On Technology, Sociology, and Millennial Talents – Dr. Nilanjan Raghunath, Assistant Professor, Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Singapore University of Technology and Design

ACTS, Professors

May 23, 2020

In Collaboration With

In this article, we speak to Dr. Nilanjan Raghunath, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Dr. Nilanjan has done numerous research on the sociology of work, forms of capital, and social stratification in the 4th industrial revolution. In particular, she is the author of the book titled “Shaping the Future of Work:  The Power of Collaboration in Times of Disruption.” We had an enjoyable time speaking to a Sociology scholar and asking the many questions that have been troubling financial leaders.

TFAGeeks:Hi Dr. Nilanjan, we appreciate your time and effort and contributing to our series of articles for the Finance and Treasury community. Firstly, for our audience who are mainly CFOs, Corporate Treasurers, and Finance professionals, what is Sociology and how can we apply it in our world of Finance and Treasury?”

Dr. Nilanjan: “Sociology is the scientific study of how individuals, groups, and institutions interact and influence one another.  It is very useful in the economic and finance sectors because it helps C-Suite professionals and managers understand and manage their employees in the new normal.  It can help answer questions such as how to improve organisational culture, social networks, user behavior, innovation, etc.  Also, it helps to understand how individuals act under different social and environmental circumstances.  More specifically, it can help financial organisations and managers understand investor behavior, crowdfunding, and social influence.  The economic crisis of 2008–2010 stimulated an already growing Sociological interest in finance to study financial innovation, deregulation, and reorganisation. Furthermore, Sociology helps finance professionals understand the impact of capital market integration, global interdependence, and liberalisation.  One of the things I currently research is the impact of crypto-currency de-regulation on the future of work and the kinds of new jobs that will emerge. Hence, Sociology is highly relevant to understand current and future trends in the finance industry.”

SUTD’s Gen Z

TFAGeeks:Very interestingly, many CFOs, Treasurers, and Finance leaders have Millennials in their teams and are expecting Gen Z to come into the workforce. Some have found the younger generation of talents having very different sets of work ethics and expectations, some CVs are very colorful with multiple job experiences in different fields and on short tenor. Most of the Managers are probably in their 2nd or 3rd jobs and have very different sets of values and expectations. Is this a phenomenon that only we see in the Finance and Treasury world, or is this the new normal? How should we cope with it?”

Dr. Nilanjan: “Job hopping is common with the younger generations of Millennials and Generation Z, who look for personal fulfillment in their jobs and will not hesitate to leave jobs for small salary increments, or an entrepreneurial venture.  The younger generation is also enthused by the positive environmental impact of organisations, fair pay, gender equity, and sustainability. They prefer jobs where they can access continuous learning and growth across functional roles. They are conscious of the latest trends in the market and like trying new ideas.  This makes them prone to risk-taking without prior experience.  They can be both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial.  They like being empowered in the organisation and by their line managers. They prefer working with, rather than working for someone.  They can be stereotyped as idiosyncratic and entitled. However, managers would benefit from tapping on their zest to make a quick impression and positive difference by rotating them in new or even risky projects that require innovation.  They are sometimes overawed by face-to-face communication and would benefit from mentoring by their managers who are likely ‘Generation X’ers’ and reverse mentoring them in return.  Examples include training in face-to-face negotiations and networking skills, in return for better online communication.  Furthermore, experienced managers should guide them on risk and arbitrage.”

TFAGeeks:The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on financial markets, economies, and personal lives. Most of us are now working from home, and very often – we hear of peers lamenting that they have been busier than ever and are adjusting and coping with the changes. Some are clearly enjoying the new work culture and are flourishing in it, while quite a few are probably still trying to find their bearings and adjusting to it. Are Finance and Treasury professionals less savvy at adapting to the new working from home environments? Or is the change too sudden and perhaps destabilizing? Do you have any advice for the Finance leaders who are perhaps coping with the changes themselves, and are also managing a team remotely?”

Dr. Nilanjan: “Working from home is challenging because the separation of work and leisure time is harder to demarcate and because many parents need to home school their kids.  Also, in the case of finance professionals, due to the need for security enabled specialized hardware and software,  those who work on the trading floor might find it more challenging.  However, it is easier than ever to work from home now with advanced technologies for most kinds of jobs.  For senior leaders, it is important to keep their teams motivated and validated remotely.  Since more work is being digitised anyway, working from home will mean faster digitisation and testing ground for organisations to try out new financial models and systems.

Study Pods

TFAGeeks:Do you think post Covid-19, the way businesses and organisational behavior will change? Perhaps even the entire social fabric will change? How should we prepare ourselves for it? And what are the key areas that any Finance leader should take note of?”

Dr. Nilanjan: Certainly, we need to rethink the idea of what disruption means.  Disruptions can be positive such as technological advancements, or challenges such as environmental, economic, and public health crises.  I quote from my upcoming book that “flux is the new normal.” Organisations, therefore, should adapt quickly to flux and look for new markets and novel avenues for diversification and create dedicated crisis teams. It will also mean new ways of looking at and managing short term and long-term risks through pre-emptive leadership. Here predictive data science applications combined with leadership that is proactive and empathetic could provide highly useful recovery tools.  It will also mean innovative ways to mitigate short term financial risks and invest in employee training for long term benefits.”

