Miles Celic Speech to the HR in the City 2018

In a speech given on Monday 19 November to the HR in the City Conference 2018, Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer for TheCityUK, discusses the future of skills and talent in financial and related professional services.

Thank you, and thank you for inviting me to speak at this event. I’m delighted to be here.

The work that City HR does is hugely important and underpins one of the key planks of our industry’s future success.

Today, I’ll be talking about this agenda from the perspective of the activity that TheCityUK is undertaking as the representative body for the wider financial and related professional services ecosystem.

You might recall an old Dilbert strip where Dilbert is called in to see his boss so they can run through an audit of company assets. Dilbert’s boss points out that the firm’s motto has always been that “our people are our most important asset.” The boss then adds “turns out the audit showed that’s wrong. People are our 17th most important asset – right after paper clips.”

Dilbert’s creator was poking a bit of cynical fun at a phrase that had become a cliché. One that some employers have paid lip service to, while never actually living the values and behaviours behind the statement.

Today, however, no company, no industry and, indeed, no country can afford to treat that phrase as anything other than at the very heart of their long term success.

That’s a simple reflection of the economic evolution that we are currently going through.

At the height of 19th and 20th Century industrial capitalism, employers usually owned their factories and the land they stood on. They had dedicated, immobile work forces that would typically spend their entire working lives at the same employer, often in the same role.

Today’s firms are much more agile both by nature and by requirement. They typically don’t own the assets which they operate, their workforce is dispersed and flexible and their key product is often their intellectual output, which of course stems from the ideas and creativity of their employees.

In financial and related professional services – the industry TheCityUK represents – that is especially the case. A significant competitive advantage and component of our position as a world-leading international financial centre is the people we employ – from across the UK and overseas.

Which is why it should come as no surprise to hear that when I speak to our members – among them the leading Chairman, Chief Executives and Managing Partners from across the industry – their number one priority is not Brexit, it’s not regulation, it’s not technological change. It’s people.

Attracting, retaining, training and retraining the best talent, now and into the future, is vital to their companies’ continued success. And it is vital to the long term, sustainable success of the UK and this industry.

As an industry which employs one in every 14 people right across the UK – for us to continue to be successful, we absolutely need to remain attractive to current and future employees. Both here in London as well as in the many thriving financial centres from Bristol, Birmingham and Belfast to Leeds, Manchester and across all the regions and nations of the UK.

Part of us remaining a compelling and attractive proposition is recognising that we need to embrace change and transformation. It is clear, for example, that we need to adapt to new trends, not just in technology but also in meeting the changing expectations of younger employees and an increasingly diverse workforce. And, similar to many other industries, financial and related professional services is rapidly digitalising.

Our customers and clients expect slicker, quicker service, often available at their fingertips on a wide variety of platforms and devices. This inevitably creates expectations and requirements for the sort of people we recruit and how we develop the people we have.

And we cannot deny the challenges that we face as an industry in how we achieve this. Technology, the rise of new competitors for talent – at home and abroad, and legacy reputational issues are just three of the hurdles that we need to overcome.

I was in Silicon Valley last month, talking to FinTechs and established industry players. All of them – from the most trendy start up to the biggest financial services giants – are locked in a contest for talent with Amazon, Google, Uber and others. And that contest is becoming more intense.

A little while ago, I was speaking to the head of the Executive MBA programme at one of the world’s leading business schools. I was told that ten years ago it was people from our industry who were at the top of that MBA course. Today, it’s people who want to be in tech, who want to be entrepreneurs, who look at large corporates as simply another stifling bureaucracy in the same vein as their local council.

And as we look at the overwhelming weight of studies that show that creativity, growth and export success are underpinned by diverse workforces and diverse board rooms we have to ask ourselves what more we can do as an industry to meet that challenge. In particular, we have to ask whether we are doing everything we can to think about diversity in every aspect.

I was speaking recently to a senior leader at one of the UK’s most successful professional services companies. They had made great efforts and, indeed, great strides in building on diversity. Their most recent graduate intake was 52% female, 35% BAME, was diverse and open in terms of sexuality.

But they all spoke with the same accent. It turned out that they had overwhelmingly gone to the same sorts of schools and universities. To their credit, this company is reviewing their graduate recruitment processes in order to improve that.

We need to make sure that this industry is an attractive place to work for people from all backgrounds, at the start of their careers and across their career lifecycles. And we need to ensure that we are in the best possible position to win the contest for talent here at home and in attracting the very best to come and work here from every corner of the globe.

So now the critical question: how are we going to do this?

There’s no single magic bullet. This will need a multifaceted, long term commitment. It will need industry, government and regulators to work together. And it will need creative solutions as well as detailed policies and proposals.

To that end, last year we and colleagues from PwC, produced a report looking at exactly these challenges and setting out a bold vision for change across the industry. Skills and talent was one of the core elements of that vision – everything from ensuring we can continue to access and retain the best people from across the UK and overseas, to developing the digital and entrepreneurial skills required for the future.

Many of these skills will be created through forging stronger partnerships between the industry and educational institutions; developing new learning programmes to respond to existing skills shortages and making more use of developing talent through apprenticeships.

As I’ve mentioned, the skill sets we are increasingly looking for are seeing us in direct competition with tech firms.

We can no longer assume that the best of the best will choose our industry – we need to adapt and we need to up our game.

In direct response to this challenge, the Chancellor earlier this year asked TheCityUK to convene a Financial Services Skills Taskforce, led by one of our board directors, the former City Minister Mark Hoban. The Chancellor highlighted the ongoing transformation of the industry due to the increasing application of new technology. Many of those skills will come from abroad. But alongside this we must have a long-term pipeline of domestic skills, designed to meet the current and future needs of our companies, large or small, established or just beginning.

The Taskforce will help ensure the sector has the skills it needs to remain globally competitive. Specifically, it will focus on four core areas: digital skills, skills shortages, creating greater social, ethnic and gender diversity, and skills renewal and retraining. The latter will be particularly key given the changing expectations and nature of the workforce.

The days of the single job career I spoke of earlier are gone. We may well be seeing the decline of the career made up of multiple roles.

No longer do people stay in an industry, let alone a job, for life. Their financial services careers will be likely be one of several over their lifetimes. We are heading for the multi-career life.

The Taskforce is an important and exciting initiative and, as you can imagine, one which is generating a huge amount of interest. Getting this right is critical for our future success, as is adjusting our ability to meet the changing expectations of our workforce

I personally see an employer’s role as increasingly being a custodian and partner in people’s development while they are with your firm. There is an expectation that they give you the very best they can – and vice versa. It is about ensuring there is an open and honest dialogue between managers and employees about their development and the opportunities available to them to equip them for their both their current role and those that will come in the future.

Alongside the work with the Taskforce, we are engaged in a number of other initiatives, including ensuring that we have the best possible framework for bringing in talent from overseas. We have – in partnership with EY – developed an award winning report looking at how a post-Brexit immigration system would work and we have been taking its recommendations forward with politicians and officials.

Change is coming – whether it is technological, social, political or one of a dozen other forms. It should not be ignored. It cannot be ignored. It must be embraced.

This industry has historically thrived on change. But whether in the coffee houses of the 17th Century where the Lloyd’s market was born, or in the glittering towers of Canary Wharf in the 21st, the one constant has been that our success has been due to our people.

You in this room are the custodians and curators of that vital resource. Without your success in what you do there can be no success for the rest of our financial and related professional services ecosystem.

I look forward to working with you and your colleagues in the months and years ahead to ensure that together we can keep this industry as the world leading success story that it is today.

Thank you.