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History is witness to the fact that for those in the world of banking and finance, it is a perpetual tightrope walk, where the slightest error in judgment can tilt the line to make you fall flat on your face. Some of the biggest scams, crises, and market crashes in the history of the BFSI industries were set off by the slightest incident that snowballed into a chain of events with implications completely disproportionate to the initial cause. The ones who take the hit are the ones behind the decisions in this big risk business – the group of exclusive movers and shakers who have to be prepared for unanticipated consequences of their actions.
World-over, banking is a career of choice for some of the sharpest minds. It is a great place to get a stamp of approval from the world, have your intelligence validated, and be in an environment that stimulates intellectual curiosity. But it also tests a person’s resilience in ways that other professions do not. Some survive; others thrive, while most just drop out. That is if they don’t bring down an organization by doing something crazy.
Who knows? We can’t allow naivety to lead us into believing that bankers must all be alpha personalities, ready to take on whatever the world has in store for them. While that is not far from the truth in the context of a trading floor at an investment bank, imagine a dominant, over-the-top, or arrogant sales representative for a life insurance company! While arguments can be made on role-specific requirements, personality is still one of the most powerful predictors of performance for finance professionals. If you’re looking to future-proof your hiring for the BFSI industry, these are a few personality indicators to watch out for.
A banker or a finance professional is nothing if not great at analytical thinking. The ability to think logically, and be able to solve problems, whether alone or in groups, is a core function of the banking and finance industry that candidates must be able to demonstrate.
Everybody loves to hate bankers, right? What about insurance sales agents? A lot of financial institutions deal with an image problem brought on by the slightest hint of trouble anywhere in a related vertical. Naturally, this gets passed down to the people who work in the industry. When you’re asking people to hand over their trust, and more importantly their money to you, it’s difficult not to be seen as someone who just wants to make good. In finance, it’s not only the sales rep who has a reputation to think about. Nearly everyone across the spectra of finance jobs should know how to build relationships, mend fences, and invoke trust. It helps to be charming and confident, someone who can bring on openness in conversations that are usually very serious.
If there is one industry that plays by the rules of the game, its BFSI. This is not a place for the crazy, the live-on-the-edge, or the rule-benders. Call it ethics, morals or just law consciousness, individuals with a mislaid moral compass are not the right fit for an industry that has further upped the ante on abiding by the rules after a series of global financial debacles.
A lot has been said about the resilience required of BFSI industry professionals, and with good reason. A career in any of these money-dealing fields is long, volatile, and full of risks. It’s a high-risk, high-return game, and anyone invested in it needs to have a firm head on their shoulders. Long working hours, hectic schedules, challenging times await. Regardless of the situation, those in the BFSI industry have to be ready to maintain unwavering professionalism.
Several roles in the BFSI industry leave little room for error. A ‘minor slip’ in the stock market could become a situation spiraling out of control leading to a market crash, a personal scandal of a top-level executive at a bank could lead to heavy fines, defamation, or worse, bankruptcy, and a ‘casual’ conversation between two acquaintances could become a criminal charge for insider trading leading to large scale implications of the kind that leads to new governance, imposition of additional compliances and restrictions, and the involvement of state/federal regulatory bodies. Where there are billions of dollars involved, a hedge fund administrator can’t sign off on the Net Asset Value of the fund if there is even a minor discrepancy. Responsibility of this kind can take a toll on some of the best minds. Not only does one need the right acumen, but also enormous patience, detail orientation and the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions – not just in the short-term, but for as long as one is part in this profession.
An April 2013 study from Robert Half, a professional staffing firm based in Silicon Valley, found that nearly 9 in 10, or 89% of financial services executives surveyed in seven countries reported “difficulties in recruiting good talent.” One reason is that traditional hiring tactics have conditioned businesses to focus explicitly on professional experiences, educational background, and hard skills of potential hires. While it’s unlikely that the relevance of having the right domain expertise will be overlooked, as it should not, hiring managers need to start screening for personality traits that can distinguish a skilled mathematician from quality finance professional.
Personality assessments or psychometric assessments are expedient in profiling individual behaviors and mapping them against industry benchmarks, which can serve useful as a selection technique. At the very least, a psychometric representation will help you understand the primary motivation for a candidate to work. More specific assessments can measure niche personality traits such as a banker’s analytical abilities, critical thinking, stress tolerance capacity, service orientation, etc.
Adam Smith, in his book Wealth of Nations, offers insight that economic organizations come into existence because of their ability to coordinate labor to make the whole, greater than the sum of individual laborers’ parts. In the realm of talent management, it means that organizations need to look beyond maximizing the efficacy of each employee’s skills in order to refocus their purpose to building an army of employees that battle at the business’ frontline as a cohesive unit. In overlooking skills for the right personality, you may feel like you are losing the battle, but in reality, you’ve just braced yourself to win the war!
Originally published April 2 2018, Updated June 16 2020