Patrick Stolz and Stefan Seiler

UBS’s new offices on the Europaallee in Zurich are located just across the road from the city’s main train station. Waiting in the meeting room for Patrick Stolz and Stefan Seiler, we look out of the window to see the last stragglers from the morning commute making their way to their offices. It is a fitting backdrop for our conversation – a reminder that, for all our modern technology, the world of work is still very much a world of people.

Both Stolz, Global Head Recruiting at UBS and Seiler, Head HR P&C and Switzerland Region, are in the people end of the banking business. Like their colleagues on the front, in IT and Operations, they too are facing radical transformation of their roles. In a rapidly changing industry, bank HR departments are taking on a new importance, as they are now tasked with anticipating the needs of banks and the bankers of the future.

Work this way

When Stolz and Seiler arrive we start the conversation by asking about the key challenges they and their colleagues face. Perhaps unsurprisingly, talk turns immediately to the tensions between the changing workforce and the realities of the financial industry.

“People today want a more flexible working environment,” Seiler says. “They want to be able to work from home, or when they are travelling. They want access via mobile wherever they are. We would love to give them these options, but in some areas it’s difficult as a bank. There are for instance strict regulations in place where client data can reside or what information you can travel with. Those regulations are there for a good reason. But there is definitely tension between these aspects of regulation and technological developments in the workplace.”

The nature of the work at banks is also changing, Seiler says. “We are much more focused on innovation than in the past. At UBS, we have dedicated innovation teams focusing on driving technological innovation and transferring it into a better client experience. Being innovative in this way requires a different way of working than we are used to. It requires people who like to try things out and are not worried about failure. Developing ideas at a rapid pace, and having 90% of them rejected, is, for instance, normal at tech companies. It’s a new world for banks. If we want to foster innovation, we will need to create these kinds of environments within the bank. At which point the question becomes how to attract these kinds of workers.”

"We, not just me"

With this we turn to Stolz and ask just that question. He says that being an attractive employer starts with giving people a good reason to want to work for you. That means among other things having a strong employer value proposition, or EVP in HR parlance.

"These days it is important to be able to tell a good story about your organization and culture, and to back it up with proof points," says Stolz. “This is what we have been focusing on at UBS, where we have just completely updated our EVP."

In what could be taken as a sign of the times, UBS’s EVP is centered around the statement “We, not just me – that's how we do things.” This stresses the collaborative nature of work at the bank. The idea, Stolz says, came out of research that showed that UBS had a reputation in the industry for its collaborative culture. But it also jibes with the zeitgeist, especially among the Gen X, Y and Z that the bank needs to court.

To get out the news, Stolz says UBS is embarking on a major storytelling campaign. Interestingly, the campaign is focused as much internally as externally. “We want to use storytelling so that people inside the bank can feel – and not just read – what we stand for as an employer. And we want people to tell their own stories about their experiences here. This is how – besides using existing facts and figures – we can further gather the proof points we need for our external audience.”

Externally, the bank is making heavy use of new channels, like social media, to spread the message of the EVP. "These new ways of interacting with people," Stolz adds, "also influence how you sell your organization these days. They provide many more touch points with potential candidates than were available in the past.”

But is a general EVP enough to attract all the different talents banks will need in the future, especially the cutting-edge tech talent that will become ever more important?

"It is a reality," Seiler says, "that young, dynamic, innovative companies such as Google are very attractive brands for employees. These brands stand for innovative products, flexible working arrangements and fancy working environments. This is quite a compelling story. However, banks these days have much to offer too, and are well positioned to address the challenge."

UBS's new EVP, with its emphasis on collaboration, is one way to appeal to the tech-savvy young. Seiler says that changes in the banking industry over the past few years in terms of innovation and technology, as well as flexible working arrangements, have also been recognized. "The whole Fintech revolution, especially developments like blockchain or robo advice, is making banking an interesting challenge for IT professionals. This is changing perceptions. It will surprise no one that in Switzerland UBS is the number two choice of employer among business students. But it probably will surprise many that we are in the top 5 among IT students. People do see a new environment arising in banks."

“Being innovative requires people who like to try things out and are not worried about failure.”

Stefan Seiler, Head HR P&C and Switzerland Region

"We, not just me"

With this we turn to Stolz and ask just that question. He says that being an attractive employer starts with giving people a good reason to want to work for you. That means among other things having a strong employer value proposition, or EVP in HR parlance.

"These days it is important to be able to tell a good story about your organization and culture, and to back it up with proof points," says Stolz. “This is what we have been focusing on at UBS, where we have just completely updated our EVP."

