Indians are adapting to consume multiple services on the smartphone and are demanding the same from their financial services providers. COVID-19 has accelerated this digital trend beyond imagination and is transforming India from a data-poor to a data-rich nation. This data from various alternate sources coupled with traditional sources is the inflection point to the road to financial inclusion. Strong digital infrastructure and digital footprints will create a world of opportunities for incumbent banks, non-banks as well as new-age fintechs.
The Cloud Imperative for Banks
Banks today have an urgent need to stay relevant in the era of digitally savvy customers and rising fintechs. This journey for banks to survive and thrive will put Data Analytics and Cloud at the front and centre of their digital transformation.
A couple of years ago, banks viewed cloud as an outsourcing infrastructure to improve the cost curve. Today, banks are convinced that cloud provides many more advantages (Figure 1).
Banks are also increasingly partnering with fintechs for applications such as KYC, UI/UX and customer service. Fintechs are cloud-native and understand that cloud provides exponential innovation, speed to market, scalability, resilience, a better cost curve and security. They understand their business will not exist or reach scale if not for cloud. These bank-fintech partnerships are also making banks understand the cloud imperative.
Traditionally, banks in India have had concerns around data privacy and data sovereignty. There are also risks around migrating legacy systems, which are made of monolithic applications and do not have a service-oriented architecture. As a result, banks are now working on complete re-architecture of the core legacy systems. Banks are creating web services on top of legacy systems, which can talk to the new technologies. New applications being built are cloud ready. In fact, many applications may not connect to the core legacy systems. They are exploring moving customer interfaces, CRM applications and internal workflows to the cloud. Still early days, but banks are using cloud analytics for marketing campaigns, risk modelling and regulatory reporting.
The remote working world is irreversible, and banks also understand that cloud will form the backbone for internal communication, virtual desktops, and virtual collaboration.
Strategy for Cloud Service Providers (CSPs)
It is estimated that India’s public cloud services market is likely to become the largest market in the Asia Pacific behind only China, Australia, and Japan. Ecosystm research shows that 70% of banking organisations in India are looking to increase their cloud spending. Whichever way one looks at it, cloud is likely to remain a large and growing market. The Financial Services industry will be one of the prominent segments and should remain a focus for cloud service providers (CSPs).
I believe CSPs targeting India’s Banking industry should bucket their strategy under four key themes:
Partnering to Innovate and co-create solutions. CSPs must work with each business within the bank and re-imagine customer journeys and process workflow. This would mean banking domain experts and engineering teams of CSPs working with relevant teams within the bank. For some customer journeys, the teams have to go back to first principles and start from scratch i.e the financial need of the customer and how it is being re-imagined and fulfilled in a digital world. CSPs should also continue to engage with all ecosystem partners of banks to co-create cloud-native solutions. These partners could range from fintechs to vendors for HR, Finance, business reporting, regulatory reporting, data providers (which feeds into analytics engine). CSPs should partner with banks for experimentation by providing test environments. Some of the themes that are critical for banks right now are CRM, workspace virtualisation and collaboration tools. CSPs could leverage these themes to open the doors. API banking is another area for co-creating solutions. Core systems cannot be ‘lifted & shifted’ to the cloud. That would be the last mile in the digital transformation journey.
Partnering to mitigate ‘fear of the unknown’. As in the case of any key strategic shift, the tone of the executive management is important. A lot of engagement is required with the entire senior management team to build the ‘trust quotient’ of cloud. Understanding the benefits, risks, controls and the concept of ‘shared responsibility’ is important. I am an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and I realise how granular the security in the cloud can be (which is the responsibility of the bank and not of the CSP). This knowledge gap can be massive for smaller banks due to the non-availability of talent. If security in the cloud is not managed well, there is an immense risk to the banks.
Partnering for Risk Mitigation. Regulators will expect banks to treat CSPs like any other outsourcing service providers. CSPs should work with banks to create robust cloud governance frameworks for mitigating cloud-related risks such as resiliency, cybersecurity etc. Adequate communication is required to showcase the controls around data privacy (data at rest and transit), data sovereignty, geographic diversity of Availability Zones (to mitigate risks around natural calamities like floods) and Disaster Recovery (DR) site.
