October 6, 2020

Why financial services companies need to make workforce resilience a priority

Organizational resilience has been a key topic in financial services for years, but are organizations focusing enough on the workforce side of it? Here Patrick Luther, VP and Principal, Financial Services Advisory at Ceridian, explains why companies need to invest in building agile and resilient teams for a fast-changing world.

As society becomes increasingly digital, the risk attached to large-scale disruptions – cyber-attacks, fraud, and environmental events – increases [1]. As a result, financial services organizations have changed their strategic focus from risk mitigation to operational resilience. This mindset change reflects the current environment in which technology advancements and the emergence of fintech has driven significant, rapid change.

Staying competitive means embracing digital innovation, while also staying one step ahead of increasingly sophisticated cyber-crime, as well as a host of other disruptive events. And regulators are pushing finance organizations to take responsibility for protecting customers from the negative impact of such events, levying significant fines on the ones that don’t [2]. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest example of such an event. According to the Global Risk Institute (GRI), pandemics can serve as a catalyst for other types of risk to our financial systems, such as cyber-crime, geopolitical instability, and industry disruption, to name but a few [3].

But perhaps the greatest threat from the pandemic is to the workforce itself. COVID-19 is not only straining organizations’ ability to maintain business continuity, it’s also changing the very nature of how we work. Today’s finance organizations are now tasked with protecting customers from harm, meeting their ever-changing expectations, navigating significant levels of uncertainty, and adapting to change at pace. Companies that invest in building an agile, resilient workforce will likely be better positioned for success at overcoming all these challenges.

Four ways finance organizations can build a more resilient workforce

1. Digitize succession management and knowledge sharing

We’ve all experienced it: A key system breaks, or a major project goes off the rails, and someone says, “Joe was the one who always fixed this type of thing, but he left last week.” Many companies operate this way, hiring individual “rock stars” with specialized skills sets to own a specific area of the business, without planning for alternate scenarios, like a pandemic rendering people in critical roles unable to work for an extended period of time. To create a more resilient workforce, this practice needs to be discontinued, and fast.

Instead organizations should prioritize succession planning and management for business continuity. Employees with deep skills or expertise in an area should be encouraged to capture and share their knowledge digitally to democratize information and learning within the organization. And companies should identify and prepare potential successors, not just for leadership roles, but also to be able to replace and cover critical subject matter experts.

Last year HR.com conducted a study (sponsored by Ceridian) of 500 HR professionals on succession management, which found that respondents who believe they have effective succession management programs at their organizations tended to use technology to support the process [4]. The right technology can provide you with data to supplement personal opinions and judgments as you assess your workforce for suitable successors to critical roles. If the tools you use for succession management also integrate with your talent management programs – for example, learning and performance – this can support your overall talent strategy and help streamline the work involved in running a succession management program.

Technology is also important for digitizing knowledge sharing at work. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring daily in the United States, it’s ideal for organizations to not only capture their wealth of experience before they leave, but also to make it available on demand for the next generation of workers. Tailored learning paths can also be created to support succession management, so the right people are learning the right skills at the right pace to take over when the time is right.

2. Hire and train for a fast-paced, uncertain world

Many finance organizations have invested in technologies designed to increase efficiency, such as robotic process automation (RPA). This is changing how roles are defined, how work is distributed, and which skills really matter at work. In many cases, this translates to the technology solution automating routine, repetitive tasks, leaving human workers to focus on more strategic work. Doing so effectively, however, means the existing workforce will need to develop the right mix of skills to tackle their new priorities.

A 2019 study by SHRM found that problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, creativity, communication, and the ability to deal with ambiguity are the top missing soft skills in the workforce [5]. Organizations will need to get better at recognizing these skills in candidates to improve hiring. Tools that streamline the recruiting process and allow hiring teams to score candidates against different criteria can help companies get laser-focused on what is really going to propel the company forward.

Rather than hiring to a rigid job description like in the past, companies can find people who can adapt alongside the company and build talent pools for the future. For example, maybe you find a candidate who isn’t quite right for the open opportunity but who demonstrates adaptability and creativity. Being able to capture that information digitally and store the candidate in a talent pool for future opportunities will help make hiring more efficient and focus the talent acquisition process on the right goals.

In addition to hiring for adaptability, companies will need to help their existing workforces build these soft skills to prepare them for the future. Learning platforms often offer customized learning paths and a Netflix-style interface that is easy and intuitive for people of all learning abilities to use. By making learning flexible, fluid, and personalized, you can help foster a culture of continuous learning – a critical component to building an agile and resilient workforce. In a world that’s constantly changing, employees need support to ensure they’re building the right skills for the future and not falling behind.

