Headshot of a smiling blonde woman in a pine green top against a grey background.
Audrey O’Mahony. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

‘We’ve transformed our recruitment to ensure it reflects our values’

12 Jun 2019

‘Recruitment, like all activities, is facing disruption,’ says Audrey O’Mahony, who leads talent and organisation for financial services clients at Accenture.

Audrey O’Mahony is managing director of talent and organisation in Accenture’s financial services arm. She spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about how Accenture is using cutting-edge technology in its recruitment process, and the talent pipeline challenges that are specific to the financial services industry.

‘Giving people the opportunity to solve difficult, complex problems and to essentially create the banks of the future is compelling, but it won’t always be enough to win talent over’

Tell us about your role at Accenture and the challenges facing talent recruitment right now.

Future Human

I lead Accenture’s talent and organisation consulting business for our financial services clients in Ireland. My team and I help our clients transform their organisations, specifically focusing on how they can use technology as an enabler to empower their workforce to be their competitive differentiator. This means I spend my time with clients working on enterprise agility, culture transformation, digital HR and rapid reskilling for the future of work.

In terms of recruitment, the number of people currently in employment in Ireland has reached a record high, and competition for talent has never been greater. Employers are therefore exploring broader capability strategies to meet the demand and whether to ‘build, borrow, buy and bot’ the activities and skills they need.

Recruitment or ‘buying’ is essentially one lever; however, leading organisations that I work with are thinking about all four when it comes to their workforce strategies. Looking more holistically at work and how it gets done also allows employers to free up their people to do more valuable and meaningful work.

Recruitment, like all activities, is facing disruption. At Accenture, employee experience is at the heart of our people strategy, so we’ve transformed our candidate experience to ensure it reflects our values but also what it’s like to work in Accenture, with the most innovative technologies on the market.

For graduates, we now have a virtual reality assessment, replacing a case study we previously used in a group setting. In this virtual world, each candidate completes a set of tasks, creating an objective assessment process which drives fairer outcomes. In addition to creating a brilliant candidate experience, it has helped differentiate us as an employer in the market. What is remarkable is that this technology was not even available just two years ago!

What do you think the challenges are for financial institutions attracting tech talent?

Attracting tech talent is proving to be a pain point for nearly all sectors, but the demand within financial services is particularly strong as most traditional banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions are undertaking major digital and technology transformation journeys.

In addition to talent challenges, the sector continues to experience pressure on several fronts: regulation, heightened customer expectations, disruptive competitors as well as ongoing cost and margin pressures. These factors are improving the financial services landscape, but they have over the last few years created constraints around how organisations can and should invest from a skills and talent perspective.

This challenge gets compounded by the fact that the skills that they now need are in demand in so many other fast-growing sectors as well, so the more established financial institutions are no longer just in competition exclusively with their traditional market rivals (other banks and insurance companies), but also with companies that have a very different purpose, brand, culture and workforce profile. Other sectors are also offering a different employee proposition and experience and, even though most banks and insurance companies are investing significantly in transformational change, there is still a perception around what it’s like to work in some of the large institutions – a challenge that most are seeking to address.

How do you think financial institutions can compete against the major tech brands?

Financial institutions have a huge amount to offer. The sector operates in highly complex environments where driving change has never been more challenging, but that creates exciting growth opportunities.

Emerging technologies and new agile fintech players are driving traditional industry players to rapidly rethink their technology roadmaps and adopt technologies that can compete. Metro Bank, Revolut and N26 are all examples of full-service retail banks that provide the same career opportunities as big tech firms, but equally the traditional institutions are rapidly adopting technologies and operating models with the view to keeping competition at bay.

This means that those going into the financial services sector now can expect to be building experience and developing their skills in cloud, APIs, secure platform and AI.

It has also become apparent in the past few years that financial services organisations are making significant investment in innovation. The successful development of associated fintech labs, innovation hubs and monetary investment into fintech businesses demonstrates a strong desire to attract top tech and design talent into these more traditional organisations.

Why should a tech candidate consider the financial industry over a well-known tech company such as Google?

Giving people the opportunity to solve difficult, complex problems and to essentially create the banks of the future is compelling, but it won’t always be enough to win talent over.

We are now in the experiential era, where employee experience is the new currency. Working with leading banking and insurance businesses, at Accenture we know that at the top of the C-suite agenda there is a commitment and will to cultivate innovation, drive enterprise agility, and truly transform at speed and at scale. This goes beyond products and services – it’s also about fundamentally rewiring the organisation’s DNA, changing ways of working, leadership behaviours and, critically, culture.

Increasingly, this is where we see the focus of leadership, as they define values and ways of working that foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation, whilst ensuring they lend and serve customers in a way that is responsible and sustainable. So, for tech talent, there is a lot to offer.

What else should a tech candidate consider if they are entering the financial services sector?

When meeting with potential financial services employers, I would encourage candidates to ask about the organisation’s culture. To create an environment and culture where employees feel safe, relish change and embrace behaviours that drive enterprise agility, financial services organisations must provide the right leadership, offer a compelling vision for the future and create a new ‘living business’ culture. Most of all, they must build and sustain trust.

We recently published research that shows that ‘change leaders’ – those financial institutions that are delivering change faster and with better results – are higher-trust organisations.

Finally, in tandem with advances in technology, we are seeing an increased need for human ingenuity. Financial services leaders across banking, insurance, and asset management and fund administration want to create human and machine collaboration to unlock value. In other words, the robots won’t be taking our jobs. Uniquely human skills like creativity, problem-solving, design thinking, collaboration, communication and empathy will be in increasing demand as firms use automation and artificial intelligence to focus their workforce on activity that drives real customer differentiation.

Developing a lifelong-learning mindset to adapt to change ahead will be crucial to the success of any career within financial services.

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