woman financial buildings

How L&D Is Changing in Financial Services

The digital age has greatly affected the ways Learning & Development (L&D) has served employees over the past decade. The advancement of virtual learning, modern learning, and the focus on learner experience has never been greater. Then came COVID-19, accelerating change at a pace beyond expectations, particularly in the financial services sector.

With branches and global headquarters closed, banks have continued to operate with minimal disruption to their operations and customers and, as Barclays Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley put it, 60,000 Barclays staff have been working “from their kitchen tables.” When you think about it, it’s quite a feat that large institutions like Barclays reacted so quickly.  

The Heart of Transformation

Barclays is just one recent example of how banks have had to transform how they behave and service their customers and, to be fair, one of the more unusual ones. In the last decade, the Financial Services sector has changed enormously, whether through compliance and regulatory commitments following the economic downturn of 2008, the digital transformation of banking services, or disruption from emerging fintechs and challenger banks like Revolut and Monzo. These days, “change” is a badge worn with honor by the most successful institutions.

At the heart of transformation are the change practitioners who support the business in their efforts to anticipate or react to the shifting sands of customer needs. They set a strategy for change and implementation, with a program-based, often agile approach to drive and embed change .

In recent times, the cultural aspect of change (hearts and minds) has been more carefully considered, particularly in global banking organizations where change transcends borders and ways of working. John P. Kotter in the HBR said, “Change sticks when it becomes ’the way we do things around here,’ when it seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body.” It is when change impacts every single individual and with close strategic collaboration with communications, HR, and Learning & Development, that the outcomes have been most effective in delivering change and the desired results required.

Digital Transformation Has Created the Modern Learner

As banking continues to transform its products and services to meet ever-changing customer needs, there has been an interesting parallel that has emerged internally in the organization among its workforce in how learning habits are changing. There’s even a term for it, modern learning, and you guessed it, the modern learner. In 2016, ATD defined a modern learner as, “Someone who is in an environment where content changes fast and learning needs change even faster. Modern Learners want answers right away and rely on a wide variety of sources to find the answer. In other words, almost everyone today is a modern learner!”

Digital transformation in the workplace coupled with digital transformation in our personal lives (the proliferation of mobile devices, immediate access to information, Google, YouTube, even the Internet of Things) has created the monster that is the modern learner and L&D has had to up its game to feed the beast.

L&D in Financial Services has been undergoing significant transformation over many years. Learning takes place in more than just the traditional classroom. Virtual and online learning adoption increases every year, particularly this year. Course curricula are morphing into learner journeys and pathways. Content is curated before it’s created. Learning management systems are giving way to learner experience platforms. Learning in the flow of work is enabled through performance support and a variety of informal resources and assets like learning-specific chatbots. eLearning is microlearning, and we channel learning experience through advanced learning ecosystems  and tech stacks of platforms and apps. Learning is accessible, adaptive, and design is agile. Big data and analytics are gradually intersecting learner and performance data sources to create insight and enable more data-driven decisions; and all the while the exemplar L&D department is invisible in the process. Oh, and I didn’t even mention virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), or learner experience (LX) and experience design (XD)! Phew!

Visibility and Influence of L&D

Even taking all of L&D’s advancements into account, the successful transformation of L&D will not be measured by how sophisticated the learning environment is, but whether the learner is performing, is engaged, and is being listened to. In the annual Learner Intelligence Report by Emerald Works, they stated that during COVID-19, “almost 80% of employees responding to our survey indicate that their strongest motivation to learn at work is in order to do their jobs faster or better.” They go on to say that “by far the greatest influencers on this motivation for learning is their manager (35%), colleague (15%) or coach/mentor (14%). HR or L&D don’t really feature, at just 1%.”

These statistics are both interesting and telling. Interesting because the motivation to learn doesn’t appear to be based on salary increase or career progression, and telling that L&D plays such a tiny part in influencing learners; but then by their own admission, they still aren’t clear on the needs of the learner.

To be fair, L&D may not feature as an influencer simply because they aren’t visible to the learner, but that doesn’t mean they are not active in the background, supporting managers and colleagues, and providing or enabling coaches and mentors.

But still, herein lies the real need, the real problem for L&D. All of this transformation, while there is merit in it, does it move the dial? Does it measurably improve the performance of the organization? Does L&D give learners what they need?

Customer-Centric Mindset of Transformation in Learning

In the age of the user and customer experience, we all understand and want to be customer centric, but in L&D are we truly learner centric? The voice of the learner is at the heart of modern learning. Modern learning is driving the transformation of L&D, therefore the voice of the learner is what transforms L&D. It’s not just about providing the right conditions that allow people to learn. It is ensuring that the content they search for and engage with is right for them, right when they need it, in the right format for them to use it, and it achieves the right outcomes that improve performance.

Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Whether it’s the process of understanding organizational goals or measuring the performance of employees, the future success of L&D transformation hinges on the closest, deepest connections with its learners, listening to their needs while using data to drive the right decisions.

The bells and whistles of transformation are great, but solving employee problems with simplicity is even better.

About the Authors

Stephen Egri

“There is no such thing as a bad question, it’s just a matter of how you ask it.” With a passion for design, technology and an eye for too much detail, Stephen is a believer in the creative we all have inside of us. A listener and a problem solver, life is about making sense of the situations we find ourselves in and creating a way forward that makes things better in what we do each day. Stephen has spent his entire career in learning and performance with a background in IT, Operations and Consulting and currently is our Client Director for Financial Services and Insurance in EMEA.