In what could be taken as a sign of the times, UBS’s EVP is centered around the statement “We, not just me – that's how we do things.” This stresses the collaborative nature of work at the bank. The idea, Stolz says, came out of research that showed that UBS had a reputation in the industry for its collaborative culture. But it also jibes with the zeitgeist, especially among the Gen X, Y and Z that the bank needs to court.

To get out the news, Stolz says UBS is embarking on a major storytelling campaign. Interestingly, the campaign is focused as much internally as externally. “We want to use storytelling so that people inside the bank can feel – and not just read – what we stand for as an employer. And we want people to tell their own stories about their experiences here. This is how – besides using existing facts and figures – we can further gather the proof points we need for our external audience.”

Externally, the bank is making heavy use of new channels, like social media, to spread the message of the EVP. "These new ways of interacting with people," Stolz adds, "also influence how you sell your organization these days. They provide many more touch points with potential candidates than were available in the past.”

But is a general EVP enough to attract all the different talents banks will need in the future, especially the cutting-edge tech talent that will become ever more important?

"It is a reality," Seiler says, "that young, dynamic, innovative companies such as Google are very attractive brands for employees. These brands stand for innovative products, flexible working arrangements and fancy working environments. This is quite a compelling story. However, banks these days have much to offer too, and are well positioned to address the challenge."

UBS's new EVP, with its emphasis on collaboration, is one way to appeal to the tech-savvy young. Seiler says that changes in the banking industry over the past few years in terms of innovation and technology, as well as flexible working arrangements, have also been recognized. "The whole Fintech revolution, especially developments like blockchain or robo advice, is making banking an interesting challenge for IT professionals. This is changing perceptions. It will surprise no one that in Switzerland UBS is the number two choice of employer among business students. But it probably will surprise many that we are in the top 5 among IT students. People do see a new environment arising in banks."

 ”We want to use storytelling so that people inside the bank can feel what we stand for.”

Patrick Stolz, Global Head Recruiting
 

Pacemakers

Hiring, of course, is only part of what an HR department does. Another important job is taking care of the workforce that is already in the bank. Here too there are a number of challenges.

One oft-cited problem is the skills gap between tech-savvy Millennials and an older generation of more experienced bankers who may be lost among the new ways. "Obviously there will be differences," says Stolz. "Gen Y or Gen Z have no problem navigating the digital world. With Gen X or baby boomers we see different levels of adaptation. But we don't worry about this too much. We can train people and generally people adapt easily when changes are not too disruptive."

A more fundamental issue than specific digital skills, he says, is the pace of the digital workplace. "The speed of work has increased immensely, and not just in banking. When I started my career, organizations communicated between departments by sending paper memos, and one didn’t mind waiting a week for the answer. Today information flows much faster, and people are expected to digest an incredible amount of data very quickly. Today’s organizations are also often less stable than before, with much more frequent restructurings.”

Stolz says there is increased tension today between speed of change and sustainability that organizations should keep in mind. “Those organizations which provide a clear vision and direction will be winners in attracting and retaining great talent as long as they let them ‘surf’ the internal platform in a more ‘fluid’ way and at a faster pace than before.”

The skill drill

That said, there is no doubt that the changing working environment will require new skillsets. Somewhat surprisingly, while both men agree this is so, they also say that it is hard to know at the moment exactly what these new skills will be.

"The most important thing as an employee these days is to be flexible,” Seiler says. “We simply don’t know what the world will look like in 10 years, we only know it will be different. We therefore have to think instead in terms of possible scenarios, influence developments where we can, and be ready to adapt quickly in those areas where we are dependent on others. That means flexibility and learning agility throughout your career.”

This is a challenge particularly for more experienced workers. Seiler says that many people in the second phase of their career dramatically scale down or even stop their learning activities. Unfortunately, anyone who has not learned new skills in a decade is likely to have problems in the job market.

“We introduced our Lifelong Learning Program here at UBS in Switzerland just for this reason,” he says. “It consists of a personal career planning day and various training modules in the areas of language, IT tools and new technologies, social capital, and generation management. This is our way of trying to motivate and mobilize our more experienced workforce to invest in their personal development and be ready for future challenges."

Prediction markets

Keeping to this idea of meeting future challenges, we ask both men where they thought new technologies were having the largest impact in bank HR departments.