Partnering with Regulators. Building regulatory comfort is an equally important factor for the pace and extent of technology adoption in Financial Services. The regulators expect the banks to have a governance framework, detailed policies and operating guidelines covering assessment, contractual consideration, audit, inspection, change management, cybersecurity, exit plan etc. While partnering with regulators on creating the framework is important, it is equally important to demonstrate that banks have the skill sets to run the cloud and manage the risks. Engagement should also be linked to specific use cases which allow banks to effectively compete with fintech’s in the digital world (and expand financial access) and use cases for risk mitigation and fraud management. This would meet the regulator’s dual objective of market development as well as market stability.
Financial Services is a large and growing market for CSPs. Fintechs are cloud-native and certain sectors in the industry (like non-banks and insurance companies) have made progress in cloud adoption. It is well understood that the banks that were early adopters of cloud have clearly gained market share during COVID-19. Banks are keen to adopt cloud but need a partnership approach balancing innovation with risk management so that it is ‘not one step forward and two steps back’ for them.
The views and opinions mentioned in the article are personal. Anupam Verma is part of the Leadership team at ICICI Bank and his responsibilities have included leading the Bank’s strategy in South East Asia to play a significant role in capturing Investment, NRI remittance, and trade flows between SEA and India.
The Need to enable Foundational Shifts. The younger generation is more aware of environmental, social and governance issues that the world continues to face. Many of the countries in the region are emerging economies, where these issues become more apparent. COVID-19 has also inculcated an empathy in people and they are thinking of future success in terms of impact. The desire to enable foundational shifts is giving direction to the transformation journey in the region. The wonderful new paradigm that is the Digital Economy allows us to cut across all segments; and technology and its advancements has immense potential to create a more sustainable and inclusive future for the world.
Realising the Power of Momentum. The pandemic has caused major disruptions in the region. But every crisis also presents an opportunity to perhaps re-imagine a brighter world through a digital lens.The other thing that the pandemic has done is made people and organisations realise that to succeed they need to be open to change – and that momentum is important. As organisations had to pivot fast, they realised what I have been saying for years – we shouldn’t “let perfect get in the way of better”. This adaptability and the readiness to fail fast and learn from the mistakes early for eventual success, is leading to faster and more agile transformation journeys.
Where are we seeing the most impact?
Industries are Transforming. There are industries such as Healthcare and Education that had to transform out of a necessity and urgency brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to a greater impetus for change and optimism in these industries. These industries will continue to transform as governments focus significantly on creating “Social Safety Nets” and technology plays a key role in enabling critical services across Health, Education and Food Security. Then there are industries, such as the Financial Services and Retail, that had a strong customer focus and were well on their digital journeys before the pandemic. The pandemic boosted these efforts.
But these are not the only industries that are transforming. There are industries that have been impacted more than others. There are several instances of how organisations in these industries are demonstrating not only resilience but innovation. The Travel & Hospitality industry has had several such instances. As business models evolve the industry will see significant changes in digital channels to market, booking engines, corporate service offerings and others, as the overall Digital Strategy is overhauled.
Technologies are Evolving. Organisations depended on their tech partners to help them make the fast pivot required to survive and succeed in the last year – and tech companies have not disappointed. They have evolved their capabilities and continue to offer innovative solutions that can solve many of the ongoing business challenges that organisations face in their innovation journey. More and more technologies such as AI, machine learning, robotics, and digital twins are getting enmeshed together to offer better options for business growth, process efficiency and customer engagement. And the 5G rollouts will only accelerate that. The initial benefits being realized from early adoption of 5G has been for consumers. But there is a much bigger impact that is waiting to be realised as 5G empowers governments and businesses to make critical decisions at the edge.
Tech Start-ups are Flourishing. There are immense opportunities for technology start-ups to grow their market presence through innovative products and services. To succeed these companies need to have a strong investment roadmap; maintain a strong focus on customer engagement; and offer technology solutions that can fulfil the global needs of their customers. Technologies that promote efficiency and eliminate mundane tasks for humans are the need of the hour. However, as the reliance on technology-led transformation increases, tech vendors are becoming acutely aware that they cannot be best-in-class across the different technologies that an organisation will require to transform. Here is where having a robust partner ecosystem helps. Partnerships are bringing innovation to scale in Asia.
