By Helen Vowls, Director, Leathwaite

Traditionally, interim roles have not been associated with high-power careers but the trend is shifting. Demand for interim workers in the financial services and technology sectors is higher than ever before as firms tap in to contractors’ specialist and easily accessible skills to lead necessary change. In many ways, interims represent the jobs market of today. This is not only in the flexibility their roles naturally entail but also in the project-based work in which they specialise, that can bring firms up to speed on changes in the sector. For leaders, interims are the new workforce must-haves and this can be understood through the following elements an interim role involves:

The flexibility of an interim career

The important thing to remember is that welcoming changes in the modern workforce can truly benefit a business. It is generally acknowledged that the demand for flexible working has shot up in recent years and this is likely to increase. An interim worker has the flexibility to choose when and for how long he or she works for a firm. This is beneficial to the business because in that time, the interim will give their full attention to the work, having accounted for it in any longer-term personal or career plan- which can put a strain on HR and affect their productivity. In fact, there is a significant proportion of female interim workers, probably due to the higher levels of flexibility they require in their careers to raise a family.

The Short term nature of interim job contracts

Interims can be extremely focused on high level completion of the day to day job in hand without the obfuscation of climbing the internal hierarchy and managing politics; an interim furthers his or her career by gaining as much experience as possible, completing a range of significant projects. The benefit is that whilst the individuals in question can build a career on their own terms, firms can hire them on their own terms too. Interims are quick to hire, reducing the amount of HR input needed. Their use might also cuts wage costs compared to assigning the work to a permanent employee or indeed a 3rd party consultancy, where there may be upsell goals, particularly in the finance sector. Independent interims only focus on delivery, bringing in specialist talent to drive short term initiatives.

The ability of interims to lead change

Regulatory change:

This area of expertise is crucial at a time of real change in the financial services sector which is under the greatest ever scrutiny by regulatory bodies. Under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II), firms will need to tap into a wealth of expertise to address every aspect of the wide-ranging legislation by the EU implementation deadline of 3rd January 2017. Depending on the business model, this could affect a wide range of a firm’s functions which would all require extra man power– from client services to IT and HR systems.

This is where interims, perhaps, can add the most value to firms that are being forced to change. The regulatory agenda is not going to go away. Some of the roles it is creating are not necessarily appealing to permanent employees. Therefore, interims are quickly becoming experts in a number of critical areas within regulation. In addition, new regulation is introduced in waves and does not always need to be delivered during the same time frames, meaning peaks and troughs of internal activity exist to meet the requirements. Specialist interims can therefore be brought in in the periods of time prior to implementation to make sure a firm is compliant- saving the day, quickly and efficiently.

Operational and technological change:

Leadership within firms is also having to grapple with structural changes the market is inducing. This not only stems from financial regulation, such as bank ring-fencing, (creating a need for new structures within firms that may require temporary expertise) but also from the operational and technological needs of a modern-day business.

Again, interims can step-up to this challenge. Financial firms are lagging behind in the digitalisation of business and by bringing in digital expertise for a year, a firm can buy itself a quick technological upgrade. With many firms also increasing their off-shore activity, the characteristically mobile interim is happy to move where the work is, on the premise that it will be a short-term arrangement that fits in with his or her career and personal plans.

Bolstering existing workforces

Being an interim does not mean doing the dirty work; it is a career of choice and a response to demand in business today. It is therefore important for leaders to realise that interims can be used to bolster an existing workforce as and when it is necessary, without interfering with a permanent, core workforce.

Firms can tap into the benefits of interim roles and make them their own in two main ways. Firstly, they can make use of the fact that interims build their careers on their reputations and are therefore likely to do a job to the best of their ability, unlike consultancies, which can afford to take risks with their clients. Secondly, employers can take advantage of the fact that interims are experts in niche fields and have set the guidelines for their own roles. This is a fundamental resource for firms which, at times, may need to implement change fast but do not have the specialist skills-sets internally to do so.

All the evidence points to interims being the new work-force must-haves. The market for interims used to be junior-focused but it is now producing highly experienced senior-level individuals too. These highly sought-after candidates are leaders of change - they are detached from a firm’s internal politics, challenging the status-quo and are brought in solely to do necessary, fast, game-changing work, using skills they have learnt from similar situations many times before.