Hiring in Banking has changed markedly since the Global Financial Crisis. Whilst there is always demand for senior bankers with developed relationships, product expertise and proven track records, we have also seen a significant increase in appetite for Senior Advisors.

Often hired on a part-time basis, Senior Advisors bring influence at the top table. Together with deep geopolitical, economic and commercial insight.

What is the role of the Senior Advisor?

Unlike an NED, who is responsible to the Shareholders, the Senior Advisor is tasked with raising dialogue to a strategic level, both internally and externally.

They will undoubtedly be an expert in their chosen field. However, unlike a Senior Banker who has potentially spent most of his or her career within financial services, a Senior Advisor may not have any prior experience of working within the financial services sector.

These individuals are hired not because they understand Financial Services but because they understand the client base Financial Services organisations serve and the changing geopolitical environment within which they operate.

So, what is a Senior Advisor expected to do?  There is huge scope to these positions, however key requirements of the role can be summarised as follows:

  • Bringing a strategic overview of the geopolitical, economic and commercial issues that could impact the organisation in question, helping give context to strategic decisions
  • Connecting to the world outside the organisation, especially at the top of government and industry, enabling the organisation to engage with the most senior influencers and stakeholders
  • A sounding board for senior leadership, to advise and reflect on priorities/concerns and challenge assumptions
  • Speaking on behalf of the organisation at high profile events
  • Mentoring senior leadership and developing talent

Ensuring Senior Advisor effectiveness

Granularity of the role is a critical success factor. There are numerous examples where such individuals have left disillusioned after a short time, generally because the position was not defined with sufficient rigour in the first place.

Key stakeholders must be on board with the hire and understand how to utilise the Special Advisor’s knowledge and connections. Otherwise the individual may end up confined in a glass box: only to be used in cases of emergency.

Equally, banks need to appreciate that these individuals do not in general possess a detailed understanding of the technical aspects of the institution. It should also be noted that in the case of individuals coming from a public sector background, very strict rules apply around lobbying.

A Senior Advisor should spend as much time as possible with Executives, to understand what they do on a day-to-day basis.  This is especially important if the individual comes from a non-Financial Services background. Only once a Senior Advisor has accrued a full understanding of the institution and its differentiators to the competition should the dialogue switch to client discussions.

How to hire a Senior Advisor

Before engaging prospective advisors, an institution should clearly define what such an individual is being hired to do, and what is expected of them.  This matters more than ever where client interaction is expected. Bringing in a senior individual with client coverage responsibilities can disintermediate and frustrate other members of staff unless properly managed. All stakeholders need to be on board with the hire and a clear interview schedule set in advance.

Once this is done, an institution can consider external engagement. It is entirely possible that some individuals may already be known to senior management. Nevertheless, it is important to consider as wide a talent pool as possible.

At this stage the Executive Search firm plays a critical role. The nature of such a position means the company must have access across sectors into unusual candidate pools; often areas with which the hiring organisation has less interaction.

Moreover, it is entirely possible that candidates of this kind have not considered roles within Financial Services before. As such, they often need more “hand holding” support than candidates who are moving within the same sector. Equally, the client may require more active guidance than when hiring from within more traditional hunting grounds.

Conclusion

The key to hiring a successful Senior Advisor is granularity for institution and candidate alike. The institution must understand what such individuals can and cannot bring to particular sectors and geographies. Meanwhile the potential Senior Advisor should be clear on what the institution does and what their role within it would be. There is not a typical Senior Advisor, each position is different.

If the role and expectations are clearly managed, such an individual can raise the level of dialogue and interaction for an institution and provide an invaluable sounding board to challenge leaders across the organisation. In an increasingly competitive environment, this ultimately may be the difference between success and failure.

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Nick Miller

Nick is a Principal in the Financial Services Practice at Odgers Berndtson. Based in London, he specialises in senior appointments within corporate, investment and wholesale banking and has success...

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