We already know that the financial services industry – as we know it – is being disrupted. We know that the workforce of the future will be vastly different from the workforce of today, and that the competition for talent is heating up. The big question is, what are the leading banks doing to get ahead of the challenge?

Fancy a revolution? That's what executives at Westpac – Australia's first bank – want to inspire in their workforce. “Our vision is to become one of the world's great service companies and 3 years ago we started a revolution to make that vision a reality,” says Shenaz Khan, Group General Manager for Enterprise Human Resources Strategy and Services at Westpac Banking Corporation during a recent conversation in her office in Sydney.

The company wants to inspire a fairly radical change in the way they plan, develop and retain their workforce of the future. 

An orderly revolution

Why call for a revolution? Shenaz and her team are watching four key disruptive trends they believe will fundamentally change the way financial services organizations operate in the future – technological disruption, changes in the labor supply, competition for new skills and capabilities, and evolving operating models. And they believe they need a fundamentally new approach to dealing with these challenges.

Yet this is no spontaneous revolution. Every element of Westpac's workforce transformation is being meticulously planned and managed. To understand the potential impacts of technology on the business and the workforce, for example, Shenaz and her team have embarked on a detailed mapping exercise to identify the technologies that could have the greatest impact on their business. This will help them understand what capabilities, skills and workforce structure they might need in the future.

“We have more than 35,000 employees, so we are working very closely with our various businesses to understand how new technology might change the way we operate. This insight helps us to understand and plan for the potential impact on the size, shape and configuration of our future workforce,” adds Shenaz. “That's really helping us see years into the future to get a fairly reliable view of what our business will look like in the next 5 to 10 years.”

A new vision for the future

What does the future look like from Westpac's view? For one, job roles will change significantly. “A lot of the routine tasks we do today are likely to be automated and, instead, people will be focused on tasks where humans excel – roles that involve empathy, relationship building, creativity and so on,” Shenaz suggests. “The work we are going to be doing in the future will be a lot more interesting, exciting and likely to be more complex.”

Westpac also believes that new job roles, an emphasis on service and the rise of more multi-generational workforces will necessitate significant changes in the way offices of the future will be planned and laid out. Under the banner of the WorkSmart program, Shenaz and her team spent time assessing what the workplace of the future might look like. “If we can create an environment where people are able to work, collaborate and innovate using different approaches, we're more likely to attract and retain the talent we want in the future,” Shenaz noted.

The findings of that program have led to significant redevelopments of the organization's corporate offices in Sydney and Melbourne. “All of our new offices are heavily influenced by what we believe to be the ideal workplace of the future and now we are working on transitioning our existing offices into much more agile workspaces as well.”

Over the past few years, the organization has also been investing into re-imagining and modernizing its branch network (Westpac has the largest branch network of all the Australian banks). New digital services and solutions, and automation – particularly in areas such as self-service coin counting and deposits – have been added in branches.

But in Westpac's revolution, those changes are just the initial foray. Westpac envisions a future where day-to-day tasks have been automated and customers connect virtually with tailored teams of cross-functional professionals to get instant, holistic and value-driven advice when and where they need it. It's a model they call 'ConnectNow'.

“We can have a customer have a virtual meeting with a relationship manager who, depending on the customer's needs, can bring along a business partner with specialist knowledge, such as transactional banking or estate planning, so that decisions can be made in one interaction which, ultimately, delivers a better customer experience and reduces our costs. We're already using this model with great success in rural Australia where people often don't have access to specialist banking services and advice locally,” she added.

Drafting in the talent

Recognizing that finding, attracting and retaining the right talent for the future will be a challenge, Westpac has come up with some rather revolutionary approaches to talent management. Shenaz's view is that the organization needs to develop a `talent factory', by upskilling current employees, fostering young talent and developing alternate talent pools to create “the most skilled workforce in the industry.”

Based on its vision of the future, Westpac spends significant time understanding what skills will be needed in the future.. It's not an easy task; many of the job roles of the future haven't been envisioned yet and the pool of available talent with skills in emerging technologies is still shallow.

“We've had to be very creative and innovative when sourcing new talent. What we do know is that roles in the future will not be as well defined, so we are focused on finding talent with the right skill sets and mindset to help our organisation adapt, grow and serve customers.”

Shenaz believes that technical skill sets in areas such as math, science, technology and engineering will be key, so her team has created partnerships with eight of Australia's leading universities. PhD students gain valuable work experience (and a salary) through their degree program and Westpac attracts new ideas, rare talents and a potential source of new recruits.

“We've had engineers come into our operations team and uncover really valuable insights about customer behavior that we may not have found otherwise – they are helping us solve real problems and build real capabilities,” adds Shenaz.

Shenaz can reel off a long list of similar types of strategies and programs, all aimed at uncovering untapped sources of talent and pools of existing talent. Westpac is one of the leading employers of service veterans. It has programs designed to `retool' and integrate senior executives from other industries interested in a change of career. It runs hackathons and open digital events to attract techies and millennials.

Westpac understands the value of working in a collaborative way with its partners to solve customer problems. It is happy to partner with outside organizations where it may be lacking critical skill sets. “This isn't about labor arbitrage,” Shenaz notes. “This is about recognizing that other organizations may have developed skills that are far more advanced than ours and finding ways to tap into those capabilities to really drive our agenda forward.”

A remarkably non-traditional revolution

Few revolutions have been this well planned. But Shenaz's view is that Westpac's strategic workforce plan is actually the catalyst that keeps engagement high and the revolution on track. “A really good strategic workforce plan enables you to proactively manage change and predict where the big transitions need to be made. That allows your people to work through the transition in a much more proactive way and encourages them to take ownership of the change.”

The other non-traditional aspect of this revolution is that it has the full support of the leadership. “Our business leaders tend to be very close to their people and their goals. They know we need to start making changes now if we hope to serve our people and our customers better in the future.”

As such, the executives are often in the front lines, talking about the changes with their people and explaining the reasons behind some of their decisions. “In times of change, people want to see the whites of their leaders' eyes,” Shenaz adds. Westpac's leaders are making sure that they do.

Westpac's revolution may seem rather non-traditional. But Shenaz and the wider Westpac leadership believe that it is starting to achieve the desired results.

Time will tell if they have made the right bets on the right future predictions. But – one thing is for sure – they will not be on the passive side of this disruption.

About Shenaz Khan

Shenaz is the Group General Manager for Enterprise Human Resources Strategy and Services. She is responsible for driving the HR strategy across the Westpac Group. This includes accountability for culture; leadership capability; inclusion and diversity; talent management; and learning and development. Shenaz is also responsible for driving the group’s strategy on the Future of Work, and leads the transformation programs across the HR function.

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