Banking on a Wealth of Experience

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How a financial services organisation is successfully managing an ageing workforce

The Financial Service Compensation Scheme (FSCS) have paid out more than £26bn in compensation to over 4.5m people over the last 15 years. A fact Caroline and I were discussing as we emerged out of Aldgate tube station weaving our way around the suitcase ramblers into a wet summer day.

We were on our way to interview their Head of People, David Blackburn, an avid ambassador of age diversity in the workplace.

Following an article we viewed in the Business in The Community (BiTC) report ‘Age in the Workplace’, we had organised a rendezvous with the FSCS who have appeared in a number of articles over the last year about their approach to managing an ageing workforce. We were keen to put David to the test, have a rummage into their affairs, unearth and feed back real-life examples of their age positive image.

David Blackburn, Head of People at FSCS

David Blackburn, Head of People at FSCS

About the FSCS

The FSCS protects consumers when authorised financial services firms fail (or go bust). It’s the compensation scheme for customers of UK authorised financial services firms. The FSCS can compensate customers if a firm has stopped trading or does not have enough assets to pay claims against it.

The FSCS protects deposits, investment business, home finance, insurance policies and insurance broking products.

The Scheme was set up under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and became active on 1 December 2001. FSCS is free to customers and is independent of government and the financial industry. It was set up by the Government and funded by levies on firms authorised by the PRA and FCA.

The FSCS employs around 200 staff of which 17% are aged between 50-69.

View from a meeting room window

View from a meeting room window


“What does an inclusive environment look like?” was the starting point for David and the HR team at the FSCS. One common principle is a belief that there is “no job within the business that can’t be done flexibly.” With this ideal, the challenge for the FSCS is to support their employees through all stages of their career. Having a flexible approach to job roles is positively impacting on employee engagement and retention.

A number of age positive initiatives have come out of this strategic thinking called ‘Making the Most of Mid-life including’ career development and retraining, guidance and support on financial planning, health and wellbeing, and life at home – incorporating issues such as caring, writing wills and empty-nest syndrome.

Currently the team are putting together a toolkit providing information and signposting towards external sources of support for these topics as well as training sessions and online learning. 

Personalised “glide pathways” provide career planning for those approaching retirement and the FSCS are also looking at ways to offer sabbaticals to those in need of a career break. Other ideas they are exploring include reverse and intergenerational mentoring.

Since the introduction of these initiatives within their 55-64 population, employee engagement has increased by 17% over the last 12 months – an increase greater than in the younger population age groups.

Brand values on wall with relatable quotes - great idea!

Brand values on wall with relatable quotes - great idea!

What came out of our conversation

During our chat there were a number of observations poignant to the positive work around age diversity that the HR team has impacted upon within the FSCS during the last 6 years.

David’s extensive cross sector and industry experience gained throughout his career has been expertly applied within the FSCS. He learnt his trade across private (including a startup), government and not-for-profit sectors. Key to the transformation of the culture within the FSCS was the ability to use the knowledge learnt from those environments and share that wealth of experience with the Executive team and employees.

This experience has enabled David and his team to speed up the cultural transformation needed within the organisation and has added great value to the FSCS and it’s employees.

We also observed David’s natural talent for conversation and stories that underpinned his learning and decision-making at key milestones in his career. It struck us that he was an example of exactly what we are aspiring to ‘bottle’ for our Renegade audience. His transformations have been as a result of career planning, strategic thinking, lifelong learning, being prepared to make a change, and his attitude to experimentation and risk.

Given the amount of change within the organisation over the past 6 years it is also very clear that the HR team are fully and enthusiastically supported by the Executive Team. Lawrence Churchill, Chairman of the FSCS is also on our interview list as we look to furnish our readers with older role models who have continued to work and volunteer beyond the ‘traditional’ retirement age.

Company vision in a meeting room

Company vision in a meeting room


The nature of the work conducted by FSCS employees tends to be with older customers in their 50s, 60s and 70s, their oldest customer being 89.

Many of our customers are older, so employing people who can relate to them, whether online, on the phone or in person, is vital.
— David Blackburn, BiTC Website

It seems like an obvious choice that the workforce should mirror their client profile in order to enhance the customer experience. But how many organisations are in a similar situation yet age diversity in their workplace is not compatible?

The FSCS has committed to supporting the BiTC and Government Campaign #onemillionmore that benchmarks an organisations' commitment to recruit, retain and retrain older workers. The BiTC target is aimed at supporting older people who want the same range of work options and opportunities as younger colleagues.

A selection of FSCS's employer awards

A selection of FSCS's employer awards

Employers are starting to face skill shortages and by 2022, 14.5 million more jobs will be created, but only 7 million younger workers will enter the workforce. This represents a 7.5 million gap. The BiTC research found a missing million of 50-69 year olds who are out of work, but want to work. The BiTC are supporting employers to take action by improving their current over 50 employee numbers by 12%.

The FSCS is an early adopter of the campaign and have published their data, committing to increasing their over 50 ratio. Being one of the first to publish, this is a clear statement of their positive approach to an ageing workforce.

Proof of an age diverse recruitment process at the FSCS emerged via a number of examples of new hires in the 50 plus age range detailed later in this article.

Outside FSCS, Aldgate

Outside FSCS, Aldgate


A true learning organisation puts learning and continuous improvement at the core of its strategy.  This also creates a compelling case for attracting and retaining high calibre people.
— David Blackburn

The FSCS launched both a new approach to performance achievement and leadership development in April this year.  

The “My Achievements” programme is built around three guiding principles:

  • My development – how do I grow? Your personal development priorities based on your own unique development planner: how can you increase your influence; how can you be more strategic; how can you be more organised or better deliver for your customers?

