Changes in the Financial Services Sector


In our Leaders on Leaders series, Karen Greenbaum explores today's top trends impacting global leadership with leaders from the worlds top executive search and leadership advisory firms.

In this episode, Karen speaks with Louisa Wong, Chair of Global Sage, about innovation in financial services.

KAREN: Welcome to the new Leaders on Leaders Series from the global Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. I’m Karen Greenbaum, AESC President and CEO. In Leaders on Leaders, we’ll be exploring today’s top trends impacting global leadership with leaders from the world’s top executive search and leadership advisory firms. Today we’ll be discussing "Innovations in Financial Services." I’m joined today by Louisa Wong, Chair of Global Sage.

KAREN: Thank you for joining us Louisa. Let's begin with you telling us about Global Sage.

LOUISA: Yes, Global Sage is a global boutique along industries and sectors. We are a global firm and yet are very nimble in using technology and have consultants who can really work across time zones and industries. Therefore today, as you know, the financial services industry requires talent that are very global in nature, so being global is also very important for us.

KAREN: Terrific. Now, you’re a global firm but you personally are based in Hong Kong. What do you find is unique about the Asian markets for financial services?

LOUISA: So the obvious point is about the Asian region, vibrancy, the growth, the development, and the diversity in the different stages of progress across the different counties in Asia. But increasingly, we see Asian financial services businesses expanding out of their own country and into global boundaries. And I think that international banks and financial services are probably today more capital-constrained and less [serious about planting plaques] across the globe. I think that the speed at which some of the digital revolution in financial services is probably happening at even faster rates in Asia. So I think that we can capitalize on our global network to serve our global clients, not only the traditional European or the American client, but also increasingly more Chinese and Asian clients.

KAREN: Terrific. So you’ve talked a lot about the speed and pace but when you think about the top organizational challenges that business leaders face in financial services, what do you see are those biggest challenges?

LOUISA: Yes, I think the biggest challenge is how to address the legacy of doing business while the customer becomes so much more demanding and aware. Speed of delivery and ease of access and cost of product are now very key. The previous war between bank, insurance, asset managers are now all melting into each other and are not so clearly defined and delineated. So a shortage of all these talents in some areas means leaders have to think laterally and outside the box. So I think that this is much more challenging for international firms that have much more legacy of boundary within the organizations.

KAREN: That really makes a lot of sense to me. So as you think about those emerging worlds, are you seeing any emerging executive level roles that are being driven by technology, new roles?

LOUISA: Yes. Even within our traditional bank, now clearly digitalization is an example of this new role. Even existing roles are also changing and melting into one another. So Chief Digital Officer being one; Chief Customer Experience Officer is another one. Chief Marketing is now probably no longer a single function but broken down into customer analytics, as well as a lot of the center focusing on what we call 'center of excellence,' which can delineate or separate themselves from the tradition of doing business and focusing on the new ideas and innovations within the bank. There’s going to be a lot of changing even within the traditional marketing and distribution role.

KAREN: That must make it particularly challenging finding the right people with new roles because they’re not always in obvious places?

LOUISA: Yes. You have to think about whether you can attract those talents from outside organizations, which are much more digital in their mindset already, and then melting them into your own organizations. Or, you’re trying to coach and develop and mentor your existing people who can be a lot more digital in their mindset. Both need to be explored by our clients- some are more successful in one and some are successful in others, but I think that you need to have what I call melting with the old and the new and the new into the old.

KAREN: The old into the new and the new into the old. Tell me a little bit more about that.

LOUISA: For example, I think that companies now need leaders who put the customer first, an innovator who understands the opportunities that technology can bring, and also be a visionary who can certainly infuse that technology into a new customer-focused approach. So these really need the old and the new because the old obviously understands the traditional - how banks and how companies work together and how we can actually make things happen - but the new always brings fresh ideas and being able to understand the customer and how customer-first works. Both of them need to be visionary and work together to try to meld technology into a traditional way of doing business and trying new ways of doing business. I think the client is also looking for a new leader from outside who is seen as 'best in class' or someone who stands out, and they’re not really staying internal for this kind of new breed of talent. I think that being able to meld that new talent into the - you cannot really change the organization completely at one time, so I think that you’ll see that the leader today is being able to change themselves first and being able to work with a diversified talent flow as well as being able to lead while making changes. These are all very difficult.

KAREN: And challenging to assess as well.

LOUISA: Yes, but we all have to changes ourselves first.

KAREN: So really intriguing. One final question. What do you think is required of financial services sector leaders in order to foster innovation? So you talked about sort of changing while you’re leading. What about how you foster innovation?

LOUISA: I think that today’s financial services leader needs to address some of these questions, such as how do I attract tech savvy talent and ensure these new talents and new hires can be successful in my organization? Now that sounds very simple, but in reality, being successful in melting them together is very important. Should I create positions of digital leaders with a seat in my senior management table? How do I enable them to have a voice among the senior management table? How do I apply my technology spend to address this change and to attract this talent? As you know, the tech savvy talent today, their work styles are very different. Their needs are very different. How do I make sure that my organization can address those needs at the same time also balance interest and the need of existing talent? Do I have a new standalone department or entity forging new ideas not hindered by legacy functional bureaucracy? As I said, change cannot take overnight but it has to take place overnight. So I think in the bank and in financial services, which are inherent risk assessment mindset or sometimes even risk averse, how do I really accomplish a system-wide change in a way that is inclusive and inspiring to everyone and to be able to do both inclusiveness and inspirational? I think it’s difficult in today’s world particularly for financial services, which are traditionally very much deal-making and very much of a, “Me, me, me,” kind of a culture.

KAREN: So you’re seeing a lot of change in the financial services sector in terms of the old way of doing things versus the need?

LOUISA: Yes, from the very top and you see that there have been a lot of changes in the top positions among banks as well as within the asset managers. I think that all of them also in addition to that their businesses are melting into one another, as I mentioned before, there’s very little boundary now between bank and asset manager and even insurers. Being able to understand how others can take position in my own space and me, how do I also take into that space. I think that is also very important for financial services to understand that competitors does not come from your own space but they can come from anywhere, particularly the fintech. As you know, mobile payment and mobile banking, they’re really in Asia in particular.

KAREN: Louisa, I want to thank you for taking the time to share your insights today. Listeners, thank you for joining us for Leaders on Leaders. For our next leaders on leaders discussion, stay tuned to Thank you and have a great day.

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