Can you remember seeing the UK Prime Minister at a factory? Chances are you can. What about at a bank, insurance firm or trading floor? No, me neither.
And it is for good reason: taking our current Prime Minister as an example, Boris Johnson visited 13 factories between June 2019 and March 2020 and not one financial services institution. While most of these visits took place during an election campaign and chosen because they look good on the tele, they highlight a contrast between how two of the country’s powerhouse industries are championed by politicians.
Financial services has always been the ugly sister to manufacturing, lagging behind in the positive airtime it receives from both politicians and the media. But why is this the case? And is there anything comms professionals can do about it?
It is no secret that financial services has a jaded past. Numerous scandals, eye-watering bonuses, the financial crash… the list goes on. While these are undoubtedly responsible for driving some of the negative perceptions about the industry, there is potentially a more fundamental issue at play which stops politicians coming out to bat for the sector.
For decades, industries like manufacturing provided good jobs for all – regardless of your skillset or where you live. Although that is evolving as changes in technology and trade transform UK manufacturing into an industry that will require high-skilled workers who can use new digital technologies, general sentiment towards the sector remains positive. Conversely, financial services has been seen as a closed club for those with very specific educational and class backgrounds, and often limited to the City of London. The data backs this up: people from better-off backgrounds are 80% more likely to find their way to a professional job than those from working class backgrounds.
These changes in workers’ demographics provide an opportunity for financial services comms professionals to challenge the view that industries like manufacturing are the only ones that will provide good jobs that are accessible to everyone and the idea that the working-classes only have or want blue-collar jobs. In a world which is being re-shaped by Brexit and the recovery from coronavirus, there is a huge opportunity for financial services to tell a positive employment story and dispel common misconceptions about their industry.
This is not about making a foray into the divisive debate of identity and culture politics. It is about updating our thinking about the jobs people do, with a focus squarely on their aspirations and priorities, and how financial services can help realise these ambitions.
Everyone is jumping on the ‘levelling up’ agenda. While most people cannot disagree with the idea of rebalancing the north and south, what this means is debatable. It suggests there is a stereotypical view of the north as a miserable place, much like the notion that people in these communities only have or want blue-collar jobs.
Now is the time for financial services comms professionals to think outside the box to refresh the story they tell of their industry. With nearly 65% of jobs outside London, the industry must, to a greater extent, show it is an option for people no matter who they are or where they live. If everyone views financial services as an industry they can only work in if they live in London and have a PPE degree from Oxford, the sector will not attract the right kind of future employees or show politicians that it is an industry they should be championing. Failing to do so will result in a missed opportunity to reset industry perceptions in a new landscape that has been forged by Brexit and a global pandemic.