Home Banking Repurpose Digital Transformation: It’s Not Just about the Technology, but the People We Serve and Lead

Repurpose Digital Transformation: It’s Not Just about the Technology, but the People We Serve and Lead

by internationalbanker

By Sreeram Iyer, Chief Operating Officer, Institutional, ANZ Banking Group





2020 was a challenging yet fascinating year for many people around the globe. However, in organizations, our work, workplace and workforce changed like they never had before. Organizations across every industry remain challenged in the face of the global pandemic, with companies pushed to their limits, driving them to reinvent themselves.

And that’s no different for the global banking industry. The pandemic has tested yet contributed enormously to the acceleration of banks’ digital-transformation agendas.

Today, some 18 months on, we operate in an environment that continues to change almost daily. Ironically, what is, therefore, clear to all of us is ambiguity—in the external social setting, in internal business planning and in our personal lives.

To me, five pillars stand out in times like these and in how we shape our future—which is now.

  1. Leading from the heart

I have learned that it is during such challenging times that new leaders blossom and are discovered in any organization. In times of such crisis, an apparent paradox, our people are our top priority, and compassion sits at the heart of our new mandate. For many, the boundaries between our work and personal lives have blurred into one—in ways we could never have imagined. A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF)1 shared that 86 percent of people feel that their immediate bosses have become more empathetic during COVID-19, which has had a positive impact on their performance and fostered a happier work environment.

Banks are responding to workforce wellbeing in many notable ways. Transparency and open-door policies—from junior managers up to the top-of-the-house, in Human Resources and on to the chief executive officer (CEO)—all allow employees to share their thoughts about what is going right in the organization and what can be improved upon.

ANZ Bank, for example, instituted retro and pulse employee surveys to understand the top-of-mind status among our some 40,000 staff and has been implementing wellness programs. Our CEO highlights how “culture is a depreciating asset. You need to constantly invest in it. Else, it drops.”

Banks do prioritize KYC (know your customer), but today, I believe KYP (know your people) is more vital. Empathy, genuine listening and proactive reaching out do boost workforce engagement. Despite rigid hierarchical organisational structures, what has actually “flattened”—apart from infection curves—during the pandemic are the barriers between leaders and their teams.

  1. Closing the digital-skills gap

Merely “keeping pace” with technology is perhaps among the biggest challenges for all leaders.

But that is clearly inadequate. Building a digital mindset, digital capability and digital execution skillset among staff is now no longer an optional agenda.

But that, too, is insufficient, as per an article by McKinsey published in June 20212. The paper outlined that today’s workforce will need to learn new social, emotional and cognitive skills to continually adapt as new occupations emerge. Distinct elements of talent (DELTAs) prioritize a mix of skills and attitudes, such as adaptability and coping with uncertainty—and are linked with a higher likelihood of employment.

  1. Translating corporate purpose into action

The rationale for purpose-driven banking was compelling even prior to COVID-19. However, during times of crisis, banks have an opportunity to build resilience. An article featured in International Banker3 in June 2021 highlighted that while 88 percent of banks communicate on how they acted to mitigate the impact of the global emergency on clients and society, the effectiveness and consistency of this type of communication (that is, accessible and substantive information) has been relatively low, with only 31 percent of banks detailing how precisely they responded to the crisis. Ensuring key topics are discussed (such as the impact on dividends for shareholders or on employees’ day-to-day lives) in an accessible way is important to reassure stakeholders. I believe that the current environment continues to test our values and has only magnified the need for organizational changes to place purpose before profit.

ANZ’s purpose is to shape a world in which people and communities thrive, and we have used this pandemic as an opportunity to push ourselves more broadly toward what really helps people, small businesses and corporates as they battle their respective challenges. There is a whole pallet of options to take on a huge body of work, but it is good to keep in mind the simplicity of an organization’s purpose, which is the foundation of an impactful operating model.

  1. Transforming in a strategy-anchored and risk-oriented manner

The banking industry’s rapid adaptability to the pandemic has been remarkable. To move from adaptability to resilience and then from resilience to sustainability will require careful investment choices for precious capital on four fronts: revenue; liquidity and capital management; credit management; product and operational execution. If this is true, then by 2022, 70 percent of all organizations will have accelerated their use of digital technologies, transforming existing business processes to drive customer engagement, employee productivity and business resiliency—according to research by IDC4.

At ANZ, we focus on eking out the next 1 percent efficiency in day-to-day execution through a balance between tactical and strategic automation initiatives in a risk-balanced manner. This can more likely be achieved with a culture of minimum viable bureaucracy—something we remind ourselves as leaders at the bank, especially in this environment.

  1. Maximizing customer experience

The most significant customer experience (CX) trend is the shift of customers to digital. As banking executives well know, shifting consumer behaviour is no small feat. Whether that’s growing digital adoption or changing financial habits, driving any behavioural change requires a good understanding of customers’ needs, customer-centric banking processes and tailored tools to support them and the people serving them.

A recent survey by Microsoft5 revealed that most financial institutions plan to continue using the new CX technologies being unveiled during the pandemic. This includes mobile websites and smartphone apps (81 percent), customer onboarding and feedback automation (62 percent) and AI-powered predictive analytics (51 percent). Others also plan to continue the use of virtual customer assistants that they adopted during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has allowed large banks, policymakers and regulators to work closer together to figure out how we can best meet the consumer’s needs. For example, this has allowed us to get past hurdles, such as adopting digital signatures, much better than before—a win for customers and the industry. Like everyone else, we have improvised and moved faster.

As they say, “Never waste a crisis.” I believe that the work, workplace and workforce are now more positively anchored on authenticity, values and compassion to ensure the success of any digital transformation. We remind ourselves that we live in a world with a shared future, and everyone has a role to play. Let us embrace the lessons on how we work, where we work and who matters the most from now on.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ANZ Banking Group.


Sreeram Iyer is the Global Chief Operating Officer for ANZ’s Corporate and Institutional Business. With more than 25 years of global banking experience, Sreeram has held leadership roles that drive long-term change and adoption of new technologies. Prior to ANZ, Sreeram was the CEO for Standard Chartered Bank’s shared service centres in India, China and Malaysia.



1 World Economic Forum: “How 2020 taught businesses to place empathy before profit,” Inam ur Rahman, January 23, 2021.
2 McKinsey & Company: “Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work,” Marco Dondi, Julia Klier, Frédéric Panier and Jörg Schubert, June 25, 2021.
3 International Banker: “The Trust Dividend for Banking with Purpose,” Elisa Leimer, June 24, 2021.
4 Simply Communicate: “Market research firm IDC reveals 2021 worldwide digital transformation predictions.”  
5 Microsoft: Microsoft Dynamics 365: “Customer experience in the 2021 financial services market.”

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