Anupam Kaura, President & Chief Human Resources Officer at CRISIL leads a discussion on how companies that prioritise employee wellbeing and career enablement experience lower attrition rates.
Can you give us a background on CRISIL and the work you do?
CRISIL is a leading, agile and innovative global analytics company driven by its mission of making markets function better. We are majority owned by S&P Global Inc., and our clients range from micro, small and medium companies to large corporates, investors, and top global financial institutions. We are headquartered in Mumbai, with a presence across 12 countries.
While we were the market pioneers in establishing and promoting the concept of financial market ratings in India, our visionary leaders boldly decided to venture into research, risk advisory, data analytics and benchmark analytics as adjacencies, and to geographical locations beyond the Indian markets as our marketplace. We have pursued a good blend of organic evolution and an inorganic approach through a series of extremely successful acquisitions in the global marketplace and have emerged as a leading employer in this space, around the globe.
While we continue to have a large share in the credit ratings industry and are the pioneers, a significant part of our business comprises work that we do for our global clientele in the US, Europe, and other parts of Asia.
We do a lot of high-quality and diverse work which cuts across financial analytics, benchmarking, and research for many large international banks, which includes helping them with core business operations delivery, covering the banking delivery on the credit underwriting cycles, corporate and investment banking, and benchmarking analytics which helps them build their business strategy and compete with peers on a global scale. Business insights from our analysts are used by global heads of corporate and investment banks around the world to determine their own headcount planning and business strategy.
This is apart from the significant work we do in the Indian market in the form of ratings, fundamental research, economic advisory, policy advisory, etc. while working closely with government agencies.
We also partner with different stakeholders, including government agencies to further the financial literacy agenda and other purpose-led work on financial inclusion, as well as environmental conservation, under the aegis of CRISIL Foundation.
In terms of employee concentration, how is the global spread?
India continues to be the talent powerhouse, and most of our workforce is in India. We collaborate with a number of job portals in India, and Naukri.com is one of them. Of the total workforce, which is close to 4,800 people, about 4,000 are in India, and the remaining is spread across the US, UK, Argentina, China, Poland, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, and Japan.
How were the last three years for CRISIL? Any COVID-led policy initiatives?
Plenty of them. When vaccines were still in short supply, we were among the first to organise in-house vaccination camps for employees, their families, the extended workforce, and, on occasion, some of our customers. Beyond that, when we realised that working from home had become more taxing and stressful, especially for working mothers or people with small children or elderly to take care of, we introduced the concept of Wellness Days, which are extra days off in addition to the regular leave balance of employees in a year.
These employee well-being measures continue post pandemic as well and form the basis of our current hybrid model. We expect our employees to come to the office three days a week. By offering the balance of two days as work from home, along with the periodic Wellness Day offs, we have tried to ensure that employees have needed the flexibility to plan their work and lives better. We were amongst the first few in the industry to put forth several initiatives, like extending employment opportunities to a family member of a deceased colleague, taking care of their children’s education all the way up to the graduation stage, etc. These measures are still continuing, as they symbolise the caring culture that CRISIL has always stood for.
As a prominent entity in the BFSI space, what is your perspective on the latest traction and trends in hiring in this space?
Since Q2 of 2021, when the demand for talent gained prominence, until Q4 (Oct-Dec 2022) of last year, we saw almost 500 openings in any given month. This comes from the war for talent and the demand-supply dynamics that started playing out starting Q2 of 2021. And these roles were primarily for growth and new work and not backfills alone. Compared to the beginning of 2021, attrition rates have tremendously improved by early 2023. We are now averaging close to 350 to 375 openings in any given month. About 80-85% of this comes from new demand, not backfills.
With cybersecurity and cloud computing gaining demand, what is your niche in terms of training and education?
In the last three years, I would say almost 45 % to 50 % of our hiring has happened for techno-functional domain roles. There has been a clear shift in terms of the skill requirements, including for our global customers. Let us take quantitative or analytical skills. The demand is not for just pure quantitative skills anymore. But it combines quants with Python, AI, ML capabilities, etc. Similarly, today’s internal technology transformation agenda requires cloud computing experience, while three years ago, it was the typical software development skills or tech infrastructure maintenance skills.
We are seeing a phenomenal transformation in terms of the talent demand within the internal technology team. Therefore, not just cloud computing skills but competencies in other associated fields like information security, cyber risk, etc., are also in demand. From the business perspective, hiring is prominent in specific areas like ESG / sustainability, climate-related risk aspects, etc., given our work in this arena. This is beyond the skillsets for underlying credit risk domain or financial market research.
What is the impact of COVID-led, employee-specific policies that you put forth on attrition rates?
