Global HR leaders interview: Ian Marchant on AI’s impact on HR

November 23, 2023

We were delighted to be joined by Ian Marchant, HR Director at Finastra, to talk with our own Abigail Benham about AI’s potential impact on HR.

In this truly thought-provoking discussion, Ian shared his knowledge on:

You can watch the full interview or read Ian’s thoughts below.

Thank you to Ian for his insights.

AI is a gamechanger for organisations, but it’s not without risk.

First of all, it’s incredibly exciting. It is an absolute game changer for organisations, probably as big if not bigger than the invention of the internet. How that affects corporate life and the economy is absolutely huge.

If I think about it from a HR perspective, we’ve got huge positives in terms of how it’s going to augment most people’s jobs moving forward. So, you’ll have your own AI assistant that will help you work through a lot of the tasks that have been monotonous in the past and dragging you down, giving you the opportunity to spend much more time on the value-add work, the strategic work that HR loves to spend its time thinking about and talking about. Brilliant.

But then we’ve also got to think about the risks with AI. We know that these large language models are using data from the internet; from the world that is inherently biased. So, simply taking it and using it again in your own context has huge risks associated.

So, HR has both huge opportunities to look at but also needs to play the role of good corporate citizen and manage the risk.

AI won’t replace people, but it will replace jobs.

The main question that keeps coming up in my network at the moment is: Will AI replace people?

I think – Will it replace people? No. Will it replace jobs? Yes.

What we will see is that maybe not entire roles, but parts of roles, will be carved off and automated. This was happening anyway; generative AI has just accelerated it.

How will AI improve onboarding?

An organisation like ours [Finastra], has highly complex software. Having somebody join us and then get up the curve from a capability perspective was in the past very long – multiple years.

With AI now you have the opportunity to, rather than need to sit next to the expert and watch them for the first two weeks, at any point query the AI and you’re essentially asking all of the expertise of the organisation to give you to give you a response. And what it will start to do is improve. It’ll say – well if you’re asking this question, you should probably think about this and you should probably think about that. And it will start to expand.

So, instead of having the linear curve as you go up to the experience level, that process is going to be much quicker. Also, if you think about it from a retention perspective: losing people in the first 12 months is a massive issue for organisations. You’ll start to know quicker if people are suited to the role, because you’re going to cut out that big onboarding piece and that leads on to engagement.

Could AI replace management from an engagement perspective?

In a vast organisation, your client group is around a thousand people. You being able to get through those thousand people, having meetings and one to ones, is going to take you months. But if we utilise AI from an engagement perspective and you’re going into a meeting and you’re able to track that this person’s performance has dropped at this point, this is when maybe we had a new manager come in, or the business took a turn in that particular area, you can go in and already navigate why that person is maybe less motivated, less engaged.

However, on the flip side we might find that maybe people are less engaged. Managers may make a decision that an employee has dropped off the curve for the past six months and consider actually should we look down the root of performance or movement in a team, but that one to one conversation of: how can I help you and at what point did you lose interest or at on the flip side at what point were you really enjoying things might not happen.

I know for me nothing will beat sitting down with a manager talking through some great strengths but also some real weaknesses of mine. But I do think that’s where we’re going to replace management with AI from an engagement perspective. And there are some great tools in the marketplace now that start to do this.

Traditionally, you’d have some sort of engagement survey with some data points and some feedback. A manager would get that and go okay what do I do with this? It’s a bit of a mix; some people are happy, some people are less happy. Some people are unhappy about the coffee, some people are unhappy about the way I lead. It’s a complete mix.

What AI starts to allow you to do is ask questions: how do I deal with this? How do I re-engage my team with the feedback I’ve got? The feedback you’ll get from the AI will be outstanding so, at a team manager level, they’ll be able to use it and use it very well.