  • My metrics – what is my impact? – Data driven performance measures that are specific to your team and how your team is contributing to the success of FSCS strategic objectives. Metrics that define what high performance looks like at FSCS.

  • My priorities – what am I delivering? – Your key personal priorities: what you are currently delivering; your current focus; what you are discussing with your line manager; what you are trying to achieve; your intended outcomes not simply your outputs – no more than 3 re-focused at least every 3 months.

The introduction of this programme was a contributing factor to the FSCS gaining the Investors in People Standard in 2015 and the “Best HR Team” in 2016 HR Excellence Awards. In addition, this year the FSCS was shortlisted for the Business in the Community, Responsible Business Awards for “Championing an Ageing Workforce” sponsored by Aviva.

Building main entrance

Building main entrance


A recent initiative to keep older workers engaged and retained in the organisation started last year with David speaking to every employee over 45 and gathering their views about their career development.

“Our midlife career reviews have helped us gain additional insight into the needs, hopes and ambitions of our older workers, and we will now build on that.” (David Blackburn, BiTC Website).  

What ensued was surprising as they explored areas around health, well-being, purpose and how the employee would like to continue to learn and develop later in their career.

Career development opportunities inside and outside the organisation, such as working as a consultant, non-exec director, going on a secondment and the opportunity to do more volunteering emerged as employees started to think outside the box of traditional approaches.

A key insight came from the reviews. There were two distinct views on how staff would approach their retirement. For one group it was about what type of work would motivate them to stay. This group are looking for something completely different in order to retain them in the workforce. The other group wanted to continue to contribute and want to do that through more traditional approaches such as going part-time or relinquishing some of their managerial responsibilities.

Corridor with Brand Values

Corridor with Brand Values

David accepts that they’re not there yet, the focus has been on the employees and how that relates to the customers. That was their starting point. Now they are really interested in what that means from an intergenerational point of view and how the need to impart wisdom can be met within the organisation or elsewhere, perhaps through volunteering or mentoring externally.

Learning from the mid-life career reviews highlighted the need for thinking time and support and resources to work on their personal ‘glide path’ through to retirement and beyond.

What was clear was that this is an organisation that is seeking new creative ways to address the needs of older workers and who aren’t afraid of trying new approaches, using data and information from employees to guide their thinking.


Robbie Graham joined the FSCS following his retirement from Aviva in 2002. He joined as a consultant in 2003 at the age of 56 and was subsequently taken on in a flexible, part-time role that he still performs today. Robbie’s long practical experience of the industry has proven invaluable to the FSCS together with the experience and knowledge of policyholder protection issues that he built up over his long relationship with FSCS. A combination that would unlikely be found in mid career employees. Robbie believes his flexible working arrangements have allowed him to enjoy his retirement whilst providing an opportunity for him to continue to do work that motivates him and is valued by the FSCS.

Fiona, FSCS

Fiona, FSCS

Fiona joined the FSCS in 2016 after a career in investment banking. She openly admits “there was always an expectation within banking that I would be gone by 50 but despite that, as a Director I was still unprepared after a re-structure resulted in redundancy.” There was a lack of support and coaching from her previous employer, a ‘less than honest’ approach by recruiters and too many situations when interviewers were ‘fishing’ for solutions to their problems rather than thinking of using her experience to manage those problems. After 10 months of being unemployed Fiona was offered a role within the finance leadership team at the FSCS – a win/win for both parties as the FSCS goes through a period of business transformation where Fiona’s experience and skills are invaluable.

Paul, Default Manager at FSCS

Paul, Default Manager at FSCS

Paul is currently one of the first employees on the ‘Leadership Excellence Training Programme’ after joining the FSCS over two years ago following a career in commercial banking.  With a re-structure looming and approaching 50, Paul saw it as an opportunity to move on, take a break and re-evaluate his goals in life. “What’s my legacy?” was core to his decision to move away from applying for banking roles. After a six-month break he found his home at the FSCS. He approached the company directly with an email and covering letter after experiencing a lack of flexibility and understanding from recruitment agents. Delighted with his choice, both Paul and the FSCS are reaping the benefits of his experience and skills with the intergenerational workforce.

Jamie, Head of Ops Support at FSCS (mug shot!)

Jamie, Head of Ops Support at FSCS (mug shot!)

Jamie swapped a lifetime career in contracting around the world to take up a permanent role as Head of Operational Support for the FSCS in June this year. His career saw him delivering contact centre and customer management excellence across the globe on interim assignments. Making the switch after 50 was driven by his changing lifestyle needs, the opportunity to make an ethical impact and be an agent of change in a transforming organisation.  Working with the right ‘boss’ was also a key influence in his move to employee status with the FSCS providing Jamie with the scope and support to be able deliver in his role.

Inside main building entrance

Inside main building entrance


We asked David if he had any advice for other HR teams looking to improve the age diversity in their workplace. Here are his observations.

  • Take action: A skill shortage is looming. Doing nothing is not an option, roles will be more difficult to fill so if you can recruit, retrain and retain your older workers you can address some of those skill shortages.

  • Arm yourself with data: If you don’t know where to start, get intelligence, ask people in the organisation. Be it focus groups or surveys. Having data is key to making informed choices.

  • Try stuff: We used National Work Life Week last year to launch the debate. Originally it started out as tailoring work content but then we pivoted and decided to ask them what they wanted to do and then tried some things out. We asked what did they think was the most valuable and what things could continue to be in the programme.

Just start somewhere, do something. If you don’t know what to do there will be people in your population and organisation that will have ideas.

//All images © 2019 Caroline Bosher