session took an open and honest look at the reality of digital skills in the UK – from the perspective of both employees and consumers on whom those businesses depend. In this article, one of the event speakers, Sara Bresler, shares her views. 

Why are we talking about data skills within the financial and professional services sectors? 

There isn’t a role out there that doesn’t touch digital in some way. HR can drive those efforts to assess what’s needed and provide opportunities for development. With a third of employers highlighting cost of training as being a blocker to developing data skills (National Data Strategy 2021), the Apprenticeship Levy is a core way to deliver on that commitment.  

The polls among the City HR membership showed that nearly two thirds (66%) of Financial Services HR leads say although they have some digital skills development plans in place, they are in the early stages of that strategy. 
 

What are some of the key digital skills that HR and L&D teams need to be focusing on?  

All of them! We often talk about the Digital Skills Gap and a report by The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Digital Skills last year revealed that 82% of job vacancies require digital skills but what do we really mean by that?  

For me, digital skills refer to any skills that are required for successful digital transformation within an organisation. To deliver on the successful adoption of new technologies to grow the business, you need to be certain all your employees are digitally literate and data literate. Company-wide, these skills need to be built to varying appropriate levels of competency. 

Starting with the basics, Essential Digital Skills might include knowing how to store data and passwords securely, using software tools like Excel to manipulate and analyse data, digital collaboration tools to work remotely like google docs, Skype, Teams, Sharepoint or even being able to access salary and expenses digitally. 

More advanced technical skills enable the use of innovative cutting edge technology to keep ahead of the competition. This could be software programming skills to develop user-friendly digital apps. It could be the adoption of a DevOps approach where cloud-based collaboration tools allow agile delivery and flexibility to respond to business and customer demands real time. It might well be data skills to make insight-driven business decisions that pivot the strategy and focus of an organisation. 

The demand for digital skills isn’t a new problem. The way we live our lives relies heavily on digital skills and this has been heightened during the pandemic. Improvements are evident, but Lloyds Banking Group’s Third Edition of Essential Digital Skills Report shows that around 11.8 million (36% of) working adults still lack the digital skills needed for work. 

Post-pandemic, businesses are becoming increasingly digitalised. 1.5 million more people are online than recorded before the Spring last year – online shopping, speaking with friends and family, arranging medical appointments; this has accelerated digital engagement and the need to invest in these skills for their employees. 

What will employees need in the months and years to come? 

I think data skills are the key. There is such as strong correlation between data insights and digital transformation. 

Very recently, the Government announced the National AI Strategy which contains a ten-year plan to make Britain a global AI superpower. This follows the National Data Strategy at the end of last year highlighting the importance of data to drive economic recovery. 

For many industries, the huge amount of data available is a game-changer, providing deeper insights and opportunities for businesses to understand their customer-base and grow.  

It’s worth pointing out that often when we think of data, we think of structured data – by this we mean organised and numeric data as you would find in an excel spreadsheet. But there is so much more unstructured data available. Emails, telephone recordings, online notes, surveys, ratings, reviews, CMS, social media that produces valuable data and customer insights. This unstructured data needs some kind of manipulation before it can be used or shared. That’s not easy without the right skills within your business.  

With the rise in InsurTech and FinTech’s disrupting the market, traditional organisations need to reinvent and modernise how they use these new data sources, and this can only be done by investing in building a workforce that has the skills to grasp, manipulate and analyse data. 

Business-critical data skills can be the difference between extracting value from the massive amounts of data available and letting it go to waste. Appropriate data analysis skills can be the difference between engaging your customer base and securing the future success of your organisation and losing your competitive edge. 

In the financial and professional services industries, it is increasingly recognised that, for a smooth digital transition to occur, employees need to incorporate data skills into their roles. Abel Aboh, Data Management Lead for Bank of England, explains, The Chief Data Officer needs to demonstrate the value of data, treating data as an asset, building data literacy and making sure better decisions are being made due to better insight and intelligence.

Here at Corndel, most of our clients are focusing on data skills as part of their L&D strategy. This includes many of our financial and professional services clients including UBS, LV=, DAC Beachcroft, Schroders and Capita. They recognise the need to raise data literacy across the organisation and they’re working incredibly hard to align the work of the Data & Analytics team with that of Talent and HR. 

What is the data skills community?

We don’t need to raise everyone’s data literacy skills to be exactly the same level. You could imagine a Data spectrum or Digital / Data Framework much like you will think of when you visualise a Leadership Competency Framework. In most organisations, the data analytics community can be visualised as a pyramid. The community consists of users, producers and experts and the community spans business functions, roles and levels of seniority. Each member of the community has different needs of data and requires different skills in order to use it effectively. 