TFAGeeks:Technology has changed rapidly over the past decade, we have seen how it has changed our personal lives and working environment. With the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, many businesses have gone online, business operations scrambled to trigger their business continuity plans to enable staff to work from home, and in fact, many are joking that Covid-19 are their best Chief Technology Officer in effecting digitisation at their workplace. What is your view on this, and do you think the new normal in the business world will only be for organisations who are digitalised and online?”

Dr. Nilanjan: “Covid-19 has accelerated digitisation but it is not the only cause.  Digitisation was already in the works for most businesses for them to remain competitive and move towards the goals of the nation’s “smart nation” vision in Singapore. Globally, advances in telecommunication, software, and hardware have meant new ways of remote working. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for businesses to test the exigencies of digitisation and remote work.  Some challenges that organisations need to overcome are retaining employee trust, organisational culture, collaboration, employee wellness, and overall commitment. Organisations have to show that they care about employees on many levels and support work from home life balance.  This will particularly affect the gig and sharing economy financial models, as people may change their consumption preferences. The new normal will require organisations to stay resilient and provide more upskilling and reskilling opportunities to their employees so that employees can retrain to retain their jobs while employers find new ways to stay profitable.  This is certainly a big challenge, but organisations should take advantage of the many initiatives and grants provided by the government and with preemptive measures to fight the aftermath of the pandemic on financial markets. Furthermore, the COVID-19 situation has meant enormous financial and economic uncertainty for employers; fresh graduates are worried about finding timely employment after they graduate; mid-level employees are worried about being made redundant either due to the pandemic or by technological disruption.  The challenge is on all sides and collaboration is the key to finding viable solutions.”

Peering into the future

TFAGeeks:Will human beings become redundant as a result? Will skills and knowledge that many of our Finance and Treasury professionals accumulated over the years of experience be made redundant by automation, digitalisation, and technology?”

Dr. Nilanjan: The finance industry is fast revolutionizing in terms of data science, machine learning, AI, and algorithms, which are likely to cause major disruptions to many routine accounting and finance jobs.  However, higher-order financial skills combined with innovation strategy will become valuable, as new cross-functional roles emerge in the future in finance related industries.  Human beings will not become redundant in their workplaces as long as they create opportunities for themselves and others.  It means rising up the work value chain and being a revenue generator for themselves and their organisations.  For example, creating new financial software and AI systems and making these systems less vulnerable to cyber-attacks are some ways to stay relevant. However, certain functional roles and jobs that are repetitive might become redundant with time.  Historically, this has happened at the turn of every industrial revolution when new technologies were introduced in the workplace.  Nonetheless, new jobs and roles were created to work alongside and engage with new technologies.  Take for example the computer, which replaced the traditional bookkeeper, typist, and the stenographer of the 1950s to 1970s.  New jobs were created alongside new software for things like accounting and auditing.  Tackling job disruptions requires forethought and advance planning to know what kinds of jobs will be required in the near and distant future.  For example, learning statistical data science, advanced mathematics, management accounting, and programming skills are useful. Also, one should consider picking up nuanced skills such as those taught in the Social Sciences, like Sociology, to better understand complex factors such as the effects of cultures and globalization, trade wars and pandemics on financial markets. Locally, the online Skills Future courses are an excellent option for skills upgrading. Alternatively,  several universities are offering a plethora of free upskilling courses online.”


TFAGeeks:The roles and responsibilities of the CFOs and Treasurers are increasingly getting wider and broader, some are covering IT, Blockchain, AI on top of their fundamental areas in accounting, finance, and treasury. Do you think the younger generation who are exposed to many disciplines and broadly trained are more likely to succeed in these new roles? Or we are having a generation of a workforce who are perhaps too broad but no depth?”

Dr. Nilanjan: There is a delicate balance between depth versus breadth.  It has become increasingly important to have both core competencies and multi-disciplinary education, like what we teach at SUTD.  While specialization is necessary, the younger generation also needs to be able to think outside the box and be innovative to tackle complex problems.  They also need to be global, go on overseas exchanges, internships, and work in teams to learn how to manage crises.  While experience does count for a lot in the finance industry, it has been increasingly challenged by a person’s ability to learn new skills and tackle challenges as quickly as possible.  The ones who can morph themselves and adapt quickly will likely survive the high and low tides of technological or crises led disruptions.”

TFAGeeks:On the eve of an interview for a coveted position at a top firm, who will likely lose sleep over the outcome of the interview – the fresh graduate or the hiring manager? If you can grant a single word of advice for either party, what would it be?”

Dr. Nilanjan: Both managers and fresh graduates will lose sleep.  The hiring manager will lose sleep because it is hard for her or him to filter candidates that will be competent and committed to the company in an increasingly competitive, changing, and challenging job environment. Furthermore, hiring good employees is the crux of a company’s financial success.

Also, the fresh graduate will lose sleep because they are typically nervous about job interviews.  Paradoxically while they are digital natives with an abundance of information via the Internet, they tend to undervalue focused research through valid sources on organisations, before joining them.  Instead, they typically ask their friends and look at social media posts for advice, and in some cases, they cannot articulate their vision for a first job.  While employers should know what to look for, fresh graduates should know what they are looking for as well. I suggest that employers include a few broad questions about their companies in job interviews to see if the candidate has the passion and curiosity about the organisation.”

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