How to ward off the Great Resignation in financial services IT

Why do IT leaders in financial services companies leave? Here's what they have to say to CIOs trying to retain talent
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The fight for talent is real: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in September 2021, 4.4 million U.S. workers quit their jobs. That is 6 times the population of Luxembourg.

Globally, the “Great Resignation” has led to increased challenges and potential growth delays, with 73 percent of CEOs citing labor shortage as their biggest external concern that is most likely to disrupt their business in the next 12 months, according to research by Fortune and Deloitte.

Financial services CIOs should build a culture that retains industry-leading talent.

The upshot for CIOs in financial services: You must adapt to recruit and keep talent – and build a culture that retains industry-leading talent. After recently interviewing more than 20 former financial services IT leaders who departed for other companies, I learned that it isn’t about a bad boss or poor pay. They all fondly remembered their time at the firms, yet that wasn’t enough to keep them.

[ Also read: IT hiring: 5 ways to attract talent amidst the Great Resignation. ] 

5 reasons financial services IT leaders leave

The question became “Why did people leave?” and “What can financial services CIOs do to retain the talent they do have?” Here’s what to know about five key reasons people left financial services companies:

1. Speed of change

In some cases, the desire to lead projects and the industry, and to be part of fundamental change, wasn’t an option and people felt their former banks were behind in addressing what was possible. Technology companies tend to attract former banking IT pros for reasons including the ability to make faster decisions.

“A technology company tends to be much more dynamic, much more adaptable, and it’s designed to enhance participation, communication, and collaboration. It’s about people and it’s all about delivering the best value in the fastest way possible to the customer.” -Ramon Villarreal, Global FSI Architect,  Red Hat

2. A desire for greater impact

While people enjoyed the impact they made at one company and in their one division, some wanted to have a greater impact on what was possible for employees and customers.

“I did a really rewarding project at my firm that opened my eyes to what was possible, and moving to a tech company would allow me to multiply that experience across many banks for them to have that experience for themselves and their employees.” -Kelly Switt, Global Head of Financial Services Ecosystem, Red Hat

3. A thirst for innovation

People wanted to be able to try new things and be innovative. Some firms were not as conducive to the “fail fast” mindset, so trying new things was not easily done.

“I started coming up with new ideas for products, and in a bank that can be hard to do. In a tech company, you are not a competitor with your customers so you can innovate and collaborate with them to create the best outcomes for customers. The transparency, collaboration, and community-oriented mindset allows for new ideas to flourish.” -Richard Harmon, Global Head of Financial Services, Red Hat

4. Feeling prioritized as technologists

Some former financial services professionals came from organizations where technology was seen as a sunk cost, and not as a critical component of the success of the bank. That meant those people who were keen to drive value to the business using technology didn’t feel prioritized. That perspective can make change difficult, make getting jobs done more challenging, and/or leave team members questioning their value.

"Leading firms are starting to take the view of ‘we are a tech company that does banking.'"

“In financial firms, the end product is the most important part and technology was historically viewed as a lower priority. Leading firms are starting to take the view of ‘we are a tech company that does banking’ and that mentality helps the technologists create the best possible customer experience and feel like their work matters.” -Aric Rosenbaum, Global FSI Business Development Manager, Red Hat

5. Culture matters

The ability to learn and grow was a common theme that sparked financial services pros’ interest in open, collaborative ways of working. An environment that pilots concepts, where creativity is prioritized, and ideas are valued – no matter who the idea came from – was attractive to them.

“The banks are a fun place to work. I wanted to try an industry where the risk profile promotes creativity and innovation that pushed the boundaries and established norms.” -Jamil Mina, Chief Architect, FSI, Red Hat

What can CIOs do now? 5 retention tips

Are any of these factors impacting your financial services IT teams? What are the true motivations of people who are resigning? Exit interviews can be helpful but they don’t tell the whole story. A renewed focus on what you can do today and getting your teams, not just leadership, involved in the company’s future will guide your future advantage.

Consider these retention tips from the former financial services pros:

1. Focus on building a culture founded in true collaboration

Reducing hierarchy doesn’t mean losing control; it means empowering people to share, grow, and make decisions to get better results.

2. Remember: Cultural change doesn't happen overnight

It is a journey that begins with small steps. Find something small to prove out and get teams to start working in this new way. Build a contest for ideas – assign numbers to submissions so executives have no idea who or what level submitted, and put money behind it.

3. Create training opportunities that are chosen in an open way

Have your teams vote on the training offered. This allows them to become an active participant and feel their opinions matter. It can also improve the perception that the importance of technology is prioritized as you give access to not only learn new technologies but encourage teams to learn.

4. Work to better align business and technical leaders

The better these leaders work together, the more that impact, feeling of involvement, and innovation across teams can grow. Cross-functional teams with aligned goals and metrics can bring the teams closer together and allow each group to see first-hand the value delivered and the work that goes into it. Cross-division teams can allow staff to make that broader impact, lead company-wide initiatives, and build relationships that may allow them to shift within the organization should they decide they want a change.

5. Work with end customers to highlight how the IT work impacted their lives directly

Were they able to buy their home faster? Did someone who didn’t think banking was for them realize they could benefit from banking? Share the stories to highlight the success versus focusing on just the bottom line. These simple actions can begin the shift to keeping more of your best employees at your firm while allowing better outcomes for your clients.

[ Want to learn more from the financial services professionals interviewed for this article? Get the ebook: Meet the Bankers. ]

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Emily Curley
Emily Curley is the director of financial services programs at Red Hat. Emily has spent over 10 years helping launch cloud technologies, building the Red Hat Developer program, and growing the financial services vertical. Emily is known for creating innovative programs, pushing the status quo, and piloting new ideas to benefit customers and stakeholders.