Data is only as good as what’s put in. Towards the lower end of the Data spectrum, enabling and empowering the business to enter quality and accurate data into the systems is fundamental. From there, the flow of insights and information through the pyramid enables effective, data-driven decision making throughout the organisation.  

However, the shortage of fundamental data skills throughout the workforce creates a disconnect between the highly skilled experts and the rest of the community, resulting in only 32% of companies reporting being able to realise tangible and measurable value from their data.  

Across the Data Spectrum, the democratisation and accessibility of data is essential to empower the wider business to make decisions using data. However, at the higher end of the spectrum, Senior Financial Analysts will also find that the skills of the data scientist are becoming an increasingly essential part of their toolset. The ability to tap into advanced analytical methods like AI and machine learning to pull out deeper insights is required to succeed. 

A successful digital transformation or data strategy is not about the technology, it’s about the people and the culture shifting towards a data driven organisation that will drive the change. Robin Sutara – CDO of Microsoft says “don’t overfocus on technology” during digital transformation “get your organisation to change how they do business, become more data-centric”. An interesting quote coming from a Leader of a Global Tech Giant! 

Softer skills, human skills, put the A into STEM And get STEAM – putting the Art into Steam highlighting the importance of people skills and the power of storytelling. 

All our programmes are underpinned by a coaching-led delivery model where our Professional Development Experts not only support learners with applying their technical learning to their roles but also support them with the development of some of the necessary softer skills. 

Do you have examples of how these data skills might be applied in the Financial Services and Professional Services sectors? 

Compliance 

Within financial services, regulatory compliance can make data analytics a challenge. But it is also the very reason why there should be a focus on managing all data sources securely and effectively because the consequences of a data breach could jeopardise your business. Industry disruptors are less regulated and are able to respond to customer needs more quickly.  

One of our regulated clients, an international bank, has invested heavily in data skills. They not only deal with a great deal of day-to-day structured data, but underpinning everything is compliance. Everything they do has to be recorded; Every email, message, phone call, even the direct messages they send through Skype are recorded - data is everywhere. All of this unstructured data has to be processed through a programme which stores it and allows it to be filtered and checked for all kinds of phrases or language that might raise concerns with a regulator. 

They had an issue with compliance being adhered to differently on an individual level to organisational level, and they had concerns about storing their data in the cloud for security reasons. This organization stores their data in house in a ‘mish mash’ approach and recognising the need to be more standardised, they approached Corndel for support in achieving this. 

A top-down Approach 

L&D and Talent teams within this international bank were conscious they were moving into a world where their clients were becoming increasingly data-savvy. They recognised that being able to gain insights earlier than competitors was a key differentiator that would give them the edge. To really drive the change, they started with the big picture and have a number of managers involved in the programme along with their teams – “The best way to advocate something is to be part of it yourself. Giving the programme support from the top down, enables us to work smarter and gain deeper insights.” 

This client also launched a DevOps programme alongside the data programmes to really drive digital transformation. Corndel was on the trailblazer Group for the DevOps Apprenticeship standard last year and we were proud to work with our financial services client as the first launch of its kind in the UK. They saw this as an opportunity to upskill existing technology professionals to unlock the huge potential of cloud technologies, including increased productivity, faster deployment of new technologies and support faster growth of digital capability. 

Insurance underwriters 

Specifically in the insurance sector, underwriters are being challenged to move from hindsight, where their decisions are evaluated after the fact, to foresightActive portfolio management and real-time analysis of risks is a significant industry shift and a big ask for those who are not trained data analysts.  

There is no doubt that the ability to confidently perform quantitative analysis supports better forecasting and risk management and allows underwriters to create appropriate pricing models. One learner from LV= said the data visualisation tools they learnt on the programme have transformed how they present customer proposals. They can communicate more effectively, better advising the customers and more effectively influencing stakeholders through their findings.  

Professional services 

Capita is one of our long-standing partnerships and they have launched most of our programmes. 

One learner on the data programme talks of her team dealing with lots of data that wasn’t previously utilised. In our short audio case study you can hear how someone with a low level of data fluency since school acknowledged that she lacked the Essential Data Skills for her role. She is now the Data Champion within her team acting as the ‘translator’ or ‘bridge’ with the MI department and leading on a migration to Power BI. 

In addition to data, Capita recognises that DevOps benefits the business by speeding up the rate of software development and allowing the tech teams to be more collaborative and agile. This approach encourages a change in behaviours to enable teams to be more agile and work more effectively across departments. 

All of our client organisations struggle with unstructured data in some form or another. And many have silos of data across the organisation. They have challenges around manipulating, storing, interacting with, processing, interrogating, visualizing and optimizing that data. We work with each of them to overcome these challenges. 

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