Stolz points to the “digitalization” of recruiting as one area. “Today we can use social media to provide our proof points to people, and we can start to tailor them. You can go to Instagram and make a statement on a picture with a proof point relative only to techies, for example. That is quite a shift. Before all we had was a generic print brochure. Using TV or cinema for promoting a company EVP was very expensive. These new channels are not only effective, they are also far less costly."

Another area where technology is changing HR is in the use of big data, for example predictive analytics – the kinds of techniques that let Amazon predict what books you might like to read based on what you have bought in the past. "We may be able to do something similar with potential employees in the future," Seiler says, "approaching those who might be interested in us with a tailored value proposition."

Seiler has also recently seen a demonstration of big data approaches used to predict attrition risk. "The idea is to try and see ahead of time who is at risk of leaving. There are a lot of factors involved, for example the last time a person got a pay raise, or the overall employee satisfaction in a team. These things can be measured and then re-measured over time. Eventually you can start to say with increasing probability what the attrition risk of an individual in your organization is likely to be – and if necessary try to counter that risk."

Stolz sees similar capabilities arising on the recruiting side. “Annually we receive approximately 500,000 applications and need to innovatively think about how big data approaches can support the assessment process,” he says. "We just ran a pilot where we took applications and cover letters and applied a big data concept to them, using the CVs of previous successful applicants as a reference source. We looked closely at the older applications and then tracked how the people subsequently fared at UBS. This gave us a means to pre-assess the new CVs we received."

Such techniques as well as new approaches to online assessments can be a huge help in the pre-selection process, Stolz explains, and also make it more fair: programmed correctly, algorithms have no conscious or unconscious biases.

“What big data can’t do, however, is select for you,” he is quick to add. “You still have to meet the people. But it does give you an indication of who could perhaps perform well and be a good cultural fit. So perhaps you talk to those people first."

Dealing with change

This brings us to our last question. With all this change happening, do HR departments have to worry about fear and uncertainty among their charges?

"Yes, we actively need to address this issue," says Seiler. "And this is something that goes through the whole organization. It's not just the back office. With things like robo advice or all the advancements in artificial intelligence and automation people read about, there is uncertainty in all areas. We need to address this fear as best we can. One way is by explaining what we are doing to adapt and anticipate future skills via scenarios and being fast in training. This not only strengthens our organization, it also strengthens individual employees. If UBS invests in you and your job profile changes or disappears, you will still be valuable in the market. But in general, I am optimistic towards these developments. We have always been able to adapt to and benefit from new ways of working – and we are well prepared to do so in the future as well."

Stolz adds: "We also have to be clearer about the fact that change is not necessarily negative. We will all need to learn new things, and our jobs will evolve. Some people may unfortunately have problems with such adjustments. But there will be plenty of early adopters too. For many, the changing workplace means new perspectives. Such fundamental disruption need not be seen as a threat. It can just as easily be seen as an opportunity."
 

Which reality would you like today?

Markus Iofcea, head of the UBS Y Think Tank, thinks bankers need to stop worrying about the arrival of artificial intelligence in the financial industry. As an expert in exploring the future, it's something he knows a thing or two about.

"People think the robots are coming to steal their jobs," Iofcea says, "but it's not that simple. The future will rather be a collaboration with intelligent machines. They will enrich work."

One way AI will improve banking is by making it easier to cater to clients' needs. "One of the most important trends today is personalization and tailorization. In the future, the client really will be the true king, far more than currently."

Personalization will be driven among other things by the fact that people are increasingly comfortable giving up information about themselves. As connectivity and the Internet of Things evolve, we will be surrounded by permanently connected systems which will know a lot about our needs.

"Client advisors will be able to tap into this information and so know their clients far better than they do today. That means they can do their jobs better. This should not be seen as threatening. It’s more like the situation 100 years ago when you walked into the local bakery and everyone knew you and your family. It’s the real global village.”

This kind of personal service will be even more important as we transition from the information age into the age of experience. "People will increasingly value experience over ownership," Iofcea says. "Today's digital natives prefer to stream music than own it, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. This trend will become much stronger. The banker of the future will therefore have a different kind of job. It will be much more about experience and catering to the client's sense of purpose."

Technology is also set to revolutionize the client experience in other ways. "Imagine augmented reality in a bank branch," Iofcea says. "Say a client advisor knows a certain client loves alpine settings. When he or she comes for a visit, the advisor could have the meeting room transformed into a chalet. That would make for more personalized – and perhaps more fruitful – discussions. This is not science fiction. These kinds of technologies are out there already."

E-News for Banks newsletter

News on industry trends, regulatory initiatives and market changes. Published every two weeks.