The Long Shadow of 2008: The Future of Work for Financial Services

Financial services is the first sector under the spotlight in our Future of Work series.

A decade after the event, the financial crash of 2008 is still the biggest influence on the working world of banking and finance. There is much evidence to suggest this will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

So how should financial institutions respond? In our view, they need to be prepared to break the mould structurally, operationally and reputationally to redefine what it means to work in financial services.


With most financial institutions preoccupied by the fallout of the 2008 crash, tech innovation in the sector spent a long time on ice. But in recent years, customer demand has sharpened banks’ focus on digitising their product offering.

Online and mobile banking amounts to an automated front office for retail banks, as does the rise of robo-advisors in insurance, wealth and asset management. This raises the prospect of more automation in the back and middle office, as internal processes and workflows supporting the digital front-end are also digitised.

The upside of the move to automation is the likelihood of freeing up workers to focus on high-value activities such as entrepreneurship, management and creative problem-solving. For displaced workers, HR will need to be proactive in retraining and redeployment.

Contingent workforce

Consultants, contractors and other contingent workers look set to play a bigger role in the future of financial services. And it will be a move driven equally by the priorities of employers and workers.

From an organisational viewpoint, they will offer fluidity to react to opportunities in volatile markets, at the same time as providing more control over fixed costs. Meanwhile, the prospect of greater autonomy and flexibility in a traditionally rigid work culture will help the financial sector to meet the expectations of job-hopping millennials.

Smart organisations will put contingent workers at the heart of their workforce planning, understanding when best to use them, creating clear distinctions with permanent employees and enshrining their needs in customisable employee contracts.


Banking and finance have much to gain from developing connected workforces. Having suffered its own reputational crash since 2008, the sector looks set to suffer in the ‘employer of choice’ stakes for some time to come. Meanwhile younger, cooler tech and media firms are waiting to hoover up highly-skilled new talent with the promise of remote working and virtual collaboration.

To compete, financial organisations must create less structured, more agile work environments, developing and distributing tools that allow employees to work productively from anywhere. This will almost inevitably involve ceding some control over the devices used for work, either through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or by expanding the availability of COPE (Corporately Owned Personally Enabled) devices.


Arguably, the biggest effects of a globalised banking industry have already been felt in the 2008 crash and its aftermath – chief among them the regulatory squeeze. And the likes of Basel III will continue to shape the sector’s working culture for years to come.

If banks are able to respond to the new regulatory world with innovation not conservatism, there are real opportunities to redefine working practices. Regional centres of excellence could have a big role to play, providing back and middle office functions to multiple markets.

Continuity of skills

Across the board, the financial sector faces the prospect of an ageing workforce. The insurance sector is at particular risk, but banks and other finance houses will have to work harder to develop and retain the skills they need to compete.

The proportion of technology-focused workers in banking (as high as 50% in some organisations) is a key issue. With most millennials swayed by the work and lifestyle offer of tech and media competitors, financial services will need to find some new moves to regain the mantle of employer of choice.

This could mean modernising working practices (see Connectivity above). It could mean redoubling employer branding and talent engagement efforts. It could even mean moving operations away from Central Business Districts into the connected urban environments millennials want to work in. For certain, it will require a bold and innovative mindset.

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The insights in this post were informed by two key sources:

  1. The Future of the Financial Workplace by Unwork and DTZ
  2. The Power to Perform: Human Capital 2020 and Beyond by PwC