We can expect Asia to emerge as a powerhouse as businesses continue to innovate, embed technology in their product and service offerings – and as tech start-ups continue to support their innovation journeys.
Ecosystm CEO Amit Gupta gets face to face with Garrett Ilg, President Asia Pacific & Japan, Oracle to discuss the rise of the Asia Digital economies, the impact of the growing middle class on consumerism and the spirit of innovation across the region.
Reconciling these seemingly conflicting requirements is possible. But it requires serious commitment from business and data/ analytics leaders – not (just) because regulators demand it, but because it is good for their customers and their business, and the only way to start capturing the full value from AI/ML.
1. ‘Heart’, not just ‘Head’
It is relatively easy to get people excited about experimenting with AI/ML. But when it comes to actually trusting the model to make decisions for us, we humans are likely to put up our defences. Convincing a loan approver, insurance under-writer, medical doctor or front-line sales-person to trust an AI/ML model – over their own knowledge or intuition – is as much about the ‘heart’ as the ‘head’. Helping them understand, on their own terms, how the alternative is at least as good as their current way of doing things, is crucial.
2. A Broad Church
Even in industries/ organisations that recognise the importance of governing AI/ML, there is a tendency to define it narrowly. For example, in Financial Services, one might argue that “an ML model is just another model” and expect existing Model Risk teams to deal with any incremental risks from AI/ML.
There are two issues with this approach:
First, AI/ML models tend to require a greater focus on model quality (e.g., with respect to stability, overfitting and unjust bias) than their traditional alternatives. The pace at which such models are expected to be introduced and re-calibrated is also much higher, stretching traditional model risk management approaches.
Second, poorly designed AI/ML models create second order risks. While not unique to AI/ML, these risks become accentuated due to model complexity, greater dependence on (high-volume, often non-traditional) data and ubiquitous adoption. One example is poor customer experience (e.g., badly communicated decisions) and unfair treatment (e.g., unfair denial of service, discrimination, misselling, inappropriate investment recommendations). Another is around the stability, integrity and competitiveness of financial markets (e.g., unintended collusion with other market players). Obligations under data privacy, sovereignty and security requirements could also become more challenging.
The only way to respond holistically is to bring together a broad coalition – of data managers and scientists, technologists, specialists from risk, compliance, operations and cyber-security, and business leaders.
3. Automate, Automate, Automate
A key driver for the adoption and effectiveness of AI/ ML is scalability. The techniques used to manage traditional models are often inadequate in the face of more data-hungry, widely used and rapidly refreshed AI/ML models. Whether it is during the development and testing phase, formal assessment/ validation or ongoing post-production monitoring, it is impossible to govern AI/ML at scale using manual processes alone.
o, somewhat counter-intuitively, we need more automation if we are to build and sustain trust in AI/ML. As humans are accountable for the outcomes of AI/ ML models, we can only be ‘in charge’ if we have the tools to provide us reliable intelligence on them – before and after they go into production. As the recent experience with model performance during COVID-19 suggests, maintaining trust in AI/ML models is an ongoing task.
I have heard people say “AI is too important to be left to the experts”. Perhaps. But I am yet to come across an AI/ML practitioner who is not keenly aware of the importance of making their models reliable and safe. What I have noticed is that they often lack suitable tools – to support them in analysing and monitoring models, and to enable conversations to build trust with stakeholders. If AI is to be adopted at scale, that must change.
Shameek Kundu is Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Financial Services at TruEra Inc. TruEra helps enterprises analyse, improve and monitor quality of machine
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#1 The New Decade of the ‘Empowered’ Consumer Will Propel Green Finance and Sustainability Considerations Beyond Regulators and Corporates
We have seen multiple countries set regulations and implement Emissions Trading Systems (ETS) and 2021 will see Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations growing in importance in the investment decisions for asset managers and hedge funds. Efforts for ESG standards for risk measurement will benefit and support that effort.
