Article: Skilling is an important agenda for Ujjivan: Carol Furtado, Head HR

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Skilling is an important agenda for Ujjivan: Carol Furtado, Head HR

Carol Furtado, Head HR, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank Ltd. shares how strong communication and skilling ensured a smooth transition for the company as it became a small finance bank from a micro finance institution.
Skilling is an important agenda for Ujjivan: Carol Furtado, Head HR

In 2005, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank Ltd started off as a Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) and went on to become one of the leading Micro Finance Institutions. Now, it has progressed from a Micro Finance Institutions to a Small finance bank since its official SFB launch in February 2017. Also, it has constantly been recognized as one of the best places to work for and recently it was ranked 18th among large workplaces in Asia. 

During the transformation phase, there was a bit of uncertainty but Ujjivan overcame that through proper communication. There were no layoffs, instead, Ujjivan retained their staff and gave them training to learn about banking and take on new roles. The company also brought new talent including experienced professionals from various financial and banking institutions. Various programs like Parichay, Parivartan and Saksham were carried out. 

In an interaction with People Matters, Carol Furtado, Head HR, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank Ltd. shared the talent challenges Ujjivan faced during the transition and the strategies and practices that ensured a smooth transition for the company. 

Here is an excerpt from the interview: 

How has the transition from a Micro Finance Institutions to a Small finance bank been for you? What was Ujjivan’s strategy to ensure a smooth transition from MFI to SFB?

The transition began in 2015 when we started preparing ourselves for becoming a small finance bank. One of the most important steps we took was that we moved our entire employee base and transformed their roles from the microfinance institution to the roles of the small finance bank. This helped us in creating a sense of satisfaction and pride amongst all our employees as they got an opportunity to become bankers. We worked with them, trained them and helped them to prepare for these roles. We also started a lot of employee surveys to get the pulse of employees during change and reviewed leadership’s role in the transformation.

What were some of the talent challenges that Ujjivan faced during this transition? How were these challenges dealt with? 

During the transition happened, people transformation was the most challenging area. But we could handle it well because we worked with our internal staff and gave them the opportunities to learn and grow in their respective roles. We invested time and money and put our efforts towards up-skilling them and educating them to take up opportunities in the bank. Training was our critical agenda and we invested a lot on it. We identified the competency level of our employees and accordingly led them on the roads of various possibilities within the bank. The entire organization went through a learning process.  Many employees got the opportunity to grow within the organization and wherever we found that skills-set are not available internally then we looked outside and hired the right talent.

What are various learning initiatives you invested in? How did you upskill your employees? Can you share some examples? 

To start with, people who joined us brought expertise from various industries. And there was a lot of cross-learning that took place within the organization between experienced professionals we hired and internal talent of the company. 

We also put a lot of effort in the role-based training of employees which included technology and regulatory training as part of it. These were co-developed by Ujjivan and some renowned training partners. Further, as ‘Compliance’ was a new area for our employees to venture, intensive compliance focused training was provided to our people. To ensure continuous learning and gradual assimilation of knowledge by employees, we also rolled out an e-learning training platform called- “Saksham” in various Indian languages. Basics of Banking were introduced to employees by seasoned experienced trainers who had rich banking experience. Also, senior officials were sent for training at RBI and RBI affiliated institutes.

Keeping in mind employees’ busy schedules we always believed in giving byte size learning modules. We followed instructor-led training approach mixed it with e-learning. We had distributed the learning in modules because it is easily understood by the participants and these small modules are easily comprehensible. That’s how we were able to give people the required skills. They went through the process and later were placed in branches last year. 

The learning journey still continues. Employees recognize that this is extremely important and they are aware that this is an opportunity for them to become a credible banker. 

Besides skilling initiative how did you deal with the general fear among employees regarding job security, as these transitions usually lead to layoffs? How did you communicate and built the trust to have them on board? 

Training was the second step that we took. The first step was to take the entire organization through a mindset change process and we branded that as ‘Parivartan’.  It was a change management program where leaders worked as change champions to handhold people through the transition phase. 

It was crucial because we were becoming a bank from a lending institution. This signifies we now have the license to offer a full range of financial services to our customers and this has its own challenges. As a lending institution, we were choosing the people we had to give loans to. We were dealing with people who are creditworthy but in the deposits framework, it is customers who choose us. If they trust us they will deposit in our bank. And this required a mindset change. Employees had to be briefed about what it means to become a small finance bank for us, they were made aware about the changing customer-base and were also given the knowledge of the product that we would be introducing as a bank. Besides this, we informed them about the structural changes and most importantly we shared what is in it for them. 

We shared with our employees the positives of becoming a banker and the learning opportunities this transition will bring with it. The career growth opportunities that would be available for them were also highlighted. 

Additionally, we were the best microfinance institution and this was something we did not want to let go when we became a bank. So, we communicated to the employees that the philosophy of Ujjivan wouldn’t change, it will always be service excellence to our customers and employees. The culture of the organization, the values that we built over a period of time, and the culture that we built over a period of time would not change. This is how we communicated with everyone across the company through Parivartan, in a structured manner. 

You shared that you brought in talent from outside as part of your transformation journey. Can you talk more about that?  

The vertical ‘liabilities’ was completely new. So, for this new vertical people were brought in from various industries and various banking institutions. We had to make sure that we had the right fit and the right talent in the organization. And besides skills and technical knowledge, it was essential that the new people we hire are culturally fit for the company. This was our focus and we had a cross-functional panel and then we got people on-board. Also, to make the new joiners aware about the culture we introduced a strong induction program, called Parichay in the organization. We ensured that throughout the induction program the new employees understand our people, our customer base and the mission of the organization. We instilled from day one, the values and ambitions of the organization. We are a purpose-driven organization and we make it clear to our new recruits. We have various structures for this induction. We have a two-day program for people at the higher level and 8-10 days program for the people at field level. We also ensure that the leaders regularly meet our old and new employees. 

As Ujjivan has already completed one year as SFB, what will be your talent strategy for the years ahead?

From the people’s side, we would continue to focus on career growth progression of our employees. For this, we have introduced talent management as a specialized vertical where we will be looking into the performance areas, work on identifying competencies and give them opportunities to grow. We are also working on modifying our bank branches. And we would be hiring a lot of local talent for the same. This year we are also opening branches in rural areas and to build a business there, we will be looking forward to recruiting a lot of fresh talent. 

Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Relations, Learning & Development

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