Organisations work in different ways, even in the same industry. The key thing is to go into any new environment with fresh eyes and an open mind.
Dato’ Sulaiman Mohd Tahir is someone with a pretty open mind. “No matter how much we think we know, there is always new knowledge to be found on every subject,” says the Group Chief Executive Officer of the AmBank Group.
“To improve an existing process, it’s important to master the original steps first. I once read a quote that said, ‘It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning’. Organisations work in different ways, even in the same industry. The key thing is to go into any new environment with fresh eyes and an open mind.
“The banking world that I started in almost three decades ago is so different from the one young professionals are entering today,” he says. “Today, one has to be tech-savvy. Digital transactions are the norm. To stay ahead of the game, young bankers must be able to pair the best use of technology to customer needs.”
As a group, AmBank has already completed the heavy lifting in terms of technology and system investments. “We’re accelerating towards an era of digital banking that will allow us to better serve our consumers, with the right financial solutions at the right time. There is much our new generation of talent can do to leverage on, to drive the bank forward. The important thing is to continuously develop the skills of our future leaders, to ensure that they are equipped to transform these disruptors into opportunities for growth.”
Another growth hot spot in finance is Islamic banking. “The Islamic banking sector has great potential for growth. AmBank Islamic is a key pillar for the group, and we are looking to go digital for Islamic banking as well. There are many changes and projects coming up, which means exciting career prospects with AmBank Islamic.”
Sulaiman says there aren’t any specific traits or qualities that candidates need to differentiate between conventional and Islamic banking. He says, “Understanding banking regulations, product knowledge and industry awareness are what all bankers should have. Similarly, employers value candidates with a good attitude, diligence, honesty and professionalism.”
INTEGRITY IS KING
Now, more than ever before, those values are the subject of intense public debate. “I will say to anyone entering the financial services industry that integrity is king,” says Sulaiman. “Customers will stay with banks they have confidence in. Such relationships are built on trust, professionalism and transparency.”
This is why compliance is a vital focus area for AmBank in its four-year strategic plan. The bank has taken significant strides to enhance the robustness of processes, reporting and governance, and continue to improve with investment in systems, infrastructure and training.
All of which will need to be managed by the next generation of leaders. “The right skills set and dedication are must-haves but I would say these are important for all employees, not just leaders,” he says. “It goes without saying that teamwork is necessary. At AmBank, we want to build a culture that values collaboration and empowerment.”
DIVERSITY OF OPINION
Like many other Malaysian organisations, there are multiple generations working at AmBank. This means diversity of opinion, which is why Sulaiman is asking for everyone to have an open mind.
“I would also advise graduates to set realistic expectations of themselves, of the employment process, and eventual place of work,” he says. “Don’t be discouraged if things don’t work out the way you planned. As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. It’s also a good idea to build up your work experience as much as you can.”
Being multi-dimensional might well be the right approach given that employers have become highly cautious in hiring. “Times have changed and a university degree is no longer a guarantee of employment,” says Sulaiman. “Some graduates find the job search challenging because they have unrealistic expectations of salaries and benefits. But this is the digital age and the younger generation is uniquely suited to this, having grown up with technology. At the end of the day, flexibility and a can-do attitude are as vital as your educational qualifications.”
Once in, says Sulaiman, a newbie’s next step is to ensure career progression. “Communication is very important and when you communicate well, you will be highly valued,” he says. “It’s important to show your drive and passion to take on new challenges and always be willing to learn. These qualities together with your skills will take you a long way.”
Work aside, Sulaiman advocates a healthy lifestyle, adequate exercise and being active. “For me, it’s about work-life integration, finding an optimal way to manage work and personal life. It is important to make time to unwind.”