When Western banks build back- and middle-office teams in Asia they often suffer uncontrollably high staff attrition rates.
It need not be so, according to Michael Jones, a former head of risk hubs at ANZ who now runs Melbourne-based consultancy Connected Analytics.
Jones, who began his banking career at Barclays in the UK, talks to eFinancialCareers about successfully managing teams in Asia and why improving the standards of modelling and analytics is his “utopian goal”.
You first moved to Asia in 2001 with HSBC. How did that role prepare you for the challenges ahead at ANZ?
At HSBC, I supported the implementation of decision and analytic solutions to regional and in-country risk teams across Asia Pacific. It was a first for the region at that time, but it prepared me well. The basics of analytics haven’t changed since then: you take data, look for insight and connect it to business decisions. And it was my first taste of managing across Asia.
What managerial lessons did you learn?
When you’re managing in Asia, your relationships are more important than anything else. As a newcomer, I think adopting a more respectful style with local colleagues is more effective than a command-and-control approach. Patience is important, too, especially if you get frustrated with people not being able to think out of the box or work out of their comfort zone.
In 2008 you joined ANZ in Melbourne as head of decision modelling. How did you get that role?
A recruiter who I had kept in touch with was working with ANZ and he knew I had the right skills for the job. It’s a good example of how important it is to your career to prioritise networking over the longer term. And that means properly keeping in touch with people, with due professional reciprocity, not just sending out LinkedIn requests and forgetting about it.
How did your Asian expertise come into play at ANZ?
ANZ are pursuing a “super regional” strategy to build their franchise across Asia and integrate it with Australia and New Zealand, so I think they valued my international background. At the interview I remember someone saying: “if we asked you to double the size of our modelling team in Melbourne, how would you do it?”. I replied: “I wouldn’t do it all in Melbourne; the modelling talent pool isn’t large enough.”
So where and how did you build your team?
We grew the quantitative modelling team to about 70 people under what we called our “one department, three campuses” approach. About 40% of them were in Melbourne, 40% in Bangalore and 20% in Chengdu, China.
Would you call that offshoring?
No, because with offshoring people often start by finding bits of processes they never really liked – the more mundane or boring work – and transferring those bits to the overseas team. I think that leads to low levels of engagement and high levels of attrition. By contrast, we transitioned accountabilities for end-to-end processes in Asia – for example, after 12 months the Bangalore team were doing complex Basel II work.
What was the attrition rate like among your staff in Asia?
The work we gave our employees in Asia demonstrated our confidence in their abilities, and over three years the attrition rate was only about 4%. It’s not unusual for “outsourced” modelling and analytic teams to be more like 30%. The feedback from talent we hired from campus was that we were the only employer who actually delivered on our promises to graduates in terms of everything from working conditions and bonuses to the size of people’s cubicles.
Why did you set up your own consultancy, Connected Analytics, earlier this year?
I later became head of risk hubs at ANZ and that involved long stints in Bangalore, Chengdu and also Manila. Aside from the travel not being sustainable for me and my family, I’ve always wanted to start a professional services consultancy where I could help raise the general standard of analytics and create a true employee-value proposition. That’s always been a rather utopian goal of mine.
Why do standards need to improve?
Across Asia Pacific as a region, the analytics talent is there, but the level of analytic maturity in organisations can be low. The problem is also that talent is not always in the right locations at the right times when organisations want to access it. There are now people in Manila, for example, with advanced technical skills and analytic accreditation, but there’s not enough of them to meet demand, particularly as more regional banks want advanced accreditation.
Is it only about improving technical skills?
No, and that’s the second problem. Technical skills are of course very important, but people working in analytics often focus too much on them. It’s just as important to be able to connect analytical insights to business decisions, so the industry needs people who also have strong business and commercial acumen.