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In the coming decade, the financial services industry will be faced with unprecedented opportunities and challenges: With changing workforce demographics, the disruption of traditional business models and rapid technology shifts.

The industry needs to adapt by revitalizing the system from within, and seizing new ways to drive innovation, productivity and performance.

These developments are expected to have tremendous consequences for the future of work. Despite best efforts, companies will not be able to escape the largest risks related to globalization and deglobalization, as well as technological and digital transformation.

With evolution comes paradox. Many jobs will be impacted as millions of decisions in financial networks are taken over by algorithms. At the same time, new opportunities will emerge.

In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, 75 million jobs around the world will be vulnerable to disappear through the rise of AI, the so-called internet of things and Big Data. Meanwhile, 133 million new jobs will grow out of these same technological advances.

These predictions underline the fact that work in the future will be complex and uncertain. It will also turn in unexpected directions.

A historical perspective is useful. In the long run, the Canadian financial services industry has dealt with successive industrial revolutions and change of every kind.

Banks themselves expanded and contracted over time, before becoming the institutions they are today. Looking forward, it will take similar kinds of action — from corporate strategy to public policy — to address the shifting landscape. But as an industry, where does it start?

Banks must be bold on talent, creating the conditions for human and machine partnerships, and building a culture that encourages learning, growth, creativity and innovation.

One of the most powerful ways to do this is to think of skills as a “new currency” for the new world. And focus on developing the employees we already have through upskilling, reskilling, broad learning and experimentation. This requires a multipronged approach. It involves the implementation of dynamic learning streams so employees can build the technical and human skills they need.

Companies also need to provide meaningful work experiences where employees can apply new skills, test and learn, and develop the creativity and confidence to solve new problems in new ways. This includes problems never seen before. And employees need to feel supported if they take chances and fail.

Upskilling opportunities must include future-focused capabilities like data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity combined with human skills like empathy, resilience and judgment. It should also include capabilities employees need right now, such as change management and human-centered design.

Targeted reskilling is about managing the supply and demand of talent by effectively identifying, developing and moving employees. This is especially critical for employees in roles that are vulnerable to automation, from their existing jobs into future opportunities.
BMO Financial Group has adopted this approach in several ways.

In 2018, we implemented BMO U, a mobile, “anytime, anywhere” learning platform to empower employees to learn for their jobs, careers, personal interests and the work future. One year later, almost half of all BMO employees are active users.

This year, we launched the BMO Forward learning program to go deeper to equip all 46,000 BMO employees with digital skills in areas like data science, AI, analytics, cybersecurity and digi-tech. We also partnered with industry leaders and top academic institutions to ensure the content was relevant and cutting-edge.

In the first three months since the launch, more than 1,300 employees have embarked on the learning. Early results are encouraging. For example, employees reported a 26-point increase in their understanding of how to apply data science to their current roles, and a 14-point increase in their interest in pursuing data-focused jobs.

Another example is the BMO Innovation Fund, which actively supports innovation and experimentation by seeking to channel employee-generated ideas, from the concept stage to execution. The fund launched in November 2018 and in just three weeks, more than 19,000 employees visited the program site and generated 1,500 ideas — four of which are now being explored for implementation.

Programs such as these represent early responses to a growing transformation in the workforce, and the world of banking.

The industry is being stress-tested now on its ability to anticipate and adapt to transformations, both in the short-term and long-term life span. Companies and their employees need to prepare for the future of financial services and changes in the economy at large. Technology will enable that preparation and customers will expect it.

Institutions that wish to grow and prosper must seize opportunities to foster a more capable and inclusive workforce and society.

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