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How to Build an Engaging Virtual Onboarding Program for Today’s Talent Market

By Michael Horney | May 10, 2022 | 2 Comments

Financial ServicesFinancial Services Operational Excellence and Cost OptimizationFinancial Services Talent Management, Leadership and Culture

Remember your first day on the job at your financial institution? You were excited, nervous, and maybe even terrified. But as an experienced executive, those feelings are well behind you. Now imagine how a new employee feels today. There are more products, processes, policies, and platforms. That’s a lot of Ps… and learning all of them quickly is overwhelming! And to do it virtually? No thanks.

In today’s competitive talent market, financial institutions have to engage new associates immediately to retain them through the first year of work. Even before the pandemic, financial services leaders would tell me that a significant percentage of employees would leave in the 6- to 12-month period of the job, a percentage that has exacerbated over the past two years. With financial institutions embracing virtual onboarding, a plan for immediate engagement is critical for keeping top talent.

An engaging virtual onboarding program is intuitive, interactive, interconnected, and iterative. And while some of these attributes and objectives are also applicable to in-person onboarding as well, the challenges of the virtual environment can slow the learning process, heightening the importance of each objective. Financial services leaders play an important role in providing input to their HR and L&D partners on how to build a successful onboarding program.


Simplify onboarding objectives

The distractions of remote work can easily disrupt an associate’s ability to learn multiple skills at once. To combat this, financial services executives should encourage HR and L&D partners to implement one skill or knowledge piece at a time to simplify the learning and keep employees engaged. In addition, learning activities should be spread out to help new hires orient themselves with technology and other organizational and role-specific factors, like systems, tools, and teammates.

To develop an intuitive program, FS business leaders and hiring managers should partner to answer this question: What are the most important skills or pieces of knowledge a new hire should use and apply? For a new associate in frontline sales, this might be the most basic product (i.e. checking account). For an operations employee, this could be a specific process or workflow. Focus on the non-negotiable skills and knowledge, so employees can quickly put the training into practice. 


Adopt an interactive learning approach to enhance knowledge retention in the short- and medium-term

A self-paced learning approach allows new hires to study new material on their own time. And an instructor-led learning approach creates social interaction and personalized feedback. But in a virtual environment, only using the former can easily create digital distraction. And only using the latter can cause virtual meeting fatigue. 

On the other hand, a blended approach is an interactive way to involve the two different styles of learning. But given the absence of nonverbal cues in a virtual environment, there are a few things instructors should do to make the onboarding process more engaging and productive: 

  • Keep class sizes small – ideally 8-10 people. The scalability of virtual training at larger institutions sometimes encourages large class sizes. 
  • Proactively check in with employees. Identify potential questions and challenges in advance because virtual associates might be hesitant to ask questions. 
  • Use co-facilitators to address any issues (i.e. technology or learning) without slowing down the class.
  • Create office hours for new hires to contact the instructor via chat or video calls. Sometimes instructors think their job is over once the class has ended.

Also, new associates will not retain everything they’ve read. This is especially difficult with the regulatory and financial sensitivities that come with financial services. To make the program fun and interactive, encourage trainers to include games, targeted questions, and quizzes after each module. Still, employees will probably forget learnings within a short period of time. Leaders should reinforce the training weeks and months later by troubleshooting real examples, doing simulations, and sending follow-up questions.


Embed networking and social integration to ensure ongoing support for new hires

Another challenge with virtual onboarding is that new hires do not have access to the organic networking opportunities offered by on-site onboarding. They can’t turn to their neighbors to seek help or have casual watercooler chats with their peers.

To create an interconnected onboarding experience, help HR leaders identify the best candidates to serve as remote mentors. This could include a peer mentor who provides role and career guidance, like demonstrating a mock interaction with a financially distressed customer. It could also include an onboarding partner. This person might be the new hire’s go-to resource for navigating systems, processes, and culture.  And to break silos in financial services, use two individuals from different functions to help create visibility into larger firm initiatives.


Measure and optimize new hires’ remote onboarding experience to ensure timely course corrections

An advantage of virtual onboarding is that scalability enables quick iterations without big disruption or cost considerations. If your onboarding process isn’t working, it needs to change. And in this talent market, you’ll know quickly, but not necessarily because new hires will share their concerns voluntarily. So to get ahead of any signs of employee attrition, a formalized and regular feedback process is necessary. This feedback should be used to identify challenges and make timely course corrections during the onboarding process.

Financial services leaders should use the feedback from evaluation surveys, knowledge tests, regular new hire check-ins, and 360-degree reviews to evaluate the progress of new associates. This data can also be aggregated to determine if there are any gaps in the onboarding program as a whole, which can be addressed in a new iteration. 


In sum, if financial services business executives want to successfully retain new employees in this competitive talent market, they should closely partner with HR and L&D leaders to make a virtual onboarding program that’s intuitive, interactive, interconnected, and iterative. 

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • barbara wild says:

    Is there a Magic Quadrant for onboarding gamification? We are looking for candidates.