2020 was a year of evolution for HR professionals: Jayanthi Vaidyanathan
From examining radical changes in the incredibly dynamic fintech industry to highlighting how the HR function will continue to evolve in 2021, Jayanthi Vaidyanathan (Senior Director and Head – HR, PayPal India) speaks with Human Capital about how COVID-19 has been a huge turning point for organisations in fintech, the roles and skills needed in the post-pandemic future of work, and the HR strategies that helped PayPal turn its transformation into its greatest advantage.

2020 was a year of evolution for HR professionals: Jayanthi Vaidyanathan

Fintech has been attracting significant attention in the last few years. A slew of recent reports have highlighted that it is one of the most promising and robust industries globally. The Indian fintech market, which was valued at $25.6 billion in 2019, is poised to reach $82 billion-plus by 2025. How has the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the fintech industry?

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way people transact. There was a secular trend towards digital payments, but COVID-19 has accelerated that. Digital payments have evolved from a nice-to-have capability to an essential service in day-to-day lives. Consumers no longer want to handle cash or other forms of payment that require any physical touch at checkout. With that in mind, we are significantly investing to accelerate our presence in all forms of omnichannel commerce, from point-of-sale in-store to buy online and pick up in store, order ahead, pay at table and home delivery across the globe. It was interesting to see how a new demographic during stay-at-home shutdowns evolved, which we call “silver tech.” These are people in the age group of 50–70 years, currently making up our fastest-growing segment.

To give you a perspective on how fast digital payments is becoming the new normal, 2020 was the strongest year in PayPal’s history. We achieved record growth in net new active customers, volume, revenue, operating income, earnings and free cash flow. PayPal processed a total payment volume of 277 billion USD during the fourth quarter of 2020. This is the highest TPV (Total Payments Volume) growth in PayPal’s history. We ended the fourth quarter with 377 million active accounts (+24% YoY). This includes around 29 million merchant accounts.

We’ve spoken with many leaders who have pointed out that 2020 was the year HR really stepped into the spotlight. How do you think about your role on the leadership team at PayPal, and what are some top strategies being implemented in today’s context to support employees and business?

2020 was a year of evolution for HR professionals to unlearn and reimagine experiences for employees. As lines between work and home continue to blur, we all need to be more flexible and understanding as a first response. For example, a crying child in the middle of a meeting comes first, and it is heart-warming to see how employees took to the new normal and adapted to staying connected using Teams, Slack, etc

Wellness is our core value, and it took centre stage. We listened to our employees through weekly wellness surveys and introduced several initiatives to support them: internet reimbursement, furniture allowance, stipends, crisis leave, and global wellness days off in order to enable a better work-life balance with a focus on their financial, mental and physical wellbeing.

Global Wellness Days: Three Global Wellness Days have been introduced in the last few months.

 A Slew of Wellness Programs: New Global Wellness Apps and Resources, encompassing counselling services, stress reduction programs, and parenting help. These include:

  • Expanded Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselling to include 10 sessions per issue, per year (previously 6 sessions)
  • Weekly wellness mentor sessions (1-1 session with a counsellor)
  • Weekly nutritionist services
  • Sessions by qualified psychologists on topics such as “Preventing Burnout” and “Stress Management,” to name a few
  • Useful Wellness Apps, from resilience-building (meQuilibrium) to parenting (Cleo & ReThink, for parents with children with learning or developmental disabilities)
  • Manager Mental Wellness Awareness & Support Training, to help managers identify the signs of stress and provide tools for supporting mental wellness among their teams

Besides the above, some simple changes made a huge difference. Instead of scheduling meetings for 1 hour, we started reducing them to 45 minutes, giving employees 15 minutes to take care of what they needed to at home instead of dialling from one meeting into another.

We stepped up our virtual engagement initiatives to recreate the social connectedness of lunch / coffee, bringing pets to the screen, etc. I must say, we learnt a lot about ourselves and acquired new skills besides spending time with our families.

The pandemic has dried up some roles while making others sought-after. What will be the top job drivers in the fintech industry — now and after COVID-19 abates?

The fintech industry has seen growth that would have otherwise taken another 5 years to happen. While the pandemic has impacted lives and livelihoods, I feel that it has also led to the emergence of new professions and brought more people into the workforce. Segments such as on-demand delivery services related to fresh produce, online education, social engagement platforms from gaming to OTT platforms, online collaborative tools, e-pharmacies, and online consultations are a few areas that may have found their turning point to a highway. We have also seen significant growth in the number of freelancers—women who have started doing business while staying at home.

As digital payment adoption continues to increase, the need to manage risk and security will become extremely critical. The use of newer technologies, such as AI and ML, will become more prevalent, and talent with that skill set will be most sought after.

Today, HR leaders need to be part futurists, constantly having to see around corners and be better prepared for impending changes. Which work trends do you believe will take center stage in the fintech industry post-COVID-19?

With the pandemic, traditional ways of working have become a thing of the past. It will become critical to examine newer models for collaboration and to see how the future of work and workplaces gets reconfigured. The leadership style of empathy, compassion and flexibility, along with the ability to drive business outcomes, will take centre stage.

Another trend we expect to see is the expanded role that employers will play in managing the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. Employee engagement will evolve into unexplored forays, and the HR function will need to evaluate new ways of ensuring engagement and connectivity and building a one-team culture.

Looking back over the past year and all that you have overcome, what’s one lesson from the crisis that you’d like to share with HR leaders in the fintech industry?

The crisis has shaken world economies and impacted people in unexpected ways we never imagined. Compassionate leadership is not essential only during the pandemic; it is needed in future, too. Personally, I realized the importance of self-care, and I urge everyone to focus on their mental and physical wellbeing. Another important learning has been the need for advanced listening skills, which enables us to deal with people with a greater sense of empathy and understanding.

First published on Human Capital website: 

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