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Finance firms ‘face rising test on diversity and ESG’

Betsy Williamson

Betsy Williamson: ‘challenging reading’

Covid, Brexit and the climate emergency are together accelerating challenges over recruitment trends in Scotland’s critical financial sector, according to a new report. 

Now in its sixth year, Core-Asset Consulting’s Industry Trends and Salary Guide is a forensic review of pay levels and a bellwether for the major developments in the sector.

Betsy Williamson, the founder and MD of Core-Asset, said that the latest edition makes challenging reading for its audience.

“The last 12 months have changed the face of the sector forever. We’ve seen social and economic changes take place at a velocity unlike anything previously experienced,” she said.

“Many of these changes are universal across professional services. For instance, we’re on a knife-edge when it comes to gender diversity and equality of opportunities. Women in senior roles could be hit hardest, as they’ve worked so hard to get to those roles, but many are now carrying lots of extra responsibilities. 

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“This is a warning – companies could find themselves on the brink of inadvertently pushing out waves of women if they don’t acknowledge cultural barriers online and accommodate the challenges faced by working parents, especially for those with relatively young children.

“On the flip side there is a glimmer of hope in that we’ve had to confront head-on prejudices against home or flexible working.”

The report points out that even before the pandemic, financial services faced serious headwinds because of the political and economic situation caused by Brexit. That meant cost-cutting was the dominant theme in the financial services sector within Scotland in early 2020. 

Driven by a number of large industry mergers and a focus on controlling costs, sector consolidation created an hourglass-shaped market, with well-established global players at the top, a few mid-sized companies in the middle and a large number of boutiques and fintech start-ups at the bottom.

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The impact of COVID-19 has also continued the trend of drawing employees towards socially responsible organisations and opportunities. In the world of investment, a growing awareness of ESG (Environmental and Social Governance) is putting added pressure on fund managers. 

Ms Williamson added: “There is a greatly increased expectation from clients and investors for companies and stocks to meet with changing perceptions on green, renewable and climate-based issues, together with enhanced UK, EU and global directives on climate change.

“ESG is no longer a box-ticking exercise where investment houses can take the path of least resistance, it is expected that it is now an integral part of the investment process.

“Universal asset owners and mammoth global investors with trillions of assets under management operating passive and active strategies, are too big to let the planet fail. 

“This is intertwined with the debate on diversity too. The investment industry standard demographic of men from a certain era, who see the world through set eyes, may find this exceptionally challenging. 

“This is truly where succession planning and recruitment come into their own. Women and millennials have natural different views of the world; diversity of thought breeds diversity of opportunity which in turn breeds strength and conviction in portfolio selections.”

The report is posted as Core-Asset posts a 28% fall in vacancies in 2020, along with a 10% drop in candidates – suggesting constrained opportunities and reduced movement in the jobs market. 



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