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."
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."