The banking sector, which will see the entry of new players this year, is witnessing a hectic pace of activity on the HR front. An unusually high percentage of hiring is taking place, which is being attributed not only to branch expansion by existing banks but also to the new banking licences that are expected to be issued. Experts believe this could lead to a war for talent. Prospective players are said to be researching employee databases in existing banks to identify talent. Some are believed to have even kept banking personnel on a standby so that they can hit the ground running, if and when they bag a licence. With the fear of being poached by new players, existing banks, on the other hand, are boosting their strength and using innovative employee retention tools. Some could even look at golden handcuffs, if faced with a loss of talent, industry sources said Large corporate houses like Aditya Birla Group , Larsen and Toubro and Bajaj are in the fray for a banking licence. So are Religare , IDFC , Edelweiss and JM Financial . "The banking sector where the hiring rate was not more than 15-20% in 2012-13, has witnessed a spurt in hiring of around 60% till December last year. Most of the existing banks are gearing up by increasing their headcount in order to stay ahead. We expect the trend to continue and grow stronger," said Ajay Shah , general manager (BFSI), TeamLease Services, a staffing company. "Companies/financial services firms aspiring for a banking licence are putting in place a database of people for senior positions (CXO/CXO-1 levels) that will form the core team. Given their established credentials of having built businesses from ground up, key people in Indian private banks are likely to be prime targets for the new entrants," said Animesh Kumar , group head, HR and corporate services, IDFC . Firms which bag banking licences would get about 18 months to launch operations. To cut down on cycle times and costs, technology, big data and analytics will be key drivers of new ways of acquiring talent and delivering services and products. "An important source of talent for prospective banking firms would be women managers, especially those who have taken a career break and are now desirous of coming back into formal employment," said IDFC's Kumar. Another interesting talent pool for banking aspirants, he said, is likely to be the Indian diaspora, which is now looking to relocate back to India for personal reasons. Santrupt Misra , group HR head, Aditya Birla Group , however, said, the group is not hiring for banking. "It will be presumptuous on our part to do so as the licence issue is not decided," he said. The group is not worried given its strong employer brand. "Should we get a licence, we will take up hiring. Some companies may have done opportunity hiring or may be meeting other needs that are current hoping to leverage when the bank comes up," said Misra. While private banks are worried about the HR challenge, they too are sprucing up their strength. Axis Bank , for instance, is expected to see a double-digit headcount growth this year. The bank is tapping on growth potential at unbanked locations. "Hiring is primarily towards the expansion plan of the bank. The new banking licences would have an impact few years later," said Rajesh Dahiya , president-HR, Axis Bank , who is hopeful that its employee engagement initiatives and growth opportunities within the bank would help retain key talent. Ratnakar Bank , on the other hand, is expected to close the year ( March 31, 2014 ) with 1,000 hires this year to take its total strength of 2,600 employees. "The way plans are being discussed, we will continue to hire around 500 or so even in the next year, but it is not finalized yet," said Tajinder Kumar , head-HR, Ratnakar Bank . Kumar admits shortage of talent is a challenge for the sector. "Existing private banks, other banks and even public sector banks have stepped up hiring efforts in a big way. When new banks come up, although one is not clear on date and count, they will also have a requirement of senior management people," he said. So is it an unusual trend? "It seems to be a period of significant change in the sector. Technology is playing a very important role in this change, so is operations and sales and distribution. Newer ways of work require different skills, so re-skilling is key," said Ratnakar Bank's Kumar. Even customer expectations have changed. If you look at how banking was done 10 years back and now, there is a vast difference.
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