Addressing Mental Health Issues In The Financial Services Industry

In Employee Benefits, Healthcare, Mental Health by Stephen Ellis

The 2008 financial crisis resulted in widespread layoffs which deeply impacted the financial services industry. As a result, individuals who still had jobs following the aftermath, found they had to work even longer hours under even more demanding circumstances. It’s a reality that took its toll on many financial workers’ mental wellbeing.

Indeed, a 2018 survey by Aon Employee Benefits found that 62% of financial sector firms reported an increase in mental health-related illness in their workforces last year.

Meanwhile, a 2018 survey by Westfield Health found that 74% of banking and financial services professionals believe their employer should be doing more to support the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees. The same Westfield Heath study found 42% of banking and financial services professionals would use emotional wellbeing services if they were available.

The bottom line is financial services professionals are under huge amounts of pressure. The tragic death of James Bedingfield, a senior Investec wealth manager, who took his own life in 2018 because he feared an internal probe into an “honest mistake” could result in him losing his job, highlights this reality only too well.

But in addition to the day-to-day stress associated with a position in a demanding sector, could new regulations also be adding to the pressure felt by financial services professionals?

For example, regulations such as Mifid II and the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR) – which has been in force for banks, building societies, credit unions and PRA-designated investment firms since March 2016 and is due to be extended to cover all solo-FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) regulated firms from 9 December 2019 – mean more stringent and regular reporting requirements for financial services professionals.

Mental health issues are often viewed as career finishers

Older professionals in particular feel the strain associated with new regulations. This is because such regulations can feel overwhelming when it comes to understanding and following them in addition to carrying out their day job.

However, the biggest concern in the financial services industry is the seemingly toxic perception of mental health issues. According to a mental health survey last year conducted by the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), mental health issues are sometimes perceived to be weaknesses, with one respondent saying: “Mental health just isn’t an acceptable subject for most managers. There is no training and the subject is seen as a career finisher.”

It is important for the senior leaders of financial services firms to talk openly and honestly about mental health issues as doing so will encourage others to do the same. Nevertheless, as with many sensitive subjects, privacy is vital and that’s where an Employee Assistance Programme can play an important role.

One of the key challenges highlighted here is that mental health is a taboo subject in many industries and seen as a weakness and potentially career limiting.

As many surveys show the extent of mental health issues in the UK, it could be argued that outdated opinions are a barrier to improving employee wellbeing. It could be said that sweeping these issues under the carpet is a bigger threat to an employer than providing a safety mechanism for their staff to use. A good quality confidential EAP is a VERY good start.

Stephen joined Premier Choice in 2006 as a Group Risk consultant and became Head of Group Risk in June 2013. In December 2017, Stephen also took over responsibility for the Protection division within Premier Choice and works to grow this in the same way he has the Group Risk division. Protection is a specialist area and fits well with his experience and expertise in the group risk market.