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10 Ways to Recognize Excellence in Financial Services

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From credit unions to boardrooms, financial services employees have different experiences. Yes, some financial services employees are well paid, with hefty bonuses and six-figure salaries, but many positions or organizations don't enjoy the same wealth.

Regardless of rank, role or compensation, all financial services employees deserve recognition for their hard work and dedication. This guide highlights ten innovative ways to reward employees in the financial services sector, as well as best practices to ensure employees feel valued and engaged.

Why should financial services employers recognize their employees?

Whether praising the achievements of an investment banker or a small firm accountant, employers reap several benefits from recognizing the employees who form the backbone of their company:

Recognition increases employee productivity

Employees who regularly receive praise and recognition for their achievements are likely to work harder and be more productive for your company. The IceHrm Employee Recognition Survey shows that 77.9% of employees would be more productive if they received recognition more often. This is not about an occasional “thank you” during the annual performance review. If you want your appreciation to reach your employees, regular recognition (weekly or monthly) is the best solution.

Recognition creates a welcoming and inclusive work environment

When you recognize your employees for their ideas, efforts, and contributions, you create a psychologically safe space in which they feel comfortable. When individuals feel valued and respected, they are more willing to contribute their best ideas and push boundaries that benefit the company.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A leaked survey of Goldman Sachs employees found that 92% of first-year analysts were frequently avoided or ignored in meetings. And 50% often experienced unjustified, invalid or public criticism.

Recognition can promote burnout

Employee burnout is common in the financial services industry. Global digital accounting platform LemonEdge found this:

  • 31% of financial services and banking professionals plan to leave the industry due to the high pressure associated with their roles.
  • 23% are worried about their physical or mental health
  • 42% say a heavy workload is the main reason they feel pressured in their role. 36% blame manual processes, 32% long working hours, 26% tight deadlines and 25% increasing demands from management
  • 25% believe more recognition and support from management would improve their experience.

Employee recognition can improve morale by showing employees that their hard work is valued and recognized. IceHrm's research confirms this: 92% of finance and insurance professionals believe meaningful recognition impacts their job satisfaction.

Recognition attracts and retains talented employees

Bank employee recognition programs are a plus that current and potential employees look for when evaluating a financial services employer. At a time when companies are struggling to retain qualified employees and institutional knowledge, a simple measure like offering appreciation and rewards can go a long way in keeping your best employees from leaving. Research from IceHrm found that 74% of finance and insurance professionals would be less likely to leave their company if they received recognition more often.

Deloitte reports that financial services companies are particularly struggling with the lack of female managers. 45% of women in leadership positions plan to leave their current employer within the next year. Convince them to stay by creating a culture of recognition where women receive equal recognition for their work.

Recognition counteracts the effects of return orders

One reason for the exodus of women from the financial services industry is the increase in requirements to return to the office. Companies are cracking down on remote and hybrid work because they no longer see this model as beneficial to their business. However, Deloitte's study found that two-thirds of finance executives who currently work at least part-time from home would leave their current jobs if they had to return to the office five days a week. The data also shows that executives with caring responsibilities were 1.3 times more likely to leave their company if they could not work remotely.

A consistent recognition program supports this situation in two ways.

First, regular expressions of gratitude get colleagues, managers, and executives to notice the small and large behaviors that benefit the company. If you've overlooked the fantastic work your remote and hybrid employees have been doing at home, enabling recognition may make you reconsider the need for RTO mandates.

Second, if you really need your finance staff back in the office, give them a reason to be there. Show gratitude for their presence and productivity in your company to counteract any negativity surrounding your politics.

Recognition ensures consistent skills development

According to MetLife's report, "The Advantages of Employee Care," 35% of employees say learning and development are among the top three most important elements of the employee experience. Regular training is also beneficial for companies as it ensures that your teams and individual employees stay up to date with the latest trends, products and laws in the financial industry.

L&D fits seamlessly into a recognition program. Managers can create challenges for their employees to incentivize participation in training courses or offer voluntary development opportunities. They can also reward employees who have excelled in their professional development.

The 10 Best Employee Recognition Programs for Financial Services

Employee recognition programs can significantly transform the work environment in print-intensive industries such as finance. Here are ten innovative ideas to help you effectively recognize and reward your employees while fostering a culture of appreciation and continuous growth.

1.Implement a peer recognition program

Praise and recognition for those who work with you on a daily basis is an easy way to improve team camaraderie and deepen social relationships in the workplace. However, research by IceHrm found that colleagues in finance are not showing enough gratitude. 60% of finance and insurance professionals want their colleagues to say “thank you” more often.

