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How Financial Services Can Recruit the Hottest Tech Talent

Tech talent require a workplace that's transparent, open and collaborative. Confidential Financial Firm, Image © Gensler

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series on the state of the financial services industry.

As financial service firms evolve and compete in today’s global, digital market, the investment in technology talent has become increasingly important. Technology has become a more significant cost percentage of the business, as well as a growing segment of the financial service population. These tech workers are not just IT professionals, they’re digital innovators developing strategies and tools, creative entrepreneurs building mobile platforms, and social media and brand strategists. In other words, they are the hottest talent to recruit in any industry.

How do traditional financial service firms recruit the best tech talent and deliver exciting, creative work environments to support their unique work style?

These workers thrive in very different work environments than the typical “banker,” and they don’t picture themselves working in your average office. They demand and deserve a workplace environment that supports their collaborative, creative work and represents the holistic staff experience that tech competitors offer.

Financial service firms are attracting this talent in different ways – some through hiring and building internal teams, and some through acquisition of companies that expand their offerings, connecting them to new customers and markets. They often acquire partners that help the bank serve younger, more tech–savvy customers.

The challenge that financial service firms face is how to integrate these visionary, creative entrepreneurs. Their workstyle is all about communication, idea-sharing and risk-taking – not necessarily the same values as the core banking side of the business. They want to work in a space that is transparent, open and collaborative.

There are three typical directions that financial service firms are following as they address this important shift in their company focus and their employee expectations:

1. The financial firm refocuses itself as a “technology company” whose service is financial in nature. In other words, we’re all tech workers and we’re creating the kind of work space that supports these values throughout. We think of Visa as a financial company, but we’re wrong there. Visa’s CMO declared last year “We're a Tech Company, and We're Hiring Like One”.

San Francisco-based Prosper is acknowledged as one of the fastest-growing online marketplaces for consumer credit in the U.S. The spaces they’re building are nothing like traditional banking spaces. The vibe is communal, approachable and employee-focused. The central fifty-three foot long picnic table, with a collection of mismatched chairs, signifies the diversity of Prosper’s clientele and mirrors the common “kitchen table” financial conversations that families commonly have.

Prosper’s space is designed to make everybody feel connected by a sense of ownership. It’s a space that promotes team collaboration, and is flexible for rapid growth; a space that feels open, healthy and energetic with a simple aesthetic that is purposely under-branded. It supports natural transitions between work, collaboration, and play without impacting the ability to express and exchange ideas anywhere.

Prosper's fifty-three foot long picnic table mirrors the common “kitchen table” financial conversations that families commonly have. Image © Gensler

2. The firm identifies key business groups and staff as part of a “digital innovation” team or “digital lab” and creates a workspace that supports their unique needs and style. Many of the large banks have already identified these critical groups, some more visibly than others.

One confidential banking firm recently completed a digital lab space called “The Shop” that was created expressly to look and act like a tech start up.

The Shop was designed for flexibility and choice – the choice to build, test, brainstorm, code, design, disrupt and collaborate. The space celebrates experimentation and customization, and in doing so, breaks away from the perception of a traditional financial company.

The “Entertainment Zone,” consisting of the entire north portion of the space, includes a café, a lounge, banquette seating along the windows, a raised stage area, picnic tables and a vintage ferris wheel seat that overlooks the city. These dual-purpose spaces allow for flexibility based on the needs of every employee, reflecting a start-up mentality where space adjusts to needs. In the work areas, or “Industry Zone,” the space encourages activity and collaboration. Workstations or team meeting rooms are reconfigurable for the space's various departments, enabling users to change the space from day to day. This structure eliminates a siloed approach to the workstations and encourages cross-pollination. Artwork from a local artist provides an engaging and fun element to every meeting space.

Each of these design elements contributes to rapid building and testing, group work, blended teams, and project-based work.

Confidential Financial Services Company, Image © Gensler

3. In the case of an acquisition or partnership with a tech firm whose expertise supports the firm’s core business, the acquired/partner tech group may be housed in their own distinct location, under their own brand. Maintaining their independent brand is key to highlighting their entrepreneurial spirit – and letting them be the creative individuals that they want to be. Blackrock acquired robo-advisors FutureAdvisor, and JPMorgan partnered with small-business online lender OnDeck. Having their own identity allows them to create the lively, casual work environments that appeal to the talent they’re recruiting.

With the ongoing growth and merging of financial and tech, will tech eventually turn the financial world upside down? Will the privacy, exclusivity and tradition of private offices and boardrooms morph into flexible open work areas and large communal tables? Could the influence of tech workers burst beyond its confines and define the work environment for all financial service firms?

It’s already happening. If young entrepreneurs continue to move at a more rapid pace than traditional bankers, this scenario could become the new financial services model of the very near future.

Cathy is a principal in Gensler’s Northwest region. She is highly skilled in the management of quality design projects, having focused on strategic project planning and execution. She is also the practice area leader for financial services firms in her region, focusing on trends and issues of importance to financial services clients. Contact her at cathy_bregenzer@gensler.com.