Apr 20, 2014

Interview with Former Deutsche Bank HR Director Jered Hol on HR Transformation

Jered Hol shared with me his insights about HR transformation and his C-level executive experience in a 500 fortune bank in Asia. A year ago, he moved to Singapore in a new position as a member of a global project team on HR transformation while also simultaneously serving as the regional rep of Deutsche Bank. Due to many changes in the project and a general lack of progress, he decided to look for a new job in Singapore as well as in other selected cities in SEA, HK, SH, Tokyo and left Deutsche Bank at the end of March 2014.

Jing Yan: HR transformation is quite popular in recent years, especially in banking industry. It seems to result from the "crisis era" and the changing environment the banks have been coping with. So could you please talk about your experience going through this transition? What is the major focus of your role there? 

Jered Hol: I think HR transformation in banks is driven by a couple of factors: First, other industries have set good examples, eg. The IT industry (and banks are to a large extent IT companies too); Second, banking technology has moved on with stronger integrated platforms and self-service capabilities; Third, the recognition that many HR activities are location agnostic allows near and far-shoring of administrative and increasingly, advisory work. The fourth, but hardly not the least important focus, is obviously on the cost side of things. 

Are there barriers and challenges during this transformation? And what does it take for a senior leadership to deal with the pressure of the environment?

Other functions in the bank like operations, finance, as well as value-added services like research, have proven that the change can be done, so HR is in this sense a laggard in this process of transformation. HR is slightly different in a sense that the products are complex and judgmental. HR functions are structured in separate silos which allows regional product heads (recruitment, learning, rewards) to effectively resist change. Senior leaders in HR need to balance this and find a common pace of change between regions.

What do you think is the new direction of HR transformation for major banks in the future?

The trend of cost pressures driving labor arbitrage will remain, for example, moving HR functions from high cost locations such as Australia, Japan, HK, Singapore to places like India and Philippines. Technology can help if companies agree to simplify and standardize processes. This transition can certainly be accomplished but it will take time, about 3 to 5 years, and will need discipline and a lot of change-management to convince the clients that HR is not an on-call service. Lean, in-country HR teams will face the clients. In that model, regular staff will possibly never get to see the HR but they can interact via web and phone.

Finally, what will assist the transformation is further outsourcing of specialist services like recruitment, mobility, training etc. to companies that make a living out of that – with support from their operations in, for instance, Manila or Mumbai. This method is not necessarily cheaper for the company but is more flexible in adopting to the business cycles of growth and reductions; and have these BPO companies achieve economies of scale, get their IT systems (and investments) right.

You have worked in China for 6 years and have witnessed major changes. What was your experience in Asia like?

It has been a great and rewarding experience to me, and I learned a lot from it. Cultural challenges were certainly there, but I felt I blended in well. I like the food for a start, ways of working, as well as business etiquette. Things move slowly in China. New rules or regulations are often opaque, lack of thinking on consequences, and are often parachuted with immediate effect or of a retroactive nature, presenting little time for companies to prepare. But there is progress in many fields and China will be developing gradually and steadily over the years. It was fascinating to witness this process, where the average city incomes have been doubling or tripling over a span of 7 years. Truly amazing!

Please talk about your understanding of Asia and China culture and the business environment? How does it influence the way of managing the employees, and the local ones?

It's all about relationships and how to manage and motivate people; I have definitely honed my people management skills and enjoyed a lot working with local employees. You get so much in return: great friendships, loyal staff, lots of learning of the Chinese ways of doing things and the local mentality. I have come to appreciate this over the years and the depth of relationships would not have happened the same way outside the workplace. It took me some time to get adjusted, to learn to question things from different angles, and to understand people’s responses in a subtle way.

You moved to Singapore as Regional Head of HR transformation a year ago, how have you coped with the differences comparing Singapore and China in terms of culture, work related challenges and life?

Hard to compare as I moved into a very different role as member of a global team primarily staffed by UK, German and American colleagues, I would say in such a project you experience a truly global working culture. Singapore is an easy place to live in, with everything in clear rules and neatly organized systems but slightly boring compared to Shanghai. For Singaporeans, since it is becoming such an expensive place now, it would make sense to rethink how can well-educated talents deliver high value-added services in order to stay competitive; and find ways to develop a broader international mindset. It will take time to internationalize the mind and way of thinking, which the Chinese people do well over the centuries.