Leading a people-first talent agenda at ANZ Bank

Sreeram Iyer talks through the people strategies at the top of the agenda for ANZ's corporate and institutional banking business.
By: | August 20, 2019

Check out more from HRM Asia’s exclusive interview with Sreeram Iyer, Chief Operating Officer for ANZ Bank’s Corporate and Institutional Banking business, in the following pieces:

As the Chief Operating Officer for ANZ’s Corporate and Institutional Banking business, Sreeram Iyer often has multiple hats to wear. But it is his people leadership responsibilities that are fast becoming the drivers for success in the digital age, as he explains to HRM Asia.

Can you describe your role with ANZ?

As the Chief Operating Officer for ANZ’s Corporate and Institutional Banking business, and as a member of the top leadership Team, I am accountable for running the operations, managing the property portfolio, and driving a significant People Agenda targeted at a very talented and engaged workforce of about 2000 staff in over 20 countries.

How big a part does that people agenda play in your overall day-to-day working life?

My team is diverse, and significant from a customer point of view. So, I spend about 70% of my time on people management and strategy, which includes setting the culture and tone, reminding staff about our purpose and living our values, communicating effectively, and trying to lead by example.

Part of our talent strategy is to adopt new ways of leading, by growing our people selflessly and trying to motivate staff to be curious and always learning.

What are some of the key people-related challenges that you face in your day-to-day work?

The macro environment for the finance industry is challenging – with declining margins, more regulatory pressures, and ever-rising customer expectations. On the other hand, the positive opportunity is the role that new technologies can play to improve business returns.

This raises the key challenge of how to prioritise precious investments of capital to make the best for our staff and our customers. I spend a fair bit of my time on the division’s allocation of investment choices, execution of large technology projects, and strategies for driving automation. This must aim to lift both customer experience and the employee experience.

Another challenge I face is about effective communication. We do use many new channels, social media, chat capabilities, and videos, etc, but I am as yet unsure which medium is best suited for our staff globally.

I often think about how best to deliver key strategic messages with authenticity, so that my team can resonate with the story. I really do believe that strategy and culture come well before technology.

What strategies have you used to solve or cope with these challenges?

At ANZ, our purpose is to shape a world where people and communities thrive. Why? Because the society in which we do business does matter. We’re focused on building relationships and this is based on trust – and trust underpins banking.

Communication is about connecting people to our purpose. As a People Leader, I therefore try my best to communicate with authenticity and constancy – avoiding simple things like jargon and focusing on getting the job done with “minimum viable bureaucracy”. Being open about possible reductions in the number of roles in the future has also been a deliberate effort in our communications.

In terms of dealing with the macro environment, I find it useful to bring in the advice of all of the people around me, even relatively junior staff.

I learnt from MIT (Iyer completed a course on FinTech there in 2016) that “leadership is too important to be left to the bosses”. It is always useful to be reminded of this and to invite the newer, younger, more talented workforce to lead the way. In fact, when we started to adopt new technologies such as robotics, machine learning, and digitisation in my function two years ago, the ideation and efforts of our Innovation Lab came from such impressive colleagues.

Finally, learning, and building capabilities are powerful incentives for people. To progress, we need to ensure that we are constantly thinking, learning and growing.  It’s our brain that is our ‘legacy’ system, not technology.

CHRO Series across three cities

Sreeram Iyer, Chief Operating Officer for ANZ Bank across 20 countries (pictured), will be one of more than 30 presenters across the three legs of CHRO Series in 2019. These single-day, invitation only conferences will give senior HR leaders the exclusive opportunity to come together, learn, develop, and discuss strategies for creating an engaged workforce for business success in an increasingly digital world.

Register your interest for each of the Jakarta (October 25), Singapore (November 13), and Kuala Lumpur (December 3) events at www.chroseries.com.