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Five top tips to boost your career in the finance sector

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 2 Apr 2015

The banking and financial services sector is a thriving area for HR job opportunities, with Jobs regularly boasting a healthy choice of roles.

It is also a complex area, as the sector continues to absorb mergers, acquisitions, the effects of new regulation and expansion in certain areas.

“New companies are coming in and flourishing”, says Jon- Paul Hibbert, associate director at Frazer Jones, “ in asset management, private equity and boutique insurance.”

Candidates need to be aware of changes over the past seven years and re- inforce their knowledge of the market and current affairs, as John O’Connor, operating director at Michael Page Human Resources, explains.

“After the turmoil of the economic crash and subsequent downturn in 2008/2009, many HR directors and their teams are focusing heavily on how to attract and manage talent in an environment, which to a large extent, is still under the microscope”, he says.

“As well as having to manage their organisations through a difficult economic period, the banking and financial services sector has the additional political pressures of state investment and involvement in the banks and financial institutions. This has been to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in the UK before, so many organisations are having to manage their way out of this period with an extremely high level of sensitivity to public and political sentiment”, says O’Connor.

This adds up to demand for HR skills. Follow our five top tips, below, to help you boost your prospects.

1. Understand the sector

The demands on HR professionals to be more business-focussed are amplified in the banking and finance sectors, which have seen much re-organisation in the past seven years since the recession.

At The Co-operative Bank Carl Du Plessis, head of resourcing and talent, says that HR professionals need to be aware of the new roles that are emerging, and their remits.

“As regulations, compliance and risk are some of the biggest challenges facing the financial services sector, then an understanding of these areas and effect on the business is an advantage”, says Du Plessis.

HR departments are central in helping the sector to restructure. This is having an impact in the interim market, says managing consultant at Michael Page Human Resources Adrian Dawson. He says that he has seen: “an increasing number of roles in HR transformation or restructuring, and change management, particularly from the bigger banks.”

2. Match your skills base and qualifications

This sector is a stickler for CIPD qualifications, especially for the bigger roles. “Senior HR people are expected to have MCIPD qualifications”, says Andrew Drinkwater, director of Henlee Resourcing, “with other roles, up to HR advisor level, looking for CIPD qualifications,or degrees in HR or business studies.”

He adds that generalists are not expected to have any specific financial qualifications, but that it is favourable to have experience in financial services and already be a business partner.

The picture changes slightly for candidates looking at recruitment and talent management roles. “The [talent measurement] SHL level A&B qualifications can be an advantage”, says Dawson of Michael Page, adding that learning and development professionals often find that awards in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) are well- regarded.

Applicants for learning and development roles that cover compliance training face stricter requirements. “Since the mortgage industry changed last year, people had to be re-skilled to a new level”, says Henlee Resourcing’s Drinkwater. “They have to be qualified to IFA diploma level 4 in financial services to train people”, he says.

3. Make your experience count

The large financial organisations, who have re-organised in the past seven years  stipulate: “ that they want candidates who have been through similar changes as well”, says Henlee Resourcing’s Drinkwater.

For this reason, many financial services companies like to recruit from their competitors, and in such examples it is easier for candidates to convey the relevance of their experience and grab the recruiters’ attention. However, there are other common threads and transferable skills.

For example, Drinkwater says that candidates from “complex or matrixed” are well-received , as are candidates with experience as business partners. At Michael Page, Adrian Dawson adds that interim candidates who understand the Ulrich model, and who have worked in change or global organisations: “are not staying on the market for long and rates are increasing”.

Smaller organisations, such as private banking, “are much more open to candidate backgrounds”, says Dawson, adding that he has seen a number of candidates from the oil and gas sectors, and large global consultancies, being well- received in the banking and finance sectors.

All candidates can expect the selection process to be strenuous. Interviews can extend to four rounds and there is a strong use of assessment centres.

4. Speak the language

Impact at interview, and long- term credibility in a financial services organisation are dependent on “ being able to speak the language that business understands”, says Jon- Paul Hibbert, associate director at Frazer Jones.

This especially applies to HR director, head of compensation and benefits, and head of reward roles. Professionals are expected to convey strong regulatory knowledge, (particularly with reference to bonuses), and explain relevant data.

Andrew Drinkwater, from Henlee Resourcing adds that candidates also need to be able to convey their skills in: “analytics, Excel, and demonstrate their strong IT acumen”.

5. Fit the culture

It is important to be a cultural fit says Skipton Building Society head of people services Chris Worts, who moved from an HR career in hospitality to join the financial sector. He is enthusiastic about his organisation’s culture and expects the same from recruits.

“I enjoyed the move because it was to a structured environment with audit trails. It’s a very organised sector, which is something I quickly absorbed”, he says.

Worts is open-minded about applicants’ career backgrounds. He looks for people who can “engage” with others, and who are interested in “building a high-performance culture”.  He ensures skills flow between departments by recruiting some people  from other parts of the business into HR, and also ensuring  that  the HR team “spends time on the shop floor, speaking to employees in the branches.”

He says that HR professionals in financial services are not expected to have detailed financial knowledge but that they should be able to converse well with experts around the business.

“There is no ivory tower”, he says.