Supporting Career Advancers in Financial Services
Education and training have long been essential to the financial services sector. Highly-motivated upskillers in this industry recognize that earning a credential can help them differentiate and prepare for career advancement. As more employers offer education benefit policies that will cover the cost of their tuition —often debt-free— these prospective students have added incentive to pursue their next credential.
As career advancers, professionals in financial services tend to have clarity about the advancement pathways available to them. This may be because, as a regulated industry, the certification requirements necessary for various specializations tend to be clear. Additionally, many financial services professionals already have higher education experience. That combination of insight and experience often translates to specific program expectations and career outcomes goals.
This piece covers how career advancers in the financial services industry evaluate the programs available to them, and what certifications are in high demand based on primary Guild research in the form of a one-time survey of working adult learners conducted in March, 2022, as well as insights into in-demand skills among major employers in the financial services industry. Below are key insights into this prospective student population:
Upskillers in financial services know the importance of lifelong learning.
The latest U.S. Census data show that 36% of adults over the age of 25 have obtained a college degree. However, roughly 52% of the financial services professionals surveyed by Guild in 2022 indicated they had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, representing significantly higher educational attainment than a general adult audience.
Higher education attainment is historically linked to higher household income overall, and this trend appears to hold for financial services professionals: 45% of workers reported a household income of at least $75,000 per year, two-thirds of whom reported an annual household income of at least $100,000 per year. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in the United States is roughly $67,500).
In a skills and competency-based economy, continuous learning matters, and gaining new skills beyond a degree is important to creating a stronger position to achieve advancement for employees focused on career advancement. Career advancers in financial services reflect that sentiment: Eighty-four percent of survey respondents agree that a traditional four-year degree is important in their field, and 71% of survey respondents indicated that short-form certificates are also important in their industry.
Employees in finance tend to have a sense of urgency around education.
Although financial services upskillers are more likely than the general population to have a college degree, survey respondents reported needing education both now and for their next job.
The majority of finance employees surveyed indicate they need education both for their current role now, for the next role they hope to achieve.
There is an interesting connection between job level and urgency:People at the mid, senior, and executive levels were more likely to say they need education right now than those in entry-level and associate positions. However, associates were far more likely than entry- and mid-level employees to say they need education to achieve their next role. This may be because, having learned the basics, associates are more likely to remain in the industry and seek to grow past their foundational knowledge, while also being less likely than mid-level employees to have the variable advancement opportunities that become available with more experience and areas of specialization.
Pay, job security, and pathways are primary motivators for financial services employees to stay in the industry —and can signal the career outcomes they want to achieve through education.
Survey respondents indicated that pay, job security, and upwardly mobile pathways are the most important pull factors for remaining in the financial services industry.
For many working adults, the motivation to stay in a given industry also tends to align with the career outcomes they aspire to achieve through education. The motivating factors for financial services employees indicate that key drivers for pursuing a credential are maintaining or increasing job security while becoming more competitive for promotions and raises.
Flexibility and affordability are highly important in an education program.
When asked in the survey about what academic supports would be most important in an education program, financial services employees pointed toward supports that address two of the most common challenges to education attainment that working adults face: time and money.
Survey respondents indicated that factors related to affordability and flexible learning delivery were the most important aspects of an education program.
As professionals with full-time jobs and responsibilities outside of work that often include caregiving (52% of respondents self-identified as parents or caregivers), the time available to dedicate to learning is a key concern. Schedule flexibility in the form of self-paced learning, multiple start dates, or evening classes, as well as academic supports that students can access asynchronously are therefore seen as incredibly valuable in helping time-strapped students learn when their schedules allow. Program duration is also a significant consideration: In the survey, this was defined as short-form programs and certificates.
As this survey was conducted outside of a Guild member audience, affordability remains a top concern, further highlighting the importance of employer-funded education programs. Similarly, as career advancement is a primary goal for most working adult learners, support in career planning, such as goal setting and resume building, is valuable to this prospective student group.
These certifications are in high demand among major employers.
Based on Guild insight into the needs of leading employers interested in upskilling their talent through investing in their education, the below certifications map onto timely areas of workforce need.
Now that we know financial service career advancers’ perspective on education, reasons for pursuing a credential, the program supports they say are most important, and in-demand credentials —how do financial services professionals actually approach selecting a program?
When choosing an education program, working adults tend to look for information that can help them answer 3 key questions:
1. Is this the right program for my skills needs?
Working adults want to have confidence that they are selecting a program they can succeed in, and that will help them acquire the skills they need to achieve their goals. Among financial services industry survey respondents, aspects that point toward determining the whether a program is the right one for them include:
- Ability to succeed: 31% of survey respondents say they are concerned about their ability to succeed in school. Although financial services professionals are likely to be degreed students, some may have been out of school for years and feel some anxiety about returning, or whether they will be able to successfully maintain a balance between school and other responsibilities they didn’t have to manage if they attended a traditional four-year degree program. Additionally, some financial services certifications are notoriously challenging, which may add to a sense of trepidation.
- Content and value to career: 28% of working adults say that course content is a top consideration, while 35% want to know their program will add value to their career.
- Outcomes data: 25% of working adults factor outcomes data into their program selection process.
2. Can I easily access this program?
Access encompasses the areas of largest concern for this survey group. Working adults tend to face barriers to accessing education that are different from “traditional” aged students, including cost and timing concerns. Career advancers in financial services also reflect this concern through indicating concerns related to navigating logistical and financial barriers:
- Tuition/program cost: 50% say tuition and fees are a top concern inhibiting them from enrolling.
- Time concerns: At least 40% expressed worry that school would require them to make significant sacrifices in terms of time for family and self.
- Opportunity cost: 22% of respondents say that the opportunity cost of working less in order to make time for school is a significant concern.
3. Is the institution trustworthy?
Having a degree of certainty that an institution will follow through on its promises to students is important for most working adult learners. Financial services experts tend to be more knowledgeable consumers in that, as a population, they are more likely to be degreed, and may therefore be more targeted in selecting indicators that they believe will receive a good return on their educational investment:
- Accreditation: 47% say accreditation factors into their considerations about program choice. This high emphasis is not surprising for a prospective student audience of financial services professionals; accreditation can be particularly important as many certifications are overseen by regulatory bodies.
- Brand recognition: 27% of respondents consider whether or not they have heard of a school an important aspect of program choice. Considerations such as whether an institution is local are also important and may be indicators of trust through their familiarity or perception that these institutions can support with forging connections with local industry opportunities.
Methodology: Guild sent a survey to 1,323 individuals across industries using an online research panel aggregator in March, 2022, resulting in 819 qualified respondents. Of this sample, we looked at a segment of 236 working adults in the financial industry (n=81) or interested in entering the financial industry (n=180).
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