One of Japan's Biggest Banks Is After Google Wannabes and Foreigners

(Bloomberg) -- One of Japan’s biggest banks is throwing away the cookie cutter when it comes to hiring fresh graduates.

One of Japan's Biggest Banks Is After Google Wannabes and Foreigners

Realizing it was recruiting “exactly the same” types of people each year, Mizuho Financial Group Inc. now wants to hire more creative thinkers who can help it meet challenges such as the technological upheaval facing banks, said Shinya Uda, a human resources manager at Japan’s third-biggest lender. That includes science majors, foreigners, and people who are looking to work for technology giants such as Google owner Alphabet Inc.

“I told my team to go out and find people who aren’t interested in finance,” Uda said in an interview. “It was kind of an impossible request, but I said ‘Find me someone who’s weighing up going to Google.”’

Global banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. are also seeking to diversify away from finance graduates to adapt their workforces to a rapidly changing business environment. Japan’s biggest lenders are slashing branches and headcount as customers go mobile and near-zero interest rates reduce profitability, forcing banks to find ways to do more than just lend.

“It’s a recruiting policy that’s in line with the times,” said Nana Otsuki, chief analyst at Monex Inc. in Tokyo. “Banks can’t make profits from traditional banking business as long as interest rates stay low, so if they’re going to grow earnings from other businesses, it makes sense to seek a new type of talent.”

One of Japan's Biggest Banks Is After Google Wannabes and Foreigners

Mizuho plans to cut 19,000 positions over the next decade, and those who remain will need to build an organization that can survive in a world where technology is spawning new rivals and partners. The Tokyo-based bank recently appointed a digital innovation chief and has been working on initiatives ranging from electronic payments to AI-driven lending.

“We want the kinds of people who have the creativity to take us in a new direction,” Uda said.

Like most major companies in Japan, Mizuho courts university students in a lengthy ritual of tests, seminars and interviews during their final year of school. This year, it sent out 70,000 copies of a recruitment brochure bearing the slogan, “We want to meet people who aren’t Mizuho types.” It plans to hire about 400 graduates for the year starting April 2019, down from more than 600 two years earlier as the bank moves toward shrinking its workforce.

After three years of testing candidates’ competencies, Mizuho found that its recruits tended to be strong in areas such as teamwork and problem solving but weak in creativity. It tweaked its approach to marketing and interviewing to address the issue, resulting in more than a third of applicants it plans to give offers to for next year’s intake scoring highly on creative thinking, up from about a fifth in recent years, Uda said.

“It’s not that we don’t need the people we’ve been getting, it’s just that it would be a problem if we only got that type,” he said.

About 10 percent of those being offered jobs will be foreign or educated overseas, a figure that’s doubled in the past two years. So-called STEM students -- who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics -- are also expected to make up about 10 percent, and Mizuho wants to double the allocation in 2020, Uda said.

Fellow megabank Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. has also adjusted its recruiting plans this year to target more science and technology graduates, a spokesman for the Tokyo-based lender said. Japan’s largest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., said it already hires the talent it needs and hasn’t made any significant changes to its policies.

Uda recognizes that it may be difficult to keep motivation high among employees who weren’t necessarily interested in finance at school. Another risk is that workers end up being molded into the existing culture.

“The challenge is retention,” he said. “We need to change by injecting new blood into the company, and the culture won’t change if they just end up taking on Mizuho colors.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.