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What Do Banks Want?

Banks are adapting to the digital age at lightning speed. Lungelo Shezi investigates how this is affecting recruitment policies and the skills required by financial institutions.

Banks are major employers in South Africa. The Banking Association of South Africa reveals that the local banking sector employs over 160 000 people, mostly in administrative and clerical capacities.

But things are changing. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of managers in the sector increased, along with the number of technical professionals, while clerical and administrative staff numbers decreased. As a result, banks hardly resemble the branch-and-counter institutions of 10 years ago.

Consumers expect services to be online, instant, accurate and hassle-free, and banks are adapting to the digital age. What does this mean for all those people currently in the industry, and those who wish to join it?

“Technology is an enabler, not a direct threat to humans,” says Shamala Moodley, HR executive at FNB. “Ongoing advancements enable us, to an extent, to automate manual tasks. However, this automation requires a different set of skills to set up and maintain. As we migrate to an increasingly digitised and personalised environment where technology empowers customers, there’ll be a shift to hiring more knowledgeable and technically skilled workers.”

According to Moodley, technology, engineering and quantitative skills are more in demand today than they were a decade ago. But while the image of the modern bank may be more similar to a software development house filled with computer engineers, Moodley says soft skills are also increasingly important.

“A degree in actuarial science, statistics or engineering is also no longer sufficient,” she explains. “In FNB’s customer-centric world, an ability to work with people, understand their needs and be able to engage with them in order to develop a business solution that is relevant, is also a key requirement.”

The need to be both technical and people-centric is even more pronounced in the emerging world of fintech startups. These small, high-tech companies are increasingly either taking the place of established banks or providing key innovative services for them, and are the fastest-growing startup sector in Africa.

One of these is Peach Payments. Co-founder Rahul Jain says the small size means more versatility is required from employees.

“Fintech companies have significantly smaller teams and therefore expect their team members to participate and contribute across a number of areas and roles, and hence look at a broader skillset,” Jain says. “In traditional banking, there can be more specialisation and they might look for people with specific skills, such as FICA process knowledge or regulatory compliance. At Peach Payments, everyone does customer service, including the management team.”

In terms of what the company looks for in potential employees, Jain says basic intelligence, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and the ability to learn quickly are top priorities. “Payments is an ever-evolving space and we don’t expect our team members to know everything about payments,” says Jain.

Financial houses are rethinking their employment requirements, then, which lays down a challenge to universities and training colleges about how they should catch up.

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