Battle of the Brains - How banks are fighting the channel for the best tech talent

Battle of the Brains - How banks are fighting the channel for the best tech talent

HSBC embarks on top-down education programme to lure digital staff away from tech giants.

First Maile Carnegie of Google to ANZ, then Gerard Florian of Dimension Data followed suit, and finally Pip Marlow of Microsoft to Suncorp.

Three examples of high-profile - and high-ranking - executives being lured by the emerging technology industries such as FinTech and InsurTech.

And with 2017 already at the halfway point, momentum continues to gather as large finance and insurance organisations tap the brain power of technology’s leading experts to drive digital strategies across Australia and New Zealand.

While job changes are rife in the local channel, the new shoulder tap is from the sectors embracing seismic transformation agendas, adding weight to the theory that “every company is a technology company”.

As predicted by ARN in January 2017, in a region challenged by an ongoing skills shortage, tech’s brightest minds continue to be pursued by an unrelenting swarm of IT recruitment firms.

With three high-profile departures dominating the headlines in 2016, 2017 will see non-traditional tech industries become even more aggressive in pursuing top tech talent.

So much so that newly created roles will be offered to sweeten the deal.

Take HSBC for example. The banking giant is working hard to hire the best digital staff away from companies like Google, and is embarking on a top-down education programme to deal with the threats and opportunities technology brings to the industry.

Because the big banks are currently locked in an arms race with the biggest technology companies in the world to find the best tech talent.

At SAP's Financial Services Forum in London, Mark Adams, head of human resources at HSBC UK, explained how the bank has been running training for the C-suite to better embrace the "challenges and opportunities disruption brings".

Adams spoke about the importance of building a more tech-literate culture at the bank, starting with a training programme for executives and managers the bank has been running for a year or so with the Singularity University.

HSBC is also changing the way it hires top executives.

"It is not enough to look at a CV and say they are good because they have experience doing things in a traditional way," he said.

"You want to challenge yourself and ask how good they are at understanding the opportunities and threats and the concepts of open banking that are coming, and that is very different from three years ago."

HSBC has been busy building a dedicated digital team mobile and internet banking, primarily under the leadership of ex-Googler Josh Bottomley since 2013.

Adams said that this now-700-strong team is made up of "people who wanted to be the digital experts within the bank, who understand customer journeys and technology. They aren't necessarily the sort of people we traditional employed".

This brings challenges in terms of attracting and retaining talent, beyond the high salaries a bank like HSBC can offer. That is especially the case when "these guys want to come in and fix things in a week and we probably haven't got the committee meeting in for a couple of months", as Adams observed. "So it is a different way of thinking how to integrate these people into the bank."

Adams said that he has seen "people who work for these highly innovative companies, like Google and others, actually quite like the challenge of coming to work for an HSBC. What they are saying is, frankly, 'this is the biggest challenge I will have, and if I can fix it for you guys then my CV will be sorted forever'.

So the core skills of how to be a banker don't go away, you still have to have that skill set, but now there is a different skillset we need in terms of what you need to think about from a digital, innovation perspective".

This approach extends all the way down to branch level, where HSBC wants its staff to be less specialised (like a teller, for example), something it calls the "universal banker". Branch staff are expected to push digital channels over traditional channels and to educated customers on how to do things online.

Ironically this amounts to branch staff becoming agents of their own downfall.

"I recently saw this in a Nationwide building society branch, where I was encouraged to do a BACS transfer myself online and the staff walked me through the process, instead of performing the transaction for me," IDG News Service contributor Scott Carey observed. "I will now do all future BACS transfers from the comfort of my own home."


Adams also admitted that the HSBC retail bank lacks diversity at board level, not just in terms of age, gender and race, but also in terms of technical literacy and openness to innovation.

"This is a personal comment but yes, within that five year window I would expect to see some changes [at board level]," Adams said. "I would hope that when I am sitting in the boardroom at the retail bank that we would have a more diverse, innovation and customer experience set of people, more comfortable working at a different cycle speed.

"For me it's not a nice to have, I think if we don't start to see those improvements in five years then we will be behind."

Additional reporting by Scott Carey and IDG News Service.

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