Having spent a lot of valuable time with clients over the last few months, Jon Wilson makes some predictions for 2019.

If the last two years have seen a boom in digital transformation, then 2019 could be the year the groundwork begins to bear fruit. With the huge regulation changes in 2018 accounted for and the adoption of new technology well underway for many organisations, businesses will want to see tangible results of these well laid foundations this year. Emerging technology and yet more compliance requirements in many sectors will, however, underline that transformation is an on-going project for any company that wants to remain competitive and see long-term value. Below are some of the trends we expect to see from a hiring perspective this year.
 

Digital Transformation

2018 saw organisations embrace digital transformation more than ever before and we fully expect to see that continue in 2019, with a continued spread from the IT function right up to the boardroom. More C-suite leaders understand the impact of digital transformation on corporate culture, reputation and competitive market edge, and are hiring accordingly.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is leading the way, automating low-level processes to free up employees to deal with higher-level tasks, while finally being accepted as an addition rather than a replacement for a workforce. We expect to see more of these internal process adoptions to streamline processes this year, before any radical front-end customer facing changes, purely because the returns on investment are immediately visible.

Another addition that will see the up-skilling of staff to accommodate it is natural language processing (NLP), which, like RPA, will transform businesses across a number of sectors that have a service or customer-facing channel. It is estimated that 40% of these companies will have it in place by the end of 2019 to deal with the simpler end of voice requests, such as credit applications or customer service, so we expect to see hiring in this specialism too.
 

Voice Activated Technology

An extension of NLP above, voice activated technology is taking the voice assistant to the next level and is being embraced in a number of sectors. Aside from the simpler tasks it can achieve (showcased on a domestic front by Alexa, Siri and friends), in banking, for example, there is the potential for voice and biometrics to work hand in hand to ensure security and therefore access further services. 

As this is emerging technology still, there is much to be done, again internally, to merge either legacy systems or recently adopted tech to ensure that voice activation can access information correctly. We also expect to see regulation amends and heightened compliance needs to maintain security, as voice activation becomes more commonplace in e-commerce and other sectors.
 

AI & Machine Learning 

Although still very much in its infancy in the majority of sectors, businesses are aware that artificial intelligence (AI) is on its way. Implementation has begun and although only 7% of organisations view their current AI offering as highly sophisticated, as adoption rates increase through 2019, the demand for specific talent will spike as companies aim to keep up with their trailblazing competitors. 

We are seeing an increase in data science roles and machine learning opportunities, which is great news for candidates, but will be a challenge for companies who will be competing for the same, sought-after experts.
 

Agile

Emerging technology; shifting market conditions; customer expectations; and speed to market have all had and will continue to have an impact, resulting in a demand for Agile talent. The vast majority of organisations across multiple sectors have conceded their legacy systems are not enough and that digital transformation is imperative to survive. The result of this is that Agile professionals have never been in higher demand, and we are seeing almost all of our major clients hiring. 
 

Mergers and Acquisitions

We saw a lot of activity in this space in 2018, with worldwide M&A hitting a record $3 trillion before Q4. However, a number of global factors such as political uncertainty; strained trade relations between major countries; impending Brexit, and volatile stock markets suggest that 2019 may see a quieter and more cautious first quarter, at least. Ultimately though, businesses will always need to transform faster than is possible organically, so M&A will bounce back. 
 

Information Security

The increased demand for information security talent began with the introduction of GDPR in 2018 and shows no signs of slowing in 2019, particularly as GDPR regulators start to enforce it this year. Recent research predicts the info sec market to grow 8.7% in 2019. Therefore, we not only expect to see the majority of larger companies grow their info sec teams this year, but also see info sec represented in more boardrooms as CISOs bridge the gap between the C Suite and IT departments, simultaneously enhancing a business’s reputation and competitive advantage in this area. 

The rise in the awareness of cyber security in general, as well as highly publicised data breaches or insider threats in a number of sectors, has resulted in demand on the technical side moving up the hiring agenda. Many of our clients have already had significant sign-off to support growth in this area, to ensure best practice, integrity of systems, as well as mitigate risk with third parties and supply chain.
 

Regulatory

While the true outcome is currently still unknown, as we approach Brexit, we are seeing our clients wisely investing in a number of generic Regulatory roles, including project management specialists and business analysts, to place their teams in the best possible position for whatever happens at the end of Q1.

As with the info sec market above, 2019 will see the enforcement of the numerous large-scale, cross-sector regulations implemented in 2018, with companies needing specialist talent to ensure compliance of these. As digital transformation and the adoption of AI also picks up, companies with an increased exposure to cyber crime or IT risk will be looking to maintain operational stability and resilience, as well as stay ahead of the frequently changing associated regulatory landscape.
 

Financial Crime & Compliance

Two major issues dominated this area in 2018 – the implementation of cryptocurrency regulations and high profile money laundering scandals – both of which will have a knock on effect on 2019’s trends. A new set of international AML standards will be released this year to further address the cryptocurrency landscape, which will require firms to strengthen their compliance in this area. Compliance specialists will also be in demand in banking and financial services as the information sharing initiative between the big banks and regulators will now filter down to smaller institutions.

Last year’s G20 Summit finally addressed ‘ultimate beneficial ownership’ after the notorious Panama Papers leak, so we expect to see legislation on this become a prominent feature of the financial crime landscape with shell companies and offshore structures coming under the microscope. Again, AML and compliance talent will be in demand here.
 

Open Banking and PSD2

2018 saw PSD2 and the UK Open Banking directives arrive, forcing the hand of the traditional banks to pay attention to the smaller, challenger banks, FinTechs and digital-only players. Open Banking is all about the user/customer experience and given the ubiquity of seamless services in other sectors, led by the likes of Amazon, Google, Uber and their contemporaries, 2019 will see the banking sector try to keep pace and keep customers. If they don’t, 2019 could be the year that the smaller players start to grab their market share in a meaningful way.

Approximately 9000+ financial institutions across Europe need to comply with the Second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) by March 14 this year, which is a game-changing new regulation for the payments industry. While integration of new service offerings is underway for most institutions, their overall strategies will evolve for the rest of year, seeing specialists in payments and compliance in demand. As banks cannot develop for themselves fast enough to remain competitive, we expect to see more third parties, agile partners and FinTechs involved too.
 

Blockchain

Blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrency, has been hyped for a few years now, but still had minimal adoption in commerce last year and it will be interesting to see if that continues in 2019. 2018 was a tough year for cryptocurrency, though this was no reflection on the tech behind it, which continues to enjoy heavy investment from banks and the UK government.

It is difficult to predict the impact on the banking sector, especially while there is still no FCA legislation in place to regulate its adoption. The potential in the technology is there though and the hope that blockchain’s ability to record and share data instantly will at some point replace legacy back-office tech and increase efficiency across the sector. It’s possible that challenger banks may take the first steps with it soon, possibly around payments, but even that may be well down the line.
 

About the author

 

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Jon Wilson

Director, Hydrogen Group

Jon has strategic and operational responsibility for Hydrogen Group’s Business Transformation division. Prior to this he was with Morgan Hunt, developing their Corporate Services division, and at Badenoch & Clark for 13 years participating in the Company's organic growth from less than 100 employees to over 400. Specialties: Leadership, people development, project management, customer relationship management, business development.