During the first year of COVID in 2020, our attrition rates were actually in the single digit, around 7-8%. From 2021, when the market revived, and there was a demand for experienced talent, CRISIL became a hiring ground for experienced talent in credit and research skills, especially global captive centres and banks, which started expanding their credit underwriting teams or those in their own risk solutions setups. During that period, our attrition rates did climb.
Our top 500 people managers were put through orientation workshops using online learning modules, virtual classrooms, peer coaching cohorts, etc., to help them handle the virtual workforce with empathy and care. Such timely, and active measures prepared them to handle the new challenges of the virtual workforce.
Focusing on welfare measures, care-related policies, and the overall culture helped us track our attrition rates better by almost 400-500 basis points compared to other peer organisations. If the industry attrition rate was 26-28%, our attrition at that stage was about 22%. Our specific investments around preparing our people managers to handle a virtual and hybrid workforce did help us significantly.
What is the role of data in your own company’s HR policies?
CRISIL invested in a partnership with an external independent specialist firm for employee lifecycle management and to track the onboarding experience of new hires, as well as the experience of the ones exiting. An independent applied psychologist from an independent firm conducts exit conversations to determine the real reason behind an exit.
In the last five years, we have introduced VIBE, a bi-annual engagement survey that revolves around Voice, Insights, Belonging, and Engagement. We also track employee experience at the point of entry, after onboarding, and six weeks after their last working day.
The rich insights and analytics from VIBE and these other organisational effectiveness measures have helped shift the place’s narrative and culture. That we have received Great Place To Work Certification in the last three years in a row is a testimony to those efforts. Data plays a leading role in building people’s strategies and agenda.
Will candidates get the same compensation premiums that they were used to about a year and a half back? The answer is no. The corrections in the environment will definitely play out. They may not go for a 30% or 40% pay hike, but potentially they may go for a 15% to 20% increase. So hiring is not going away.
What steps have you taken to restructure your L&D policy and the investments to cater to the rising need for techno domain skill sets?
While businesses were cutting down their discretionary spending and budget in the first two years of the pandemic, we amped our investments into these digital learning platforms, focussing on technical, professional and leadership skills. We have continuously focused on shifting mindsets and learner behaviours to latch on to e-learning on a self-paced basis. There has been a phenomenal shift in internal culture, and our investments have really paid off. Given the evolving talent needs, we motivate employees to own their careers. Our EVP also emphasises the same. We also motivate them to come forward and pivot their career, and as a company, we play an enabling role. Accordingly, we offer them learning resources on time to help them pivot and realise their career aspirations
While we expect our employees to own their careers, we, as an employer, play an enabling role and ensure that the learning resources are available. If an employee wants to work on a cross-functional project, we enable that for them as well. The newly launched EVP also enabled us to open multifaceted career pathways for our employees. For instance, if an employee wants to take up analytical work in a very different stream than what she or he is currently engaged in, our career framework helps them achieve these personal goals. This has improved our employee experience, apart from a talent retention and attraction perspective.
Given the lot of movement in the BFSI space, what are the interesting developments in retaining and attracting talent?
Hygiene factors have always played a role. By hygiene factors, I mean the factors of a particular work environment, a job title, salary level, basic amenities etc. The motivation theories have been proved right all over again.
The hygiene factors stood the test of time against an extreme pandemic that the entire global corporate world faced. Some forward-thinking Indian companies and public sector companies, for example, have always invested in terms of the employee welfare lens. The corporate world had actually ignored some of these welfare attributes, and the pandemic was a good wake-up call for employers in the corporate world.
However, once the market rebounded after the pandemic, merely welfare or hygiene factors were not sufficient for talent loyalty among high performers. A powerful EVP with a progressive approach to care and well-being, learning, and enabling rewarding careers for individuals is what is needed. It does not stop with two or three promotions but goes beyond to ensure that they stay employable and that their skill set remains relevant even after 10 years.
Can you share important insights you gathered from these exit interviews that helped you better the culture at the time?
Six weeks after the last working day of an employee, an independent firm conducts an exit interview. The six weeks could be a cooling-off period, and the person would have received the final settlement, relieving letter, and moved on.
An applied psychologist from the firm conducts the interviews to help us uncover the real reasons why somebody chose to move on. This helps us understand what measures, if any, could have been taken to avoid the exit. Such interviews have offered us phenomenal insights over the last three-four years.
Personal reasons like better opportunities are among the top reasons reported even in the HR-led exit interviews. These independent interviews helped peel the layers to understand what they meant by better opportunities. It also helped us uncover that compensation was not among the top two reasons people left the organisation. In the early stages, attrition was around the work environment and managers. And that’s why I said earlier that we started putting our people managers through a sensitisation journey four years back.
Were you able to discover any new insights from exit interviews after the virtual or hybrid mode became prominent?
