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During previous downturns, staff training has been one of the first things to disappear across the financial universe, particularly in pockets of the fund management world. But not this time, it seems.
“Our clients are being cautious how they spend, but we’re actually not seeing any significant deterioration,” says Peter Whealy, UK general manager of Intuition, a business training company.
In fact, the business saw one of its busiest-ever starts to the year in the first quarter. The pace has not really slowed since.
“We thought our clients expected the credit crunch to hit and budgets to be pulled later in the year, so the budget holders were saying ‘I need this now’. But what we’re now seeing is that the budgets are still there,” he adds.
One of the reasons is that this time, there is a bigger mix of training methods on offer. This is particularly appealing to time-pressed investment managers.
“There is a lot of pressure on companies to deliver the same training and to reduce the time people spend away from their desks, so we develop a blend for them,” says Donald Ross, sales director at Kaplan Financial, another provider of training in this area. “The topics that are easier to grasp we taught over the web and the more difficult concepts were classroom-based.”
So far, fund managers and others have not gone for the sort of scything cuts in their graduate intakes that made previous downturns so painful for the training sector: the training programmes companies put their new hires through are big business.
“We’ve suffered badly before because of recruitment freezes. This time round, they’re saying we need to keep the people we’ve got and stop them going elsewhere,” says Mr Whealy. “If anything, graduate programmes are larger, since it is seen as far better to hire in graduates and train them, than to have none, then struggle in a couple of years when the market picks up.”
In many cases, recognition of the value of training has simply become embedded in the thinking of organisations, reckons Regis Eloi, director of client operations at Omgeo, a post-trade processing system.
“We’re seeing clients now want to build relationships with us. In the past, we’d get requests to do training and that would be the end of it. Now, they want to meet quarterly to discuss their training needs,” he says. “There’s an increasing awareness that we can help them become more efficient.”
Mr Whealy adds: “People will look at more than salary and pensions these days and ask ‘how are you going to look after me and develop me?’ Training has matured too and we’re better able to advise our clients on how to use it to help retain staff.”
Omgeo trains its clients but is increasingly developing provision for its own staff. Mr Eloi says Omgeo, like others in the industry, is finding it benefits from teaching staff about more general as well as technical matters.
“We have more than 170 client operations staff in eight locations, and we have to make sure they have the knowledge to have that common language with our clients,” he says.
Asset mangers have maintained their traditional training focus on detailed financial statement analysis, but, in recent years, there has also been increasing interest in courses on the complex structured products that are now making headlines because of their plummeting values.
“There has been demand for not only valuation training, but more recently around measurement of risk of these instruments from many of the audit departments,” says Mr Ross.
Another trend is better measurement of what is being taught – and actually retained.
“Organisations are looking to prove the value, specifically around the impact of the learning,” says Mr Ross. “They’re asking whether those who go through the training – and this applies particularly to graduate programmes, since there is something of a ‘sheep-dip’ approach with everyone doing the same – are actually prepared for their jobs and how they can measure the success of the training.”
Regulatory requirements and compliance needs are still significant drivers of training in investment management, helping underpin the market even in the tough environment of a downturn.
Intuition have even developed a mobile application that can be used on a BlackBerry so busy executives can learn while on an aircraft.
When the device is reconnected after landing, it will send confirmation to compliance teams that the training has been done. Although there have been concerns about a “big brother” element, Intuition says it is a success.
“This has been driven by compliance teams saying ‘we need to do this’ and trying to find ways of getting it out to time-pressed staff,” says Mr Whealy.