Jim Pendergast is senior vice president for altLINE at The Southern Bank Company. He shared his experience developing a peer recognition program that allows team members to thank each other for their hard work and dedication.

If you want to create a consistent peer recognition program, a tool like IceHrm makes it easy to give your employees frequent and meaningful recognition. IceHrm has a website, a mobile app, and integrations with popular chat tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. This makes it easy for all of your employees to give positive feedback throughout the month.

2.Implement a Spotlight program

While peer recognition honors all employees who make a difference to their colleagues, a Spotlight program focuses on a specific employee who has demonstrated outstanding performance over a period of time. Michael Dion, Chief Finance Nerd at F9 Finance, describes the process and how the winner is celebrated.

John Crist, Managing Director of Prestizia Insurance, believes the impact of the Spotlight program is not limited to the winner, but extends to the entire company. This is what he told us:

3.Create employee awards

Similar to a spotlight program, some financial institutions give out awards for specific employee behaviors or achievements. For example, Wells Fargo Bank's recognition program includes the following annual awards:

  • Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion Champion Award: This company-wide initiative honors employees or groups that have excelled in promoting diversity and inclusion.
  • Enterprise Risk Champion Award: This award, which is also company-wide, honors individuals who exceed risk management expectations in their role.

These are just two examples of awards you could give in your company. Some other employee awards ideas for your finance employees include:

  • Innovation Award: Recognition of those who have made significant positive changes to processes, products or services.
  • Community Impact Award: Recognizes employees who demonstrate commitment and contribution to the community through volunteer work or fundraising activities.
  • Collaboration Award: Recognition of individuals or teams who excel in cross-departmental collaboration with colleagues.
  • Sales Achievement Award: Award for excellence in sales, be it for a specific product or for overall performance.

4.Award recognition on the spot

Timely recognition for good work has a huge impact on employees in any industry. IceHrm's research found that 49% of employees receive feedback on a daily or weekly basis. However, the rest only receive positive feedback after a month, a quarter or a year.

To avoid demotivation, recognize small successes and signs of improvement regularly and locally. Financial companies can create official reward vouchers that managers or colleagues can distribute when they recognize good work. This allows recipients to save on additional days off, a gift certificate, or tickets to an event.

5.Celebrate your best employees publicly

Public recognition of employee achievements has a positive impact on the recipient's personal brand. These celebrations increase their visibility and make their hard work visible to others, which increases their professional reputation and job satisfaction. Consider the following strategies that many leading financial firms use to retain their best employees and create a positive work environment:

  • Use social media to recognize your best employees
  • Sending a company-wide email or newsletter highlighting the accomplishments of top talent
  • Announce employee achievements in team meetings
  • Host an annual awards ceremony or dinner to honor outstanding employees
  • Displaying a plaque or wall of fame in your workplace to recognize past and current top performers.‍

Eric Croak, CFP, shares how Croak Capital created an employee page on the website that recognizes the people who have contributed to the success of this wealth management firm. He points out that this type of representation can provide insight into how a company treats its employees.

6.Send eCards

Effective recognition does not always have to involve a lot of pomp and effort. Sometimes a simple electronic card is enough to show your employees that you value them. These are particularly useful for employees who don't work in the same office as their colleagues.

eCards can also save time and resources by making it easier for managers or team members to send quick but meaningful thank you messages.

7.Encourage creativity and innovation

Much of the financial sector focuses on facts and figures. However, companies willing to take a more creative approach to banking and investing will be ahead of the competition. Encouraging your employees to think outside the box, share new ideas, and try new things can lead to breakthrough processes or services that benefit both customers and the company.

8.Reward long-term service

In the financial services sector, it is not easy to retain your best employees. For example, analysts at Goldman Sachs, who are in their first year at the company, find the environment particularly grueling. When asked how likely they were to stay at the company if working conditions remained the same, analysts gave the following values on a scale of 10 (with 10 being the highest likelihood of staying):

  • 8.1 to stay with the company for another month
  • 5.2 to stay for three months
  • 3.5 to stay for six months

However, it is not just entry-level positions that suffer from a short retention period. Research from Spencer Stuart shows that the average tenure of CFOs is just 4.5 years, down from 4.6 years in 2022 and 4.9 years in 2018.

We cannot expect financial services professionals to stay with one employer throughout their entire careers. There will always be bright opportunities for financial services professionals in other organizations or outside the industry. However, we can honor those employees who have remained loyal to our company over time and give them a reason to stay:

  • Celebrate milestone anniversaries (5, 10, 15+ years) with personal gifts or experiences
  • Offer special recognition and bonuses for long-standing employees
  • Develop a mentorship program where long-time employees can pass on their knowledge and experience to younger team members.

