The Digital Evolution

By Hadi Azmi

EPF’s Chief Technology Officer talks about the evolving nature of digital technology and his mission to harness it for the storied institution.

From humble beginnings as a coder before anyone knew what a coder is, Afhzal Abdul Rahman carved his way up the ladder of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), becoming its Chief Technology Officer with the task to bring the institution up to speed for the amazing advancements of the 21st century.

“Our aspiration is to become Digital EPF and what it means is we want to be the trusted social security organisation that is also relevant in the digital age,” says Afhzal from the top floor of the fund’s landmark headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur.

Holding a position that did not exist a decade ago, Afhzal says that digital technology, or IT as it was previously known, is evolving beyond just doing technical support from the back office and is now an essential part of business, transitioning into an avenue for opportunities in potential new markets, revenue channels or business models around digital and technology.

“Organisations and corporations today are expecting the head of IT, the chief of IT, CIO, CTO, whatever you call the role, to become a business partner and advisor to steer and drive the digital transition. The role of IT has been around for some time now but it has evolved significantly,” say Afhzal.

Among the new technologies being explored at EPF include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) as well as the exciting realms of augmented and virtual reality that are being developed into solutions to enable the fund to function more efficiently to increase its productivity and provide added benefits to its clients.

Founded in 1951 as a compulsory retirement savings fund for employees from the private sector, EPF plays a very significant part in the life of over 14.5 million Malaysians. This sheer reach is undeniably a unique challenge for Afhzal and his team but it also introduces a special opportunity to do work that has a significant impact to a very large user base.

“Being in EPF, we’re in a unique position of being able to have great impact. Everything we do touches 14 million members; it touches 500,000 employers,” says Afhzal.

This according to him is his answer to the millennials who are hungry to make a mark on the world as to why EPF is an attractive employer of choice while battling popular perception of the Fund being a traditional and boring financial institution.

Being a tech enthusiast himself, Afhzal of course views technology-related skills as a minimum prerequisite to joining his team. However, what matters more are the human skills.

“It’s the ability to have that growth mindset, the ability to always strive for learning, being able to face challenges, go through setbacks, but then grow out of that, learn from that, fail fast, being inquisitive,” he says. “Those are the key ingredients I look for when I interview candidates. The technical skills are the bare minimum just to qualify for the interview.”

Even as the Chief Technology Officer of such a huge organisation, Afhzal believes in continuous learning and ensures he spends at least half an hour daily to read up on the latest in technology news. “Before I go to bed or while I’m in my car in a traffic jam, I always make a point to read on latest technologies, the startup scene in the FinTech scene just to keep abreast of technology,” he says, adding that with the pace of technology these days, there are always new things to learn every single day.

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