Citi’s Sanjeev Behl believes the banking sector is currently going through a transition phase in the types of talent it hires.
“As technology and digitisation have transformed the banking industry, the types of roles and talent we need will evolve as well. Some people in our industry are performing tasks that are below their real abilities – this means we’re not making full use of their skills, and this is a waste of valuable resources,” says Behl, Asia Pacific Head of Treasury and Trade Solutions Client Operations, and Global Head of Trade Operations at Citi.
But Behl says there are potential solutions to this emerging problem: robotics process automation (RPA) – with further enhancements in due course through artificial intelligence (AI) / machine learning. There are other automation options that are coming up as well, which would support these simpler, more mechanical tasks to be performed by machines.
Citi is actively involved with multiple automation initiatives, including RPA/AI evaluation with its operations processes. Behl’s department, for example, has been working on robotic process automation and the initial stages of a few other AI initiatives. For example, one of the initiatives launched this year is a RPA pilot automating trade import payments in India and China which will help achieve a significant reduction in manual processes, resulting in a large improvement in basic-tasks turnaround time.
“The next frontier in driving operational efficiency is through these automation options, like RPA and at a later stage with machine learning. At Citi, we are increasingly using these to take on routine and manual tasks,” says Singapore-based Behl. “The jobs we have will require different skills as a result – they’ll be for the best of the best.”
“The effect of automation on jobs in the banking industry will only be positive. Gen Y and Z, in particular, don’t actually want to do the type of jobs that we want digitisation and automation to perform. They don’t think that manual transcribing of data from one source (paper or digital) into a system or application, for example, is exciting and they’d rather be working on something more innovative at Citi,” he says.
New skills learning and up-tiering current skill sets are important components of talent development. In some markets, governments are already putting initiatives in place to strengthen their workforce’s motivation to re-skill, upskill and acquire new skills. The Singapore government, for example, has an initiative that promotes the upgrading of skills and knowledge of its people, with the aim of building a more resilient workforce that can adapt as job roles and technology in the financial services industry evolve.
“So, while people’s jobs will change because of all the automation like robotics, that doesn’t mean an equal number of people will become redundant,” says Behl. “As part of this transition, a number of jobs at Citi will move up the value chain as the bank continues to drive innovation – by which I mean become more interesting and important – especially those in design, development and in my area, operations delivery and service.”
“As an illustration, we’ll soon see new types of operations specialists, who will monitor the robots and ensure they are performing as they are designed to perform. I use the analogy of air traffic control – the technology keeps improving in that field, but you still need human controllers to keep a close watch on the radar screens and take vital decisions to ensure safety of all the planes in the sky,” says Behl.
“RPA/AI is still at the very initial stages of its evolution, and will need some time to mature as a fully commercialised tool/practice. The risk and controls around these technologies are in the process of being developed and tried, and hence Citi is highly focused on the required control steps and oversight functions integral to these processes, supported by the new technologies.”
Behl says there will also be increased demand in the near future for machine-focused change managers. “If you make a key change through an automation of a process you’ve developed, you need people to ensure that it always performs as expected and that contingency plans are in place, no matter which other elements in the wider ecosystem may go through their planned or unplanned changes,” he explains.
Such automated solutions can also have a positive effect on front-office roles in banking. “When I hear from the front-office about their challenges, they often relate to not having enough time to serve clients as they’d like,” says Behl. “With greater reliability and scalability, combined with faster turnaround times, automation frees up more time for our people to spend with clients.”
Behl says automated solutions, including RPA/AI, have the power to make all areas of the bank communicate more seamlessly and better with one another. This again helps improve the overall atmosphere in the organisation and support the key objective of a common purpose and goal to offer the best solutions to clients.
“Banks typically operate several large legacy platforms in each different business vertical. And after many years of separate development, it’s very complicated, time-consuming and expensive to build pipes connecting them all together into one cohesive IT system,” he says. “The advent of non-intrusive technologies helps us overcome these challenges.”
Citi may not be the only company striving to develop more innovative technology to help its employees and customers. But Behl says the working environment at Citi helps set it apart from both established tech giants striving to get into the banking domain as well as start-ups in the battle for talent.
“Compared to a small fintech company, we have a much broader client base – from financial institutions to mid- and large-sized companies – and a huge presence in global capital markets. And we have a very loyal and happy retail client base as well. So we truly know what a very wide and demanding market segment wants in terms of new innovations,” says Behl. “The banking industry is also heavily regulated, and that means that when we launch new initiatives, they have gone through stringent legal, compliance and risk reviews.”
Citi can also offer wider potential career opportunities than a tech company. “At Citi, for example, you could move from a coding job to become a project manager, operations or service specialist, or even a product or credit/relationship manager in our front-office,” he adds.
But Behl says Citi can’t be complacent with its innovation drive if it wants to keep on hiring and retaining the best people.