January 23, 2024

Q&A with Thomas Casutt: HR strugles in Swiss market & beyond

We are happy to introduce you to Thomas Casutt. Thomas, who studied economics, now works as Head HR of a Swiss cantonal bank. Before that, he was working in different HR roles in a multi-national insurance company. In the last years, Thomas has been helping businesses to transform and develop. In this Q&A, he told us about HR challenges in the banking sector, Swiss-market-specific HR struggles and some thoughts around what can we expect in this field in the future. Enjoy!

Thomas, tell us a bit about yourself and your professional path, and how it led to a senior HR position in the banking sector.

Almost all of my career is connected to financial services. I studied economics and when I finished my studies, I started at an insurance company. Worked there in different positions but mainly in HR. My starting point was in management development.

In this role, I helped the organization to develop their leaders along the corporate strategy which was a very great thing to do at the beginning of the career because I got the opportunity to work together with senior-level executives on the development of the company.

After that, I worked on different HR projects around talent and performance management with different group-countries in Europe. In my next career step, I moved to a more operational HR role as an HR Business Partner.

Finally, I decided to focus on a more strategic role and took the challenge to become the head of HR in my current company – a cantonal bank in Switzerland. It’s a dynamic role, which involves operational and strategic challenges. The company has around 1400 employees, so it’s big enough for strategic HR work and small enough to know the people around you. I enjoy that.

You have loads of experience in the banking sector. What are the main challenges for HR professionals in this sphere or maybe even in the Swiss market in general?

In Switzerland, we do have a very low unemployment rate – it’s it’s around 2%. So, while there are not many people on the market, the Swiss banks are growing and so is the demand for skilled employees. This is a big challenge.

On the other side, the GDP growth rate in Switzerland is lower than in the past years. This means that there is a risk for banks because the banks are growing together with the GDP. Banks must focus on costs, competition, and efficiency. This pressure on growth combined with the fact that there is not enough skilled workforce in the market impacts the costs.

We must consistently work on transforming the business and automating processes, which causes changes in needed skills. You must run a system and create a new one at the same time while facing cost pressure – I’d say that is challenging.

Another thing is more universal and is also related to transformation. To transform and remain competitive, you need to develop IT technology, which in turn means finding rare and expensive employees. While the regional mobility of employees in Switzerland is quite low the pressure on salaries increases.

These challenges demonstrate the importance of retention. What are the practices to keep employees happy, engaged, and loyal?

I think the main thing for commitment is for sure a good culture. A culture where personal growth is possible, where you see a purpose in what you do, where you find flexibility and a good work-life balance and where you are rewarded with a competitive salary. It might seem difficult to show a purpose in banking, but it’s actually not. You help people to finance their dreams and help companies to grow and to develop.

We must make sure that salary is not the only thing keeping employees with the company. That is why we focus the most on development opportunities. We help people to grow and we invest in their development and their educational goals.

Do you believe in the importance of personalization and how do you think personalization will evolve in employer-employee relations?

As I said, I do believe that people looking for a purpose, development opportunities, a flexible work environment and a fair salary. Those things are very personal and can be even more personalized in the future. We invest time in every employee, help them, and invest money in their personalized development because it’s not one-size-fits-all and you have to consider individual development goals, stage of the career the person is in and so on.

What HR trends do you see growing stronger in 2024 in your sphere?

AI is still a hot topic but we know very little about what we can do with it in banking or HR specifically. I think this topic will remain important, as it’s just the start of something very interesting. I’m curious about where that one goes and what it will mean for banking, insurance, and other companies.

Otherwise, I think a lot of HR efforts will be put into efficiency, process automation, on transformation of the business. Banks are lucky in a way, they are in a long-term business, and it’s quite stable. But when it comes to efficiency, automation, and transformation, banks have a lot of regulations, and, as discussed, plenty of challenges.

This means putting focus on skill change, change management in general, leadership development, and simply how we are working together. Banks are classically quite hierarchical, and we are moving away from that step by step to a more agile way of working together.

Another trend I see is a higher attention to the health management topic. In Switzerland in general we see a trend of increasing long-term sick days even with younger employees. This includes more mental health issues or stress-induced physical problems. We have to make sure we learn more about this issue to better help our employees and our leaders.

Overall, we’re going to be working to transform companies and increase efficiency by making sure we have the right people at the right places with the right skills and attitude to achieve this goal.

What personal or professional targets do you place for yourself in the upcoming year?

I think it’s going to circle around what we talked about. It’s going to be a busy year, so I am happy to grow and learn about these challenges. For example, I am not a professional in health management but only by going deep into this topic we can help our employees. So, I have to learn as much as I can about it. That applies to other discussed areas.

In a world we’re in, where we see all the economic and geopolitical risks, I feel privileged to be in a situation where I’m able to put attention, effort, and time into learning and developing. It’s good enough for me.