Using Technology as an Enabler in HR

Venkatesh Subbaraman, Regional Chief Operating Officer, Institutional Banking, ANZ [ASX: ANZ]

Venkatesh Subbaraman, Regional Chief Operating Officer, Institutional Banking, ANZ [ASX: ANZ]

The HR Tech Evolution

Technology can help automate and streamline processes in the employee lifecycle from hiring, onboarding, and training to compensation, benefits, retention, and exit. Not to mention other important areas under the scope of HR, such as communication, compliance, centralized employee information, and others.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here, and there are heaps of AI-infused HR tech applications for pretty much every HR function: from sourcing and selection to feedback and performance management. Instead of asking ourselves, “When we’re going to use this kind of technology,” it’s time to ask ourselves “How we are going to prepare our people for the future?” Because if there’s one thing about this future that seems pretty certain, it’s that we’ll be using more and more (AI-driven) technology.

Our workforce needs to start thinking of technology as something that makes their lives easier—a tool that takes over most of the tedious tasks they don’t want to be doing anyway and that frees up their time for other things. Technology has completely redefined the role of human resources worldwide, from being an administrative unit in the organization to its increasing role as a strategic partner in growing the business.

Therefore, in my view, HR technology best practices have continued to evolve to meet the needs of both the HR function and the employees. Examples include where systems of record-keeping are being replaced by systems of engagement. Tools that address the needs of HR are being superseded by tools to

address the needs of employees. And the focus of technology shifted from automating HR processes to improving them.

Challenges Plaguing the HR sector today, and how can they be effectively mitigated?

From where I sit, I can share a bit about the people-related challenges in the financial services sector.

The macro-environment for the financial services industry is challenging—with declining margins, more regulatory pressures, and ever-rising customer expectations. Banks are facing increased competition from a range of new market entrants, including neo-banks, fintechs, Big Tech, etc. Learning to manage with that is a key requirement in today’s environment.

The opportunity though is that new technologies can play a role to improve business returns. Technology is driving productivity up and reducing the number of available roles materially. Therefore, a major challenge for senior leaders is to figure out how to motivate employees about the future, despite the somewhat doomsday predictions of job losses in banking.

This raises a key challenge of how to prioritize precious dollar investments of capital to make the best for our employees and our customers. Working for the Institutional COO at ANZ, we spend a fair amount of our time on the division’s allocation of investment choices, execution of large technology projects, and driving automation. This aims to lift both customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX).

Our team is diverse and is significant from a customer point-of-view. As a team, we spend a lot of time on people management and strategy—which includes setting the culture and tone, reminding people about ANZ’s purpose, living the Bank’s values, trying to lead by example and communicating appropriately.

Part of our talent strategy is to adopt new ways of leading by growing our people selflessly and trying to motivate staff to be curious and to always learn. With the world of technology changing rapidly, the job we’re doing today will most likely not be the same one we’ll be doing in a few years. This means we need to get into this mindset of continuous learning. Because, when we don’t know what future jobs will look like, we cannot train the skillset that we need to be ready for this change.

With technology automating mundane tasks, we need to be prepared to handle the more complicated tasks. Soft skills, such as the ability to act as a team player, good communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and time management, become essential.

Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs

In this age of instant gratification, personal choices, and individual aspirations, I feel that the benefits from proper, deep employee involvement in community projects for broader social good are underestimated.

The Institutional COO team is extremely passionate about the need for education for the underprivileged in the communities that we operate in. So, about five years ago, in Vietnam, under the supervision of our COO, we established a long-running education project, called Project 3E (Educate, Enrich, Employ), in partnership between ANZ Banking Group, the Saigon Children’s Charity and the Provincial Government.

The goal was to build ten brick and mortar schools to provide access to quality education to 4000 kids in four years. This was admirably achieved in 2018 when the 10th school was inaugurated. Part of this story was the efforts of our staff from New York to New Zealand in raising massive funds and helping in the physical construction of the schools. It did wonders to our staff engagement globally and attracted awards that we are very proud of.

To continue on this education sprint, and to build our team’s capability, we have recently started a new multi-year Digital Literacy Program designed to create awareness, interest, and eventual adoption of digital technologies in everything we do. Our vision is to train enough staff volunteers who are willing to further impart this learning to the willing staff of our corporate clients in areas such as AI, blockchain, cloud computing and data.

I want to finish up by saying that as leaders, we need to ensure that our people get the right opportunity to thrive as everyone in a team has some value to add. We also need to bring about a sense of humility and a feeling of gratefulness for what we have and ensure we can impact our people and the wider community in a greater way.

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