An Interview with Dr. Andreas Irmer

In March 2018, I met with Dr. Andreas Irmer to discuss the rapidly evolving financial services market in Germany. We covered a variety of topics and below is a transcript of the key parts of our discussion:

James (J) - Hi Andreas. Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Would you mind very quickly introducing yourself?

Andreas (A) - Hi, I’m the CHRO at Citigroup, one of the largest corporate & investment banks worldwide, responsible for the German and Austrian region. I have held senior HR leadership positions at blue-chip companies in various sectors such as mobile telecoms, manufacturing and insurance and I am currently responsible for accelerating the transformation and growth of Citi alongside overall leadership of the HR function for the region.

J - What do you consider to be the most pressing challenges/opportunities facing German financial services in the coming years?

A - The banking industry is impacted by a number of driving forces. All of these are evolving at a tremendous speed and simultaneously: Brexit, Blockchain, the maturing of Artificial Intelligence and tightening regulation, to name but a few. I envision that this will lead to a period of “tectonic” change. Having but recently recovered from the financial crisis, it will become extremely difficult for this industry to quickly switch gears and direction and to fully adapt. The capability to attract and retain the talent with the right capabilities (i.e. to drive this change and to build the value-generating banking business of the future) will become a question of survival.

J - How best can HR position itself to enable the business to succeed in this new era of German FS?

A - Firstly, we should try to develop an appetite for a better understanding of these drivers and the technologies in particular. It´s not ‘there’ – it´s ‘here’, and it´s happening now. Secondly, and often missed, HR needs to be as close as possible to our customers and their challenges. From my experience, it´s less about listening only to what they tell you today but rather about reflecting on these inputs and developing our own deeper understanding of what is really needed for the future. Thirdly and finally, HR should permanently review their strategic agenda and check if it is still fit for purpose and supports the emergence of future business models. We should be bold enough to cut back even well-established products/services or processes.

J - Has the role of HR changed in the industry and what still needs to change?

A - Like in many other industries, the role of HR has evolved massively. In addition to the specialists in their traditional fields, I need now more than ever technologically-savvy, customer-intelligent, commercially literate employees who are able to adapt quickly to new challenges. I think it´s positive that investment banks have lost their glamour over the last decade – which I feel was exaggerated. What I enjoy at Citi, and what still impresses me today, is this very special and vibrant environment where I am surrounded by so many extremely intelligent, well-educated colleagues who like to work hard but come across so unassuming and modest when you speak with them. This attitude is what I am convinced is needed to be able to succeed in this new market, where you can generate true value for your organisation and make a real impact. My (often virtual) work relationships with some of our 210,000 employees span the globe and it´s amazing to see how we can get things done at this scale. The technology that is available to all of our staff enables borderless collaboration, but it takes the right attitude to reap the benefits. In that respect the employees we have on board are outstanding.

J - Regarding hiring, with the market becoming ever tighter across all specialisms within banking, what are Citi doing to maintain an image as an attractive employer?

A - I am a strong believer in word-of-mouth recommendations, in addition to frontline advertisement. That´s why we pay specific attention to leadership capabilities and how they impact employee engagement. And – since you´re asking: the careful selection of the right professional search firm representative and an ongoing monitoring ensure that we cast an authentic shadow of what you can expect from joining Citigroup – which is more than just a decent salary. Citi offers plenty of the industry-standard financial and non-financial benefits (training, pension plan, meals, childcare, insurances, job tickets, etc.) but what sets us apart are our non-tangible cultural benefits. Our transparent, 360-degree feedback policy leads to a closer, more collegiate atmosphere. Shortly after I joined I couldn’t believe my eyes that such a large organisation can be at once so performance focused and yet at the same time so non-hierarchical. Even the most senior people are always approachable – or they reach out to you for feedback. Sounds like a paradox? Well, that´s Citi.

J - As a country, what do you feel Germany could be doing differently to increase its attractiveness to the international market?

A - Isn´t it strange – amongst travellers worldwide, Germans are by far one of the biggest groups, but do not seem to be interested in marketing their own country a bit more or differently? Maybe it´s also that we love to get in contact with other cultures but are less inclined to share our own culture? I´m by far not an expert in tourism and am sometimes surprised to see how difficult it is for us to communicate attributes to the image of this country beyond the Oktoberfest-Humpapa.

J - As a native Hessener, how would you personally sell the city of Frankfurt and what landmarks/experiences would you most recommend to someone not from there?

A - Frankfurt has never been better than these days – and it’s always improving! Whilst you might have a demanding job, the options are multitudinous for you to chill out at the Main river or take a breath of fresh air in the surrounding forests. Close by you can explore beautiful landscapes like the Rheingau region with its first class Riesling wines and picturesque medieval villages. With very low commuting compared to other cities, it is possible to have your own house in the green whilst taking your bike every day. And if you have a family, such conditions are ideal to rejuvenate whilst you are with your loved ones instead of wasting time commuting or taxiing your kids. In summertime, there are many festivals in the city with a great atmosphere, like the “Fressgassfest”. Sachsenhausen is famous for its museums and party scene beyond the tourist hot spots, whilst in the Westend and Nordend you´ll find charming wine bars, small Osteria’s and various international restaurants. It’s a wonderful city with so much to do and I would recommend it to anyone.

J - Thank you very much for your time Andreas and for sharing your thoughts with us.