People managers who showed greater care and empathy during this phase have seen lesser attrition in their teams. During 2021, when the market saw inordinate pay inflation due to a demand-supply mismatch for experienced talent, pay disparity came through among the top two reasons too. In other genuine situations where people needed flexible work arrangements, even pre-pandemic, we would do that on a case-by-case basis, and as such the virtual mode has not had a role in particular.
In the last three years, I would say almost 45 % to 50 % of our hiring has happened for techno-functional domain roles. There has been a clear shift in terms of the skill requirements, including for our global customers.
How do you build diversity and inclusion in the team?
When I look at CRISIL’s gender diversity rate in the financial services arena amongst professional services firms, I would say overall, we’ve had a standout success story for ourselves. We have business teams, where out of 900 people as much as 50% of the population comprises women. Overall, at a company level, we are close to 40% on gender diversity. In some teams, including my own team, the gender ratio is as high as 70%. Also, we have definitely put a lot of conscious focus on going beyond gender. That we have more than 40 nationalities represented in our workforce is a matter of pride for a company of our size and scale.
In the last few years, without making it too obvious or deliberate, we’ve also started celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community and sensitising our colleagues about the agenda. We have also enhanced infrastructure to support differently-abled colleagues. But as a principle, we stayed away from projecting that as a conscious metric because we believe that disclosing those can be discrimination in some of the countries we have a presence in. And therefore, in our HRMS, disclosing personal factors is subject to voluntary intention. We do not expect employees or compulsively push them to indicate their status.
The Great Places to Work study showed us that we are a rare example of a company where women colleagues experience the same level of satisfaction, engagement, and association with the company as their male counterparts. This is a stand-out element of what constitutes the CRISIL work culture. We were amongst the first few in the market in India to incorporate medical insurance coverage for same-sex partners. This was unheard of six years back. Very few insurers would even be open to designing a policy to give that inclusion. But right at the onset, six years back, we worked with our insurance partner to get that as an inclusion.
As a company, we have one of the highest rates of women returning and staying with us after their maternity leaves. The ratio of women who come back after maternity leave has been as high as 98 and 99%. And a year after their return to work, post maternity leave, 90%+ have stayed with the company.
Given that the Indian growth cycles have become increasingly synchronised with the global markets, how is the BFSI hiring getting accelerated in the global market?
We have not seen any dramatic impact, except the benefit of a slowed-down attrition rate. This helps us focus on hiring for growth, which is the 350 to 375 new openings over the last four months on average, that I spoke of earlier. Markets do have their cycles, but our focus is that if the markets are growing at a certain rate, can we grow at a rate which is a couple of percentage points higher. That has been a conscious ambition. So far, we have not experienced any dramatic experiences or knock-on effects in terms of our business. There is consolidation when you look at specific banking aspects, such as financial services, professional services, or ITES. But, there are areas within each of these sectors that continue to grow, and so there is demand for talent.
If you are asking if we will see a recession at this point in time, the answer is unlikely, not in these sectors.
Finally, what hiring rates do you expect in the sector and the entire segment?
I think hiring will become more thoughtful. Hiring will definitely continue to happen in segments that have continuous demand. It is not a function of just environmental factors but also a function of the needs and preferences of talent.
Given this, employers will continue to engage in some amount of hiring, and the net effect will be positive. Let us take the case of freshers who have not had their first bounce or change of employers. If they decide to move on to other employers and in case they have demand, there will be a net knock-on effect. Therefore, despite economic conditions, some of that demand is not going away.
Now, will they get the same compensation premiums that they were used to about a year and a half back? The answer is no. The corrections in the environment will definitely play out. They may not go for a 30% or 40% pay hike, but potentially they may go for a 15% to 20% increase. So hiring is not going away.
Therefore, for people with 1, 3, or 10 years in terms of experience, will the market see anything substantially different or lower in that sense? A 20-30% slowdown will be seen, not more than that because a good 50-60% is not a function of the economic variables. The individual needs and preferences to look for a different career option and a career switch early on will definitely create activity.
About the author: Anupam Kaura has over 25 years of HR leadership and business partnership experience, a majority of which have been in Banking, Insurance and ITES HR. Prior to joining CRISIL, Kaura served as Head of HR Advisory and Products at IDFC Bank.
Year of Incorporation: 1987
Number of Employees: 4785 globally
Ownership: Majority owned by S&P Global Inc. & listed in India
Business Line: CRISIL is a global analytical company and India’s leading rating agency, providing ratings, research, and risk and policy advisory services.
Hiring Pipeline: 200+ open positions currently
Workforce Pie: Global Research and Risk Solution unit (38%), Market Intelligence and Analytics unit (22%), Global Analytical Centre unit (18%), Ratings (9%), Corporate Technology (5%), Corporate Group excl tech (4%), and Global Benchmarking Analytics (4%).
Key HR Factors: Diversity, employee-friendly HR policies, opportunities for learning & development, and internal talent mobility. Diversity 39% females as on 31 May 2023