The primary driver will not only be regulatory frameworks – rather it will be further propelled by consumer preferences. The increased interest in climate change, sustainable business investments and ESG metrics will be an integral part of the reaction of the society to assist in the global transition to a greener and more humane economy in the post-COVID era. Individuals and consumers will demand FinTech solutions that empower them to be more environmentally and socially responsible. The performance of companies on their ESG ratings will become a key consideration for consumers making investment decisions. We will see corporate focus on ESG become a mainstay as a result – driven by regulatory frameworks and the consumer’s desire to place significant important on ESG as an investment criterion.
#2 Consumers Will Truly Be ‘Front and Centre’ in Reshaping the Financial Services Digital Ecosystems
Consumers will also shape the market because of the way they exercise their choices when it comes to transactional finance. They will opt for more discrete solutions – like microfinance, micro-insurances, multiple digital wallets and so on. Even long-standing customers will no longer be completely loyal to their main financial institutions. This will in effect take away traditional business from established financial institutions. Digital transformation will need to go beyond just a digital Customer Experience and will go hand-in-hand with digital offerings driven by consumer choice.
As a result, we will see the emergence of stronger digital ecosystems and partnerships between traditional financial institutions and like-minded FinTechs. As an example, platforms such as the API Exchange (APIX) will get a significant boost and play a crucial role in this emerging collaborative ecosystem. APIX was launched by AFIN, a non-profit organisation established in 2018 by the ASEAN Bankers Association (ABA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). Such platforms will create a level playing field across all tiers of the Financial Services innovation ecosystem by allowing industry participants to Discover, Design and rapidly Deploy innovative digital solutions and offerings.
#3 APIfication of Banking Will Become Mainstream
2020 was the year when banks accepted FinTechs into their product and services offerings – 2021 will see FinTech more established and their technology offerings becoming more sophisticated and consumer-led. These cutting-edge apps will have financial institutions seeking to establish partnerships with them, licensing their technologies and leveraging them to benefit and expand their customer base. This is already being called the “APIficiation” of banking. There will be more emphasis on the partnerships with regulated licensed banking entities in 2021, to gain access to the underlying financial products and services for a seamless customer experience.
This will see the growth of financial institutions’ dependence on third-party developers that have access to – and knowledge of – the financial institutions’ business models and data. But this also gives them an opportunity to leverage the existent Fintech innovations especially for enhanced customer engagement capabilities (Prediction #2).
#4 AI & Automation Will Proliferate in Back-Office Operations
From quicker loan origination to heightened surveillance against fraud and money laundering, financial institutions will push their focus on back-office automation using machine learning, AI and RPA tools (Figure 3). This is not only to improve efficiency and lower risks, but to further enhance the customer experience. AI is already being rolled out in customer-facing operations, but banks will actively be consolidating and automating their mid and back-office procedures for efficiency and automation transition in the post COVID-19 environment. This includes using AI for automating credit operations, policy making and data audits and using RPA for reducing the introduction of errors in datasets and processes.
There is enormous economic pressure to deliver cost savings and reduce risks through the adoption of technology. Financial Services leaders believe that insights gathered from compliance should help other areas of the business, and this requires a completely different mindset. Given the manual and semi-automated nature of current AML compliance, human-only efforts slow down processing timelines and impact business productivity. KYC will leverage AI and real-time environmental data (current accounts, mortgage payment status) and integration of third-party data to make the knowledge richer and timelier in this adaptive economic environment. This will make lending risk assessment more relevant.
#5 Driven by Post Pandemic Recovery, Collaboration Will Shape FinTech Regulation
Travel corridors across border controls have started to push the boundaries. Just as countries develop new processes and policies based on shared learning from other countries, FinTech regulators will collaborate to harmonise regulations that are similar in nature. These collaborative regulators will accelerate FinTech proliferation and osmosis i.e. proliferation of FinTechs into geographies with lower digital adoption.
Data corridors between countries will be the other outcome of this collaboration of FinTech regulators. Sharing of data in a regulated environment will advance data science and machine learning to new heights assisting credit models, AI, and innovations in general. The resulting ‘borderless nature’ of FinTech and the acceleration of policy convergence across several previously siloed regulators will result in new digital innovations. These Trusted Data Corridors between economies will be further driven by the desire for progressive governments to boost the Digital Economy in order to help the post-pandemic recovery.
