Andrés Bianchi is the Global HR TransformationDirector at Santander, who has been working for over 9 years in human resources. Through this interview we were able to delve into their organizational culture, on how they faced the pandemic and what challenges they have for this year.
By Julieta Cumbo
Who is Andrés Bianchi and what motivates you today? We know a lot about you through social networks or your professional career, but what can you tell Rocking Talent about things that are not seen on the networks.
I am many things, but none of them define me. Argentinian, graduated in economics from UBA and a MBA from Kellogg, I have been here in Spain for 12 years, 11 of them at Banco Santander and of those 11, 9 in Human Resources; I come from corporate finance and digital businesses (I worked in Argentina at VCC, Cablevisión, La Nación, and Grupo Bapro), I also worked in joint ventures in Brazil and the USA. 12 years ago we decided to change continents, for the quality of life and our family future.
I have a 17-year-old daughter who has just decided her career and that ‘forces’ me to interpret some trends that are going to affect her, she is not sensitive to those big trends or changes, so I try to translate them to help her in making those decisions. I think that young people have more challenges than I had when I was young, there’s an abundance of resources to become relevant and ambitious but the expectations are negative and there’s more volatility than in previous decades. I participate pro-bono in some forums and incubators for startups, contributing with ideas, funding and networking. I am very interested in the blockchain ecosystem (from the technology to cryptocurrencies or NFT).
Some personal things, I am a fan of Independiente and we founded in Madrid one of the largest Peñas outside of Argentina, I am the President and I dedicate little time to it, but a lot of energy.
¿ What are the main challenges the organization is facing ? How has your experience at Banco Santander been and how would you define its organizational culture?
Santander is a leading company with the great responsibility that large companies in a world have where the results are not enough for the shareholder, but we must be sustainable within the communities where we are, help the progress of employees, customers (families, companies ) but also be responsible with the society where we live.
There are some very significant examples where Santander has been directly involved in the community; from La Juanita in Buenos Aires, to giant initiatives to finance projects classified as ESG (Environmental, social and corporate governance) or job placement such as Santander Universidades or ToqueFale in Brazil, the Reencuentra Program in Spain (where there are 100 women who had left their career for personal reasons and we have accompanied them so that they regain their confidence and reinsert themselves in the job market). This year almost 38 thousand employees of Santander participated in volunteering activities, reflecting our mission to help the most vulnerable citizens.
In recent years the way of managing the banking business has also changed, because of the rising volatility and increased risk, due to regulation, sensitivity, the access to customer information and the cultural change in the companies where Santander operates and also because a company is not sustainable if it only focuses on short-term results. Santander has had a very strong cultural change since 2014, reinforcing the business model with an SPF culture (simple, personal & fair) , reinforcing how business results are obtained (the “how” became as important as the “what” ) and changing the management model. Obviously diversity and equity, combined with results and meritocracy are on the global human resources agenda.
Another challenge is to involve all employees in the Santander culture, which is why continuous evaluation mechanisms, permanent listening and 360 evaluations are an important part of our actions .
The great challenge for a large company and especially Santander -which is a conglomerate of subsidiaries with capital and autonomous management in one part- is the number of decision-makers and areas affected by each decision. We are turning to a more regional vision (OneSantander, OneEurope, OneTeam in HR…), but there are also many areas that are regulated and require a lot of caution. Undoubtedly, this very rigid management of regulation, the contract with customers, product design and social responsibility mean that time-to–market times are greater than in other companies.
In a company with 200 thousand employees, there is always the dichotomy between silos and collaboration in every action. During these last three years I have been leading the design of processes, tools and certain policies amongst all countries, which previously worked in isolation; and that OneTeam program (with the global implementation of Workday) forced us to speak the same language, the same KPIs, the same criteria and look for a future-proof design. For this reason, we demonstrated in Santander’s first truly global project that harmonization means evolution and not necessarily losing that autonomy that we had in silos.
We have made a design of management processes, absences, talent, talent acquisition/selection, benefits and compensations, etc. all in a joint way and within the foreseen deadlines, so it is proven that it can be agile and gigantic.
The Fintech companies came to work for financial inclusion, how do you see this issue knowing about the Open Bank project?
In reality, traditional banks have always done much more for financial inclusion than fintechs. I think Fintech is a fuzzy concept, startups don’t own technologies and digital channels. This technological capacity is now available to everyone, but the main difference with banking or traditional companies today is the lack of regulation (there is a latent risk, since they are generally not regulated or their capital control is not supervised like banks, and risk management is not mature), and the other difference is that startups are generally a single product, whereas banks sell and advise on many products (I can take out a mortgage, insurance, do active or passive management of my savings, international transfers or open a savings account for my children). The great milestone of financial inclusion is the Smartphone, which allows any street vendor in Santa Fe Mexico or Paulista Avenue to charge with their cell phone and the customer does not have to carry cash.
