This brings challenges in terms of attracting and retaining talent, beyond the high salaries a bank like HSBC can offer. That is especially the case when "these guys want to come in and fix things in a week and we probably haven't got the committee meeting in for a couple of months", as Adams observed. "So it is a different way of thinking how to integrate these people into the bank."
Adams said that he has seen "people who work for these highly innovative companies, like Google and others, actually quite like the challenge of coming to work for an HSBC. What they are saying is, frankly, 'this is the biggest challenge I will have, and if I can fix it for you guys then my CV will be sorted forever'.
So the core skills of how to be a banker don't go away, you still have to have that skill set, but now there is a different skillset we need in terms of what you need to think about from a digital, innovation perspective".
This approach extends all the way down to branch level, where HSBC wants its staff to be less specialised (like a teller, for example), something it calls the "universal banker". Branch staff are expected to push digital channels over traditional channels and to educated customers on how to do things online.
Ironically this amounts to branch staff becoming agents of their own downfall.
"I recently saw this in a Nationwide building society branch, where I was encouraged to do a BACS transfer myself online and the staff walked me through the process, instead of performing the transaction for me," IDG News Service contributor Scott Carey observed. "I will now do all future BACS transfers from the comfort of my own home."
Adams also admitted that the HSBC retail bank lacks diversity at board level, not just in terms of age, gender and race, but also in terms of technical literacy and openness to innovation.
"This is a personal comment but yes, within that five year window I would expect to see some changes [at board level]," Adams said. "I would hope that when I am sitting in the boardroom at the retail bank that we would have a more diverse, innovation and customer experience set of people, more comfortable working at a different cycle speed.
"For me it's not a nice to have, I think if we don't start to see those improvements in five years then we will be behind."
Additional reporting by Scott Carey and IDG News Service.
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