Talent has always been difficult to find. Even with globalisation, significant investment of time and resources is needed to find and relocate talent to the right geography. In many instances this was not possible given the preferences of the candidates and/or the hiring managers. COVID-19 has changed this drastically. Remote working and distributed teams have become acceptable. With limitations on immigration and travel for work, there is a lot more openness to finding and hiring talent from outside the traditional talent pool.
However it is not as simple as it seems. The cost per applicant (CPA) – the cost to convert a job seeker to a job applicant – had been averaging US$11-12 throughout 2019 according to recruiting benchmark data from programmatic recruitment advertising provider, Appcast. But, the impact of COVID-19 saw the CPA reach US$19 in June – a 60% increase. I expect that finding right talent is going to be a “needle in a haystack” issue. But this is only one side of the coin – the other aspect is that the talent profile needed to be successful in roles that are all remote or hybrid is also significantly different from what it was before. Companies need to pay special attention to what kind of people they would like to hire in these new roles. Without this due consideration it is very likely that there would be difficulty in on-boarding and making these new hires successful within the organisation.
Automation Augmentation and Skills
The pace at which companies are choosing to automate or apply AI is increasing. This is changing the work patterns and job requirements for many roles within the industry. According to the BCG China AI study on the financial sector 23% of the roles will be replaced by AI by 2027. The roles that will not be replaced will need a higher degree of soft skills, critical thinking and creativity. However, automation is not the endgame. Firms that go ahead with automation without considering the implications on the business process, and the skills and roles it impacts will end up disrupting the business and customer experience. Firms will have to really design their customer journeys, their business processes along with roles and capabilities needed. Job redesign and reskilling will be key to ensuring a great customer experience
Analytics is Inadequate Without the Right Culture
Data-driven decision-making as well as modelling is known to add value to business. We have great examples of analytics and data modelling being used successfully in Attrition, Recruitment, Talent Analytics, Engagement and Employee Experience. The next evolution is already underway with advanced analytics, sentiment analysis, organisation network analysis and natural language processing (NLP) being used to draw better insights and make people strategies predictive. Being able to use effective data models to predict and and draw insights will be a key success factor for leadership teams. Data and bots do not drive engagement and alignment to purpose – leaders do. Working to promote transparency of data insights and decisions, for faster response, to champion diversity, and give everyone a voice through inclusion will lead to better co-creation, faster innovation and an overall market agility.
Creating a Synergy
We are seeing a number of resets to what we used to know, believe and think about the ways of working. It is a good time to rethink what we believe about the customer, business talent and tech. Just like customer experience is not just about good sales skills or customer service – the employee experience and role of Talent is also evolving rapidly. As companies experiment with work models, technology and work environment, there will a need to constantly recalibrate business models, job roles, job technology and skills. With this will come the challenge of melding the pieces together within the context of the entire business without falling into the trap of siloed thinking. Only by bringing together businesses processes, talent, capability evolution, culture and digital platforms together as one coherent ecosystem can firms create a winning formula to create a competitive edge.
Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Talent Summit
For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit which will cover topics on Founders success and failure stories, pandemic impact on founders and talent development, upskilling and reskilling for the future of work.
Let us take Singapore as an example. With 1000+ FinTech firms and increasing investments, the “smart financial centre” initiative of Singapore is a huge success story, recognised globally. To sustain this, apart from innovation and technology, the main ingredient is consistent availability of talent as the demand for expertise in technology and financial services increases, while the supply is inconsistent, uncurated and fragmented.Recent data from the Singapore government job portals reveal that there are several hundred jobs at any point in time posted by FinTech companies that are open for months! This invariably slows down the ability to build businesses, innovate or scale. Interestingly, while the local talent for technology and BFSI may be limited in Singapore, the crisis this year presented a significant opportunity to reimagine the Future of Work and workforce. While efforts should continue to upskill and reskill local talent, it is now possible to create dedicated local and cross-border talent hubs to work part-time, fulltime-short term with the option of working physically or remotely. We expect the plug and play of freelance management experts and expertise to cost 25-30% less to an enterprise, keeps costs flexible and dramatically shortens time to “hire and deploy” from an average of 120 days to 15 days.