3. Make holistic employee wellness a strategic imperative

One driver of workforce resilience that is often overlooked is wellness. While it’s easy to dismiss employees’ health and wellness as a personal matter, ignoring it can have a significant impact on the business. Companies spend $300 billion annually due to workplace stress, [6] and according to Gallup, 70% of American employees aren’t working to their full potential and are slowing economic growth [7]. And with the world in a state of uncertainty, stress levels are only increasing.

Part of building a resilient workforce is helping your people deal with the stress that comes with that uncertainty in healthy ways, as well as giving them strategies to manage their well-being. Wellness encompasses a variety of categories – everything from physical and mental health to financial stability. It’s important for organizations to think about wellness holistically, and technology can help to facilitate that. For example, companies can offer training in meditation, working remotely, prioritization, and stress management and make this content available on demand on their learning platform.

Technology can also play a role in helping organizations make informed decisions on wellness offerings and their delivery. It’s important to let data drive your financial wellness program so that you understand the needs of the workforce and can allocate your budget and resources to things that will make the biggest positive impact. By using data sources from core HR systems and benefits providers, you can gauge adoption of your wellness offerings and identify patterns based on employee demographics.

Organizations that want to support employees’ financial wellness might consider looking beyond simply providing educational resources to other ways that technology can help. On-demand pay, for example, offers employees increased flexibility and control over the money they’ve earned, breaking free of the traditional two-week pay cycle and improving cash flow. Being able to pay for an unplanned expense like a car repair on the day it happens without using credit or a payday loan can help decrease financial stress for your people.

4. Decentralize work for greater flexibility

One thing the pandemic has taught us is that when organizations actively decouple work from the workplace through technology, they are often much more flexible and agile. Financial services organizations have long favored the in-office model, likely due to valid concerns about data privacy and security. Now, however, we can see that this puts finance companies at a disadvantage, as the trend toward remote and hybrid working models appears to be here to stay.

Even before the pandemic the world was changing in ways that made it more difficult to sustain a more traditional way of working. Advances in technology have all but obliterated the boundaries of 9-5, yet, not all organizations have provided flexibility in work times or location to help offset the resulting strain on employees. Data shows that overwork and stress can lead to a host of health issues, from poor sleep to depression to chronic disease [8].

When an organization is set up to have all or most of its workforce work from home at a moment’s notice, it helps support business continuity. Employees gain more flexibility to manage their home and work obligations, and they may have more time for work without long commutes. Employees want this flexibility, and other industries are happy to oblige. The highest value skills in today’s world are largely industry agnostic, meaning the top talent you’re after may find a home in another industry where the working environment better suits their needs.

Managing a remote workforce requires a different approach and the right technology. Organizations need to have the right systems in place to help connect employees to each other and the culture. Managers and HR teams need to have the right data at their disposal to get a full picture of workforce performance and make better business decisions. A decentralized workforce can be effective and resilient with the help of technology that adapts to the changing world – even in a highly regulated and disrupted industry like financial services.

Moving forward

The pace of change is only going to accelerate, and uncertainty is now a face of life. Financial services organizations should focus on building a more resilient workforce, one that is less defined by roles and borders of the past and is more comfortable with ambiguity. There are many components to doing this well, but it starts with rethinking how we hire, develop, and support our people. The right technology can help power your workforce resilience strategy in an efficient and cost-effective way.


[1] Howard Womersley Smith, Operational Resilience in Financial Services, International Banker, March 2020

[2] How to get ahead on operational resilience: strategies for financial institutions, Finextra and IBM, June 2016

[3] Sonia Baxendale, Financial Operational Resilience: Pre and Post COVID-19, Global Risk Institute, May 2020

[4] The State of Succession Management 2019, HR.com and Ceridian, 2019

[5] 2019 State of the Workplace: Exploring the Impact of the Skills Gap and Employment-Based Immigration, SHRM

[6] Work Related Stress on Employees’ Health, Online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program

[7] Susan Sorenson and Keri Garman, How to Tackle U.S. Employees’ Stagnating Engagement, June 2013

[8] Sarah Green Carmichael, The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies, Harvard Business Review, August 2015.

Patrick Luther

Patrick Luther is Vice President and Principal, Financial Services at Ceridian. He has over 10 years of experience in product management and marketing of enterprise software, and 10+ years in consulting for the financial services sector. Patrick is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant, and has held leadership roles at IBM, Rational, Infosys, Deloitte, and various SaaS startups. Patrick holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rochester and an MBA from Yale.

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