The UK’s Financial and Professional Services sector faces a major skills shortage over the coming years. Research from the global recruiter Randstad Financial & Professional has found that almost half of finance and accounting professionals do not plan to work into old age, meaning that the sector could be hit by an exodus of departures over the next few years as the baby boomers generation reaches pension age.

Randstad’s poll of finance and accounting professionals across the UK found that nearly one-in-two (46%) planned to quit their role once they reached the state pension age.

This looming talent exodus is being fuelled by a perception among many of those employed in finance jobs that senior workers are unwelcome in the sector. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) finance employees and accountants claimed that there was “significant pressure” on older workers to leave the workforce at state pension age. A further 39% of such employees believed that senior workers face “some pressure” to quit their role once they become pensionable, taking the total number of finance and professional services workers who believe that senior workers in the sector are under some sort of pressure to quit before retirement age to 76%.

The problem of large numbers of accountants, bankers and auditors quitting the sector over the next few years is made even starker by a recent study by the Pensions Minister, Ros Altman. Her research shows that, by 2022, the number of people in the workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have risen by 3.7 million to 13.8 million and the number aged 16-49 will have reduced by 700,000.[1] This means that the financial function could be looking at a significant talent shortfall over the next few years, as older, and often more senior, workers leave the workforce en masse because they feel they are not wanted – or needed – past retirement age, when often the opposite is the case.

Britain’s Financial and Professional Services sector is almost unrivalled globally – dynamic, innovative and fast-paced, providing employment for millions of people. But many of these professionals will leave over the next few years, due to feeling undervalued. Senior accountants often spend much of their time doing solitary work, while high flying financial professionals tend to have more of a client-facing than in-house role – neither profession really gets the opportunity to be celebrated. To avoid a talent exodus, banks and accountancy firms will need to ensure they are going that extra mile to ensure their most experienced workers are feeling loved to improve staff retention.

Financial services serve their senior workers poorly.

Senior workers in the Financial Services industry are among the most likely to feel that they need to retire early because they do not feel they will be wanted as they get older.

Randstad’s research found that more than one third (35%) of financiers and like professionals plan to retire either as soon as they reach pension age or as soon as possible because they do not feel they will be wanted as they enter the official age of retirement. This figure was above the average across all sectors of 30%.

finance sector skills 2016

TABLE 1: Percentage of respondents who believe they will retire early due to feeling unwanted in the workforce once reaching the state pension age.

The different working environments in these sectors can partially explain why Financial Services, among other sectors, performs so poorly at making its senior workers feel appreciated. The Finance sector tends to have a “work hard, play hard” reputation, something that inevitably becomes more difficult to partake in the older anyone gets. Older workers may, therefore find themselves feeling excluded from some of the events and responsibilities that make for a successful and fulfilling career in the financial world. Conversely, sectors such as Transport and Social Care tend to have a more “9 to 5” working pattern, which tends to be more suitable for older workers, and so they feel less pressure to retire at state pension age.

Retaining senior talent in the financial sector.

When workers in Financial and Professional Services were asked what workplace adjustments, if any, would convince them to remain in their role past the state pension age, they were open to a range of options.

The opportunity to take on some form of mentoring role was the most popular option, with 47% of finance and accounting employees respondents opting for it. However, flexible working and employee retraining schemes also proved to be effective tools in convincing senior financial and professional service sector workers to remain in their role past retirement – both policies were favoured by 38% of accountants, auditors, bankers and the like.

However, more than one-in-ten (11%) finance and accountancy workers claimed that no workplace change would convince them to remain in their job past the state pension age.

Ensuring that Finance and Professional Services workers – along with employees in other sectors – are given every opportunity to work past the official retirement age could bring a number of benefits. Research from academic Christopher Barrington-Leigh shows people who stay working past 55, and those who have chosen to delay retirement to stay longer in the workforce, report rising job satisfaction levels.  Those who do stay in the workforce feel very satisfied in their career.

Despite the stresses and strains associated with the profession, many senior Financial Service workers could be convinced to remain in their role, provided employers adopt creative retention schemes. 

Offering mentoring opportunities could be an attractive option for a senior finance professionals, allowing them to impart their knowledge to more junior members of staff, while letting them step back the more erratic working hours associated with the sector. Providing retraining sessions may also encourage high-flying accountants to stay past the state pension age. After years of performing a similar job – albeit to a very high standard – many accountancy professionals would relish the chance to add a new dimension to their skill-set as they head into later life.