Gigs and Generations – Conceptual Clarity of Who We Need
Culturally, the US and Europe are more accepting of freelancing as full-time careers compared to the Asia Pacific. It is predicted that by 2027 the majority of the workforce in the US will be freelancers overtaking traditional employment. The buzz in the Asia Pacific has just started with both employers and employable talent accepting a new reality – learning to run businesses with a blended workforce, starting at the top of the pyramid. Particularly, since the ratio of new jobs to lost jobs is skewed in the wrong direction.
Power of Blended Workforce
A blended workforce is a combination of permanent, part-time, full time-short term and turnkey practitioners, working as a single collaborative workforce. It is built around business activity clusters – Strategy, Implementation and Institutionalisation, applied to create a plan for core and non-core workforce to drive business.
A creative estimation of how a blended workforce gets distributed across the three business clusters is depicted below (Figure 2). What is important here is to recognise that the ratio of permanent to flexible workforce has to start at 10-15% across different levels. Enterprises will gain the most on cost optimisation when they focus on the management layer to go blended. Not an easy change to drive but then change is often driven by some tough calls and some low hanging fruits to build a sustainable cost model.
Developing & Implementing a Blended Workforce Strategy: What to Consider
Fix the core and flex the non-core should be the mantra
Identify roles by each business and function
Segregate core and non-core roles by job profiles
Classify them into buckets of permanent full time, permanent part time, cyclical, and freelance on demand, based on:
Time demand for the roles
Importance to business goals
Criticality to daily business output
Criticality to daily or weekly business continuity
Set up a process to engage and create a blended workforce strategy
Implement the plan with a blend of a common self-service platform and a central client service team to source, engage and deploy workforces
Once the process review is completed, the organisation structures will be finalised. Creation of a strategy and the process are the easier parts. A disciplined fulfilment of the plan is critical to success. So, is this the new normal? Pretty much yes, if organisations need to optimise costs and be agile to reduce or scale with freelance experts and shared talent pools.
The Potential Benefits of a Blended Workforce
A Blended Workforce will help reduce your talent scarcity gap, while providing thousands of work opportunities to locals who are freelance experts. So, what are these benefits that can make you sleep better at night better?
Cost optimisation. Freelance experts do not need the fully loaded costs. They can work remotely or physically and do not need investment in regular training, insurance, or other related benefits.
Targeted purpose-hire for short term. With deliverables specified upfront, measurable, results focused and tracked for closure.
Job Sharing. Two or may be three, for the prize of one! Jobs can be dismantled to tasks or activity clusters to hire more than one expert in place of a full-time role. Enables razor sharp focus on sourcing for expertise, increases employment opportunities and accelerates productivity.
Boundaryless with an opportunity to find cross-border talent pools to work on-demand, remotely. It cuts both ways- Singaporean talent finding work opportunities outside the country whilst the best talent from other countries made available to grow Singapore’s economy.
Speed of hire is dramatically reduced (we have several client cases, with a reduction from an average of 120 days to 15 days, to clients’ delight!)
Reduced infrastructure costs because the workforce works remotely or at best part-time physically. Easy to implement with hot desking, if needed but enables permanent cost reduction.
Builds resilience by staying agile and nimble in the cost line, with an ability to scale up or down rapidly based on business needs.
How Open is the Financial Services Industry to Blended Workforce and Future of Work?
SolvecubeHR conducted a recent survey with CXOs across 22 countries, predominantly focused on the Asia Pacific region. Some key findings for the financial services industry are:
In summary, a blended workforce is the Future of Work. Asia Pacific will see a massive shift in its mindset from “jobs to work opportunities”. Employers and talent pools will embrace new ways of working to remain agile and prudent. The power of aggregation, curation, and collaboration by leveraging an AI matchmaking platform, backed by creation of shared talent pools, will be a game changer.
FinTech innovation and performance is here to stay and thrive. It needs to be backed by a well-oiled machine to support implementation of a blended workforce plan to institutionalise and scale.
We can build technologies to disintermediate people dependency, but we cannot take humans out of the human capital needed to build these technologies.
About iCube: iCube Consortium is a Singapore based, Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions firm, with an award-winning AI platform to source and manage freelance management experts and execute turnkey assignments in Asia and Middle East
Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Talent Summit
For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit which will cover topics on Founders success and failure stories, pandemic impact on founders and talent development, upskilling and reskilling for the future of work.