For companies in financial services, volatility is no longer confined to the markets. Legacy investment firms are facing ongoing disruption. There’s competition from passively managed funds and “roboadvisors” attractive to many millennials, and the rise of fintech start-ups and cryptocurrencies and other alternative payment technologies are posing a threat to the biggest players. And, it’s no small detail that finance overall remains one of the world’s least-trusted industries and is subject to intense scrutiny from regulators.
Change is coming fast. It demands a workforce ready to adapt and innovate. However, many of the seasoned pros and creative young minds needed to take this challenge on aren’t keen to stick around: Nearly nine in 10 financial services executives are concerned about losing top performers in the next 12 months, while just 10% of college graduates say they want to join the industry. Throw in the fact that employees in highly-regulated financial specialties like accounting and insurance are often change-averse to begin with, and most financial institutions are due for a serious re-evaluation of their workplace to ensure they are positioned to evolve along with the industry.
“Skillfully managing capital is no longer enough. The future of financial services will belong to companies willing to foster high-trust relationships that allow teams to not just embrace change, but to confidently lead business transformation efforts at a rate that keeps pace with market conditions that are evolving faster than ever before,” said Chinwe Onyeagoro, executive vice president at Great Place to Work.
For guidance, she points to the recent ranking of the 30 Best Workplaces in Financial Services and Insurance. These are competitive businesses, reporting an average of $563,940.23 in annual revenue per employee. At the same time, team members give the winning organizations higher marks than their peers on measures closely tied to innovation, based on research from Great Place to Work. Among employees surveyed at these 30 well-loved workplaces:
- An average of 97% say they can count on their teams to cooperate
- 90% say their organizations involve people in decisions that affect their jobs
- 93% say management recognizes honest mistakes as a part of doing business
- 87% say their managers show appreciation for good work, and
- 80% say their leaders actively seek out suggestions and ideas
Employee feedback also confirms that the leading organizations were substantially more likely than peer companies to minimize office politics, distribute promotions fairly and avoid the perception of management favoritism. All of these traits point to workplaces that enjoy a high level of credibility and the kind of environment where people feel comfortable floating new ideas without risking their careers. As one employee from a winning company put it: “I enjoy the overall positive atmosphere of the organization’s culture as a whole. The firm encourages associates to work as a team to achieve their goals, instead of the typical boss-employee relationship.”
Quicken Loans offers some interesting practices to bring that type of culture to life. Members of the lender’s technology team, for example, can take four hours of “bullet time” weekly to work on personal projects outside their normal responsibilities. Quicken also offers prizes at a companywide pitch day to solicit ideas from co-workers – a practice more common in tech than finance, which proactively fosters innovation to address current issues facing the firm.
Top decision makers at ACUITY Insurance also solicit constant feedback directly from employees. The “Lunch with an Officer” program connects executives with 10 to 15 people across different areas of the business in a casual setting where suggestions are more than welcome. Co-workers can attend every few months and will have had the chance to meet the entire executive team after about two years.
This degree of camaraderie and ease of communication are more highly valued among finance professionals than Wall Street’s cutthroat reputation would suggest. A deeper analysis of employee survey responses gathered in the Best Workplace rankings process reveals that the leading employers were notably more likely to possess the soft skills necessary for collaboration. Among all surveyed financial services employees, those who described their organizations as friendly were 12 times more likely to report consistent cooperation at work. At the same time, those who said they experience a caring atmosphere at the office were 4.5 times more likely to say they’re willing to give extra to get the job done.
As Onyeagoro points out, companies that encourage a collegial culture also have an easier time holding on to hard-working employees. Turnover among these Best Workplaces stands at 8 percent, which is roughly half the rate among all financial companies surveyed by Great Place to Work. “With the industry in flux, it’s all the more important to create a workplace where employees can count on the support of managers and colleagues,” Onyeagoro said. “Cohesive, trusting teams will be in the best position to respond to shifting business models and leverage technology to successfully compete in the years to come.”
Kim Peters and Ed Frauenheim are Executive Vice President and Director of Research and Content, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists, including the 30 Best Workplaces for Financial Services and Insurance.