Research report

In brief

In brief

  • When HR is “at the table” as a strategic partner the business benefits, as does its bottom line.
  • Our Financial Services HR Operating Model Study finds leaders exploring a variety of operating model strategies to drive meaningful gain.
  • We’ve also identified preliminary steps for financial services HR leaders hoping to boost the strategic value of their function.

Challenges abound from the current pandemic, touching on a wide variety of business functions. Among these is human resource management, which has raised the stakes for chief human resources officers (CHROs) and their HR operating models. Creativity and higher productivity are needed now more than ever.

Our Financial Services HR Operating Model Study findings show technologies and data are in place to support a next-generation approach to HR. All that’s needed is an effective operating model, one that can drive productivity and enhance HR’s strategic value—perhaps increasing the influence of the function at the C-suite table.

HR: Headed in the right direction

A majority—73 percent—of HR leaders in our HR Operating Model Study say their departments have become more involved with strategic planning and decision-making in the last two years. Only 3 percent report a decrease in involvement.

Our study finds 38 percent of HR leaders saying their function is at the core of C-suite leadership, with 39 percent saying the function has a seat at the table but is not part of the core. Another 23 percent say the C-suite is considering including their HR function.

Our respondents report the following potential gains from increased stature:


say they would experience better comprehension of HR’s high-level strategy, leading to better recruitment, training and compensation measures.


claim they would benefit from more effective management of human capital crucial to organizational strategy.

There’s room to grow

The picture is not all rosy. Several HR Operating Model Study respondents (39 percent) said although their function’s strategic influence was on the rise, it is still less than that of other functions. Some report a limited strategic role for HR and some, 2 percent, say HR has no strategic influence in their organization at all.

The perceived importance of investing in HR varied among financial services respondents, with only about a third (35 percent) saying investments meant to enhance HR’s strategic contribution are a high priority for the business. For the remaining 65 percent, these investments are a medium or low priority, often decided on a case-by-case basis.

Technology offers another opportunity for improvement. For example, a whopping 99 percent of respondents report using cloud-based platforms. But are they moving beyond the basics?

The HR function is more innovative and effective when it pushes past cloud to become more agile and digitally based, and better equipped to focus on signature services during critical employee moments such as:

  • Joining the company
  • Moving to a new role
  • Leaving the company
  • Welcoming a new family member
  • Managing personal data
  • Anything related to payroll

The right technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can help HR design more efficient processes, enhance productivity, foster faster and real-time decision making, improve cross-department collaboration and build a more agile workforce.

An effective model to unlock business benefits

What’s in the way of progress for HR functions wanting to become more strategic? Resistance to change and the prevalence of legacy systems are the two leading challenges HR Operating Model Study respondents cite. Interestingly, lack of funding or lack of vision are not as frequently cited as these two concerns.

Persevering despite a change-averse culture is worthwhile for HR functions because of the potential business gains: Our study finds an average revenue increase of 7.5 percent where HR operates as a strategic business partner—with the most productive partnerships boosting revenue by 18 percent or more.

A strong operating model can be instrumental in helping HR gain a greater strategic foothold in the business. The operating model connects HR’s strategies with the organization’s overall business direction. Done well, the gains can be impressive. But the right operating model is essential to delivering on these gains.

Among study respondents, 87 percent of HR leaders either intend to change their operating model within the next three years or have already started planning a change. Only 13 percent are content with their current model.

The market reality is changing, the business reality is changing—as an organization you need to be more agile in terms of your responsiveness to the market.

But what’s the best operating model? Surveyed HR leaders are considering a wide range of options such as:


Crowdsourcing - HR uses digital tools to empower employees to execute their own talent practices.


Talent segmentation - HR resources are organized around talent segments; talent segment representatives replace traditional business partners.


Federated / decentralized - Business partners and centers of excellence (COEs) are embedded into autonomous business units.


Professional services - HR becomes an internal consulting group that creates talent practices and advises other parts of the business.


Lean HR - HR divides into three parts—shared services, a tiny corporate function with deep specialists, and a small planning and analysis team.


Just-in-time HR - COEs and business partners are replaced with a small group of talent, IT and facilities experts who advise temporary teams on talent practices.

Time will tell which of these approaches holds the most promise under given circumstances.

Ready for a more strategic HR function?

Based on our HR Operating Model Study findings, it’s clear an empowered HR function can deliver value and revenue growth to the business—provided it is equipped for this journey. But with only a third of HR functions acting as core strategic partners, many still have some distance to cross.

To get started, we recommend these steps:

  • Bring the C-suite on board by proving the value of sustained, substantial investment in HR.
  • Boost HR’s agility to meet fast-moving demand and market trends.
  • Adopt a new operating model in HR to support the organization’s long-term business plan.
  • Cultivate a culture of progress.
  • Use pilot programs to create momentum and gain support for change.
  • Improve the employee experience to drive innovation.
  • Work with leaders across the business to fine-tune HR’s performance and drive competitive advantage.

Need to learn more about these actions and how they can work for your organization? Contact Accenture and learn how we can be of help.

About the Authors

Andy Young

Managing Director – Financial Services, Talent & Organization Lead

Nicole Knott

Managing Director – Financial Services Talent & Organization, Workforce Experience & HR Lead

Katrin Marinova

Consultant – Talent & Organization for Financial Services​​​​

Ranjan Ramdas

Manager – Research

Ajay Garg

Manager – Research


Workforce 2025: Financial Services skills and role

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