Generalized vs. specialized consultants: Which do financial service firms need?

by Ashlee Wagner
Vice President at Charles Aris Inc.

In the world of financial services, things are changing every day. From regulatory reforms to the rise of innovation to new competitors entering the ring (but really: Is Amazon getting into banking?!), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the ever-changing tides.

One option to help keep your organization on the cutting edge could be to hire an in-house strategy consultant from a firm such as McKinsey, BCG, Bain or another top management consulting firm. If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing this already crossed your mind. There are tons of reasons why companies hire consultants, some of which include top-notch presentation skills, world-class problem-solving capabilities and a strong analytical toolkit.

Here at Charles Aris, we know consultants. Over the past 15 years, our Strategy & Corporate Development recruiting practice has helped place more than 500 top-tier management consultants in different roles across Fortune 500 companies, leading asset management firms (including private equity) and professional services organizations.

On an annual basis, we connect with thousands of current and former consultants. The purpose of these conversations is to share world-class opportunities while keeping up to date on how things are changing in the consulting world.

Given the changing landscape, financial services firms may need to consider certain things when recruiting a consultant. First, you’ll need to figure out what level of consultant to hire. Second, you’ll need to think about what level of industry and functional expertise a consultant might need to bring:

  1. Do you need a generalist or someone who has expertise in a specific functional area? Companies call Charles Aris daily to help recruit generalists from consulting. In many cases, a generalist can get the job done. However, we’re increasingly receiving requests from clients in the financial services space who want to find consultants who are at least “dangerous” in a particular functional area – perhaps someone who has worked on at least one or two regulatory, digital transformation or blockchain projects. Keep in mind: Typically, the more senior the consultant, the more specialized that professional is from industry and functional perspectives. Remember, too, that, McKinsey, BCG and Bain are generalist firms at their core. Even there, though, we’re seeing the Big Three firms build out new specialized practices and occasionally allowing consultants to specialize earlier in their careers.

  2. Do you need a generalist, a financial services expert or an insurance expert? Different roles often require different levels of industry expertise. We work with several financial services clients who are open to consultants who have no professional experience in financial services but do have a strong interest in transitioning into the space. We also work with organizations which require either a broad base of knowledge in financial services or even a more specialized skill set in P&C insurance, for example. How much industry expertise will this person need with them on Day One? When looking for an industry specialist, one other option is to consider a former consultant who now works for the wealth management arm of a bank, for example, if you are looking for that area of expertise.

The good news is that no matter what level of consultant and expertise you land on, these individuals are great at getting up to speed quickly and digging deep into new areas. Given the changing landscape of financial services, you can almost guarantee a consultant at any level will be able to shift and adjust quickly.