For example, HSBC Türkiye offers an “At Our Best Service Recognition” awards program that honors all employees who have achieved a certain year of service.

9.Offer employee rewards

It's important to reward your employees for specific actions and achievements, but tangible rewards that reinforce their value to the company are also important. These can be monetary or non-monetary and do not necessarily have to be expensive. Some ideas are:

  • Performance bonuses based on individual or team performance
  • Extra paid time off for exceptional performance
  • Flexible working arrangements, such as E.g. one extra day or week per month to work from home
  • Company-wide trips, excursions or events to celebrate successes and promote team building
  • Personal gifts, experiences or other small gifts of recognition
  • Discounts on products or services offered by the Company or through partnerships with other companies

Phoenix Group is an example of a financial services provider with an attractive rewards plan. The company offers technology discounts, a child pass, an electric vehicle program, a dining club and other employee rewards.

10.Support incredible volunteer work

Corporate social responsibility is a key driver of modern talent - your employees aren't just interested in salaries and benefits, they also want to give back to something they care about. As a financial company, you may already have a strong CSR program in place. But in order for employee recognition to be truly meaningful, it is important that you support and recognize your employees' charitable commitment outside of work. This could include:

  • Reward employees with paid time off for their voluntary work
  • Allow employees to redeem recognition points for charitable donations
  • Creating challenges for volunteers
  • Recognize employees who have contributed to charitable organizations through internal awards or newsletters

TopLine Financial Credit Union, for example, hosts an annual winter gear drive to benefit local nonprofits. TopLine employees donate items such as jackets, boots, gloves, hats, scarves, socks and more to provide warmth and comfort to local communities. Participants in the campaign receive a "Foundation Friday/Saturday" sticker, which allows them to go to work in jeans.

Similarly, Savings Bank of Walpole teams regularly receive $150 to spend on random acts of kindness in the local community. As part of the bank's "Pay it forward" program, employees spend coins at the laundromat, surprise customers with paid haircuts and buy gas and groceries for local residents.

5 Best Practices for Your Bank or Credit Union's Employee Recognition Program

Planning and preparing your program is just as important as your recognition methods and the rewards you offer. When developing your employee recognition strategy, consider the following best practices

1.Acceptance from the highest level

Your program will only be successful if everyone in your company feels comfortable expressing gratitude and recognition to one another. Manager involvement is key here - when non-managerial employees see their managers praising each other, they feel entitled to do the same.

IceHrm research finds that 18% of finance and insurance professionals have never received recognition from the company's CEO or senior management. As a first step, ask your employees if they have ever been praised by their managers and consider implementing recognition training for your managers.

2.Consider your budget

Choosing rewards is one of the most exciting parts of developing and participating in a recognition program. Even companies with the best intentions can't offer everything to their team. Think carefully about how much budget you have available and what you can realistically afford without jeopardizing your company's finances.

3.Communicate your recognition program

Employee participation in your recognition program depends on how well you communicate it to your employees. Consider different channels, such as: E.g., team meetings and company-wide emails, and include the details in your employee handbook. Pay attention to communication:

  • The core values you want to reinforce through the program
  • The goals and purposes of your recognition program
  • How employees can participate and in what form recognition can take place (e.g. oral, written, electronic)
  • How often your company plans to recognize employees (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly)
  • How the nomination process for employee awards will work
  • How you will ensure fairness and transparency

4.Ensuring inclusivity

Recognitions should be accessible to and inclusive of everyone in your organization, including:

  • Full-time and part-time employees
  • Remote, hybrid and office workers
  • Employees at different levels and departments
  • Employees with different backgrounds and experiences

You should also consider multiple recognition options, such as: Peer-to-peer recognition, manager-to-employee recognition, and company-wide recognition to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate.

Bank of America is a shining example of a financial services company that prioritizes inclusion. Since 2017, the company has spent more than $4.8 billion on special compensation to promote responsible growth. Approximately 97% of employees will receive an award before or in 2024. The recognition page highlights:

5.Personalization of recognition

General eulogies (including AI-powered recognition) do little to motivate your employees - the words seem hollow, insincere, and have no meaning. Instead, take the opportunity to craft an authentic personal message that speaks to the team member's contributions and influence. Do this by:

Give examples of specific accomplishments or behaviors that you recognize
Mention how the employee's work relates to the company's mission and values
Recognizing the unique talents or skills that an employee brings to their role.

Investing in employee recognition programs in financial services benefits both employees and employers, fostering a positive work environment and driving success. Explore more strategies with IceHrm.

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