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Creating Banking Geeks

Axis Bank has experimented, reskilled and upskilled employees to create a technological workforce, offering virtual roles or project-based contracts to people from diverse backgrounds and geographies
Rashmi Pratap | Print Edition: April 4, 2021
Creating Banking Geeks

While doing his B.Tech in computer science from an institute in Hyderabad, Sriram Raju created online games, which he played with friends. After completing studies, he landed a job with a local IT firm. Less than two years later, he is preparing to join Axis Bank, India's third-largest private sector lender, where he will create IT products for mobile and develop web applications to make banking easier and safer for lakhs of customers.

Raju is currently enrolled in an 18-week online programme at Manipal Global Education Services' School of FinTech. The batch is being trained exclusively for Axis, which is betting big on technology to ride the next wave of growth in the post-pandemic world. "Covid has accelerated changes and we are seeing rapid digitisation everywhere. Any change these days is led by technology," says Rajkamal Vempati, Head of Human Resources at Axis Bank.

To keep pace with this high-velocity change, the bank has partnered with Manipal to turn people with some prior programming experience into full-stack developers, who work on both the client-side and the server-side of software applications. "We need full-stack developers and buying talent, especially when the demand is so high, makes little sense. For a large organisation like ours, it is best to develop talent in-house," she says.

With more and more transactions as well as work moving online, it has become imperative for banks to ramp up their human resources in the tech space. "Fundamentally, the choice most tech teams make is to outsource a lot of development work to partners while they themselves end up just doing programme management. We decided to work on building our own capabilities," adds Vempati.

Axis has been increasing its technology hiring for some years and the number went up 2.5 times during 2020.

The need for more people in technology roles has arisen because Axis has moved over 1,100 of its non-customer facing staff to work from home (WFH), and the number is set to increase over the next year. It has also moved many processes online, and is working towards new tech-enabled products and services. "The workplace of the future will be on your mobile. We are not just looking at taking HR applications online, we are looking at the entire productivity tool to be on mobile," adds Vempati. "We have a culture of openness, adaption and transformation. Like when Covid hit us, most of us were trying to keep the business continuity plan going. We realised that work can happen from anywhere and even when things go back to normal, are we going back to the old world? The answer was an astounding 'no'. That is where the genesis of reshaping of our operating model lies. It led to the birth of GIG-A-Opportunities model."

Through its GIG-A-Opportunities model, Axis threw open roles in digital banking, technology, virtual sales, audit and credit policy to people across India last year. It offered virtual, project-based short-term contracts to people from diverse backgrounds and geographies. "When we launched the pilot in August, we received over 60,000 applications for 40-50 roles and of that 45 per cent were women and 75 per cent applicants were from Tier-II towns," says Vempati. "We changed our policies to drive a workplace representative of the society we live in. Our goal is to have 30 per cent of our large-office non-customer facing roles in alternate formats over the next few years. This includes specialist contracts and work-from-anywhere roles."

Axis has created a hybrid workforce, giving its staff the option to choose between working from home five days a week or coming to office two or three days. "If you are an individual contributor, working in a skilled role, then you really don't need to come to office. That's a policy-level decision we have taken," says Vempati. Alongside, the company has well-defined boundaries of working from home, adhering to set timings. "We can't be on the treadmill all the time. We call it 7UP - no work calls after 7pm or on weekends. We have to create these boundaries in the long-term and ensure they are respected," she adds.

According to Vempati, the foundation of achieving all organisational objectives is based on three pillars -culture, values and ethics. "Work on strengthening the culture began three years ago. We realised that while the tone is set at the top, the middle level doesn't often talk the same language and that's where the translation gets lost. We empanelled mid-level resources, we had a recognition programme and we collected role-modelling stories. In the Covid year we recognised that culture becomes even more important as people go hybrid. So, that continued in the virtual format... Our focus is on sustainable culture with inclusion at the forefront. It is not an HR agenda, it is a business imperative."

The second aspect is getting the execution rigour right. "You can Google anybody's strategy, but it is the execution that makes the difference. We recognise that in retail services, it is not about the 'what' but 'how and where' aspects that people struggle with and we are getting our frontline manager and supervisors to respond to it," says Vempati.

Third is building capacity and capability. Both functional and leadership learning at the bank doubled during Covid as employees used the time to reskill themselves. "There is a huge focus on building and nurturing talent," says Vempati. "For every manager role and above, we put out the requirement internally. We realised that people were applying for these roles when they were disenchanted with existing roles. So we made design changes. For every job opportunity available to an employee, his manager comes to know only after the selection happens. Once the selection is done, the person has to move to the new role."

The year 2021, it seems, will give a whole new definition to banking.

The writer is Co-founder and Editor, 30Stades.com

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