Leading By Example

By Rio Rose Ribaya

Asian Banking School embraces change to stand out and overcome unprecedented transformations in the banking and financial sector.

The current trend of automation and data exchange continues to surge around the world. And as the fourth wave of the Industrial Revolution crashes further on to the Malaysian shores, the financial industry is forced to ride the tide – transforming the way it develops its products, deliver its services and conduct its businesses to sustain its relevance in the modern world.

For the Asian Banking School (ABS), adapting to these changes and initiating new transformative ones has been crucial to them now becoming the largest provider of specialised training programmes for the banking sector in Malaysia and the region.

“The industry is in a period of unprecedented change, and it moves at a much quicker pace. It is, therefore, important that the training programmes that we offer reflect these changes,” ABS Chief Executive Officer Professor Colyn Gardner tells GRADUAN.

Created for the industry by the industry as an independent entity, ABS was built upon the decades-long experience of the Institute of Bankers Malaysia (IBBM) in delivering professional qualifications and training programmes and started full operations in August 2015. In that short span of time, it has successfully transformed the banking education landscape and now offers wide-ranging programmes that cover all levels of talent in the industry from graduate training right up to executive education for senior management for about 30,000 banking professionals every year.

“Not only have we produced more programmes, but we made them very much more relevant. They are also more up-to-date and more useful to the people who take the courses. So, that when they go back to the banks, they have got something that they can use that adds to their value as professionals,” Gardner clarified.

“We don’t just develop training courses and run them year after year. We’re also constantly updating the content of the training modules themselves,” he explained.

Making FSTEP relevant
But the changes that ABS has spearheaded do not end there. One of its most well-known programmes, the Financial Sector Talent Enrichment Programme (FTSEP), has also underwent a lot of structural transformations since ABS took over its management three years ago. Most significantly, it has shortened the programme duration from the previous six-month period to an intensive and impactful three-month period in the classroom. The curriculum has also been changed drastically to be more current and relevant to the industry.

Created in 2007 in collaboration with Bank Negara Malaysia, FSTEP is a comprehensive graduate training programme that is designed to help fresh graduates jumpstart their career in the financial services industry. Every year, financial and non-financial degree holders – who have work experience not exceeding 3 years and age 30 and below – are chosen to join and receive an allowance from various Malaysia-based banking and financial institutions.

For its 11th year run in 2019, Dr. Vijayan Paramsothy, the director of FSTEP and Graduate Training at ABS, explains, “Another transformation that we have made is that we’re going to have two FSTEP intakes next year, from our current once a year, to accommodate for the increasing demand from the financial institutions. The first one will be held in April and another one in September so that we can help even more fresh graduates to transition from just having a university background to moving into a working environment.”

Advantages of advocating change
Unlike internally developed graduate programmes by financial institutions, the changes made on FSTEP have enabled its participants to learn more than just the internal processes, policies, and culture of that organisation. They are guaranteed to gain all-encompassing knowledge from leading trainers, subject matter experts and industry leaders, with the invaluable experience to impart to those just starting out in the industry.

In fact, with the direction by the industry towards digital transformation, ABS has revamped their training modules again for 2019 in order to have about 20% of the technical aspects of the programme to be in the area of FinTech, Big Data, Digital Banking, Design Thinking and Programming. This will give the new batch of graduates a solid foundation in the knowledge that they would need to do well in the industry today.

The participants will also get the opportunity to improve on their leadership and soft skills, which can help them to perform their daily tasks – from the way they dress and carry themselves in office meetings down to their English-speaking abilities. This, Paramsothy explained, enables the aspiring professionals to adapt from university life to their new working environment, which they will move to after they graduate from FSTEP.

We don’t just develop training courses and run them year after year. We’re also constantly updating the content of the training modules themselves

Achievements in the last 3 years
The structural changes made on FSTEP did not go unnoticed. Aside from getting requests for additional intakes in a year, ABS continues to receive praise from banks for producing high calibre graduates who actually stand out once they get back to work.

“They have been telling us that it normally takes three years before the graduates from their internal training programmes get promoted to the next level. But many FSTEP graduates actually get promoted in only two years. So, our students can achieve it one year ahead of everybody else,” Paramsothy explained.

“FSTEP has become very successful. The amount of investment that has gone into the programme is so immense. The consequence is that the graduates who have been coming out of it are now very successful. They are so much in demand by many of the banks, which have not previously been sending their own people to FSTEP but are now doing so or are planning to do so,” Gardner confirmed.

Looking into the future
Originally working on a five-year time frame, ABS has achieved financial independence just in its third year. It is a big feat and a reflection of the institution’s drive to develop and take the strategic direction it needs to take to face the fast-paced changes it continues to see in the marketplace.

Within these next three years, ABS is looking into extending its reach outside Malaysia and into other Asian countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, which offers much promise.

“Vietnam has a population three times the size of Malaysia. It’s quite a young population that’s extremely hard-working and it’s natural for an organisation like us to be looking for training opportunities in countries with large banking communities like it.” Gardner explained, revealing that they are working on finalising a collaborative partnership with one of the largest Vietnamese banks in delivering a major training programme on relationship management for the wealth sector of the Southeast Asian country next year.

He added, “Our challenge right now is that the training programme has to be done in Vietnamese, but we are working on finding a solution for that and are confident that it will be resolved successfully.”

“So, the way that we will be doing things in the future will not necessarily be the same as what we are doing today. New products, up to date training programmes, different learning platforms, world class learning partners and new markets. We must be as agile or even more as the industry that we serve to stay relevant and be in demand. And that’s all the excitement of everything we do,” he concluded.

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