Then as you start to go up the organisation and you’re looking at bigger themes, such as: will AI be able to start to point out to you ahead of time that someone’s risk of leaving has gone up? For example, someone’s logging on slightly later every day, spending more time browsing the internet and we see actually that is a typical behavioural change for people that look to leave the organisation. If you know about it in month one, two or three – not at the point where they’re already out in the market talking to other people – it gives you that chance to do something.

Some people love that, some people say that’s very big brother. So, it will always come back to HR to have to be able to walk both sides of the road. HR have to assess where the line is – where do people feel comfortable having AI assess the data and where do they feel it goes too far? That will be HR’s job for the foreseeable future.

AI means that the personal touch in recruitment is more important than ever.

In that past if you were advertising a role, whether it’s by your internal TA team or you’re working with a partner on it, with that first sift of CVs it would possible to do a relatively quick look to take out those which aren’t suitable because the quality of the CV, their experience, the way it’s written – you just know that’s not going to be a good fit. So, your ability to narrow was very high. I think soon you’re going to be receiving 100 CVs that all look very similar because they’ve all used the same software; they’ve all got similar experiences and the AI has said these are the right words to trigger if you’re applying for this sort of role. So, all of a sudden, your ability to sift and get to a short list is going to become incredibly difficult.

But, on the flip side that means that organisations are going to need to have much bigger networks and they’re going to need to work with partners that can see past that. Partners that can say we know the individual; we’ve worked with that candidate for a long time, we know they work well in this environment and they didn’t particularly work well in that environment.

These are things you can’t see from an application process. So, the personal touch from somebody hiring knowledge workers at a senior level is going to become even more important because you can’t trust the CV process as much as you used to.

That’s why HR will reach out to partners to say: who do you know in your close circle that are maybe passively looking or who has worked in this type of organisation before that you think you could put in front of me. And that leads back to that humanity piece, that personable touch, that ability to meet somebody in person get to know somebody in person that nothing will be able to replace.

Why is it important that HR teams embrace AI?

My advice to HR professionals or C-Suite on AI is: Don’t run away from it. Don’t think it’s a cool bit of software that the tech teams and the engineering teams can use to speed up how they code. Yes, that is part of it, but it’s a very small part of it. HR and have an equal responsibility along with technology in this to use the benefits to help grow our people and the world of work will change. We need to be right at the front of that. I promise you, do not allow it to be seen as a just a purely technological software implementation or tool.

How can HR teams use AI in shared services?

So, one of the more immediate areas we’ll be able to use generative AI in true value add is in shared services. So, managers and employees alike always come to HR with natural questions. For example, what’s the maternity policy? They only need that information at that one point in time, so you might do a communication about a change in policy six months ago, but they pay no attention because it doesn’t matter to them at that moment. If you’re lucky they’ll go and have a look at the policy, if they can find it, but most of the time they’ll come to an HR professional and ask.

But with the benefits of AI, you would be able to go in and query the tool and all of your HR information is now available via the AI. You can then ask a question about the maternity policy, and it will come back to you and it’ll give you the answer. But the real value will be, for example, if you’re a manager of somebody that’s about to go for maternity leave – it will ask whether you have thought about X, Y and Z? And if you’re the person that’s about to go on maternity leave, have you thought about how you’re going to talk to your manager about this, have you planned it? The AI will start to do the value-add piece on top that typically an HR professional would do. Instead, you’ll have in a system that will be able to give those answers and to advise you and make you start thinking, as opposed to just simply what you have at the moment which is good automation. At the moment you get the answer for the question you ask and that may be the right question – it may not. So, I think that is super exciting and again will help the HR profession.

Ian Marchant is the HR Director of Finastra. He is passionate about maximising productivity and fostering a positive workplace culture. With a business background including sales management, team leadership, and customer relationship management, he is contributing to Finastra’s mission to become the leading open platform for financial services.

Abigail Benham is an expert at connecting HR professionals and exciting businesses in HR, gaining a unique insight into the world of work for HR leaders and professionals. To speak to her or one of the team about the HR market, recruitment or your next career move please get in touch using the form below.

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