In this pandemic, the Banks have taken a step forward and have come out in support of their clients and families with greater flexibility in loans, grace periods and tolerance to the particular situations of each case.
Openbank is a giant bet of Santander, it is based in Spain and other European countries (there is a European license-passport), where it is also integrating with consumer financing (buying cars or consumer goods). Openbank’s business model is similar to that of a traditional bank, but the channels allow less rigidity than a bank branch, a simpler range of products (from hundreds to a few dozen)
You are in a sector where everyday things change, for example Visa is already accepting cryptocurrencies. How do you see this issue and where is traditional banking heading?
I do not see in the short term that cryptocurrencies are a totally universal store of value, they are still means of payment accepted in a limited way and the high volatility of their prices means that we cannot consider them fully mature. Many of the transactions made in bitcoin or ethereum, actually are converted to the daily price of the dollar, and with the exception of Tesla that says that it does not convert payments into fiduciary currency, I believe that few companies can tolerate that their balances have fluctuations of 10 % daily, few companies have net margins that support this volatility.
If you ask me about my vision – totally personal, temporary and not related to my employer – I think that before they become universal some central banks will issue their cryptocurrencies and they will be legal tender. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are still in their infancy.
You can tell us a little more about the Santander project with Universia, in which they offer 1,500 scholarships for skills training. How do you see the future of work?
Santander Universidades is a commitment that has been going on for many years and in the last two years we have awarded 225,000 study grants, remotely or in person to work and study abroad.
Our students are prepared as never before, but the work environment is unpredictable, that is why I am convinced that the capacity for consideration, adaptability, vision and critical spirit are more important, in addition to the specific knowledge of your profession. One key is to differentiate ourselves and find a personal space where we can stand out, linked to our passions, a young person can study law, but the affinity with the digital or creative industries will make them a great lawyer in blockchain or digital assets , that niche is one of the keys for our youth. Generic knowledge is a must, but the opportunities lie in specialization.
What are the most sought after competencies in this context?
Undoubtedly, those oriented to new technologies, adaptability (for this you must have solid basic knowledge and experience), tolerance and change management, and great agility in solving problems (with limited information and without delay).
I personally highlight people who are trying to define a framework and provide long-term context, not focus on short-term answers.
At Santander we are always hiring experts and financial advisors, but increasingly we are looking for profiles in the fields of Data Analytics, Machine Learning/AI, Cyber Security, Financial Crime Analysis.
Let’s talk about accompanying leaders: What are the competencies that a good leader must have to face this situation and guide their teams?
The number 1 trait or competency in my opinion is empathy. With this, we have a first step.
If I were to make a ranking, in my top 5 I would add: active listening, sincere enthusiasm – balance between the positive spirit and the contrast with reality-, integrity and decision agility. With these five I would have a combo that would allow leaders to build teams, and with intellectual curiosity, to build large projects/companies.
Spain is testing the 4 day work week, what do you think about this topic.
It’s a result of increased productivity, along with how difficult work-life balance is proving to be.
The best-qualified employees who can choose are voting every day: for mobility, for remote work, for flexible hours and also increasing the turnover in the most demanded positions. In Spain, companies with reduced working hours on Fridays beat companies that do not have it by a landslide, in other European countries it is not usual to have a shorter Friday, and the quality of life and employee engagement is impressive. The ideal would be to cut the day and make your life without work “pollution”, but really many people wait for the weekend to enjoy their free time, so I think we will gradually go to 4-3 days (in Spain the standard week is 40 hours, and surely we will approach the 35 that they have in other European countries).
The pandemic showed us that the change in habits has made us more productive, reducing the fixed costs of companies, improving the climate impact and increasing well-being (fewer trips, fewer occupational risks, more family ties); therefore, it is a trend that is accelerating. Likewise, we have quite a few legal, labor and economic definitions to pin down.
On the other hand, I believe that this moment of world crisis and especially in Spain, politically and macroeconomically, our countries need us to work and strive more and more intelligently, and it is a very big change that cannot be improvised.
In that sense, the bet is for more flexible days and working modes, depending on each company and function.
Finally, we always leave a space for you to give a message for RockingTalent readers :
Professionals who are dedicated to people have many challenges, but I always summarize them in four:
a) listen more and better to employees and external candidates;
b) simplify processes and make decisions based on objective criteria;
c) reskilling and upskilling are not lose words, but must be in the DNA of the organization, since transformation and change is constant, that is why it’s part of our workforce strategic plan;
d) culture is the responsibility of the entire organization, so we must make 100% of middle managers the messengers and promoters of the key messages of the company (Innovation, Customer-first, commitment and involvement of employees, etc. ); culture is not owned by a department or manager.