Between July and December 2019, Leathwaite polled a population of global operations executives currently in operations leadership roles across Financial Services.

Respondents included global heads of operations, regional heads of operations and those at the forefront of operations transformation (heads of change & transformation).

The results of our survey show a function in a state of change due to technological, geopolitical and regulatory influences.

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Online Paper extract:

Core themes and findings that have emerged through this research are outlined below:

Budgets and lack thereof
The overriding sense from the operations leaders surveyed was that cost stands as the greatest challenge facing the operations function across the sector. The majority of respondents were anticipating a budget decrease although they did not feel that it would impact their ability to deliver. Just 8% felt that they were expecting an increase in budget which was aligned with business requirements. 38% of respondents felt that there would be a significant decrease in their headcount over the next two years, which is expected given changes in technology and the focus on automation. 80% of respondents who anticipated a decrease in headcount attributed this decrease to adoption of new technology, suggesting a continued focus on efficiency and the use of AI within operations functions.

Changes in technology and focus on automation
Automation and technology disruption were listed as the second biggest challenge facing operations right now. 57% of respondents felt that improved technical infrastructure was the most important investment they needed in order to achieve targets over the next year. When questioned on how they would most like to improve in the operations function, automation and digitization were the most highly referenced. ‘Good’ in operations was seen as ‘higher levels of automation, managing complex exceptions and high value tasks specifically being led by technology and change comfortable leaders.’

Focus on talent
When asked what resources they required to address challenges they were facing, an improved talent pool and skill base was rated second. This dovetails the hiring trends we have seen in the past 12 months with an increased focus on technically literate leaders being brought in to operations. It seems a career solely focussed in operations may not be the most effective to rise to leadership positions. Talent retention was listed as fourth overall concern for the operations leaders surveyed, with anticipated headcount cuts across the market perhaps this isn’t the most surprising.

Regulatory focus
Respondents listed regulatory scrutiny and compliance as the third most critical concern for them over the next year. Over a third of respondents were focussed on hiring individuals with regulatory expertise. Specifically respondents are seeking to bolster talent with individuals who are experienced in operating within highly regulated and scrutinised environments, which plays in to hiring trends we have seen over the last 18 months.

Conclusions – 

The results indicate that the outlook is somewhat mixed for operations leaders; on one hand individual talent is in high demand and is being rewarded accordingly, yet we are also seeing a function that is heavily under pressure with overall budget and headcount reductions leading the way. These are notably impacting the ability for leaders to deliver the high levels of technical change desired by the business.

What does this mean for Operations Leaders in 2020?
With increasing pressure mounting around headcount and budget, investing in talent to drive future efficiencies is high on the agenda with emphasis placed upon regulatory expertise and technology skills being talent operations leaders are prioritising.

A continued evaluation of best practice in operations is encouraging leaders to move away from looking at direct comparators to review best practice in broader financial services and even other industry sectors.

The gap between operations and technology will continue to narrow, with operations becoming less reliant on people and more technology focussed. Leaders must ensure they are technology literate and able to transcend both technology and operations where appropriate. Strong operations leaders of the future will likely have a large technology remit therefore bolstering technology experience where possible is encouraged.

Author information:

The paper was co-researched and co-authored by Leathwaite Director, Helen Vowls and Leathwaite Consultant, Grace McGillick.

Leathwaite is an Executive Search and Human Capital Specialist Firm, offering a range of C-Suite retained search, talent and leadership services with offices in London, New York, Hong Kong and Zurich.

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