Fleet Footed Banking Behemoth Moving Ahead in the Digital Age


Fleet Footed Banking Behemoth Moving Ahead in the Digital Age

Old-fashioned banking ways are out the window as Malaysia’s largest lender Maybank sets winning human resources policies to recruit and retain millennials. Group Chief Human Capital Officer Nora Abdul Manaf speaks to AWANI Review’s Cynthia Ng.

“It may sound cliche,” says Nora Abdul Manaf, “But there’s nothing more fulfilling than to be in a role that enables you to change someone’s life,’ she says of her position as group chief human capital officer of Maybank.

As the person overseeing policies affecting 43,000 employees in Malaysia’s largest bank - with presence in over 20 markets globally - that role comes with a great deal of responsibility too.

“It is both a privilege, and an accountability,” Nora says with a firm voice and a smile as the interview begins.

Maybank's RM30 Million 'FutureReady' Programme to Upskill Employees in Digital Literacy

For Nora, having accumulated a wealth of human resource experience in corporate Malaysia prior to joining Maybank in 2008, it was not lost on her that having an agile and digital workforce is the first step to ensuring the bank stays ahead of the curve; not just as country champion but to be a leading bank in the region.

And like most financial institutions, Maybank is not immune to disruption arising from technology; robots and automation are fast taking over jobs. This as a new breed of fintech players encroaches into the traditional banking business.

“Since our last (pre-digital) transformation in 2008-2009, everything that we do is about getting ourselves ready for the digital environment.”

We didn’t want our people to go into the the future with fear that they are going to be losing jobs

The group has embarked on many digital firsts; it became the first financial institution in the country to roll out an online banking portal in 2000. It pioneered the use of biometric authentication in mobile banking in 2015 and a year later, launched Malaysia’s first mobile payment service.

But as digital infrastructure and presence increasingly takes centre stage, Maybank simultaneously ramped up investments in talent development; one of it is its mandatory “FutureReady” programme, aimed at increasing digital literacy among employees - at least onto a minimal level of digital comprehension.

“We didn’t want our people to go into the the future with fear that they are going to be losing jobs,” says Nora of the RM30 million upskilling programme.

Launched in 2018, FutureReady seeks to get employees to take personal ownership of their learning and growth. For example, to get certified in new skills such as computer programming, data analytics and data science - all programmes offered under the initiative.

“We needed our people to be digital literate - not just recognising words like bitcoin and robotics but actually knowing what that means, what might be the implications and how they can use these tools - because that is part of ensuring they are ‘not afraid’ of what’s coming and what’s out there.”

Reskilling is a key focus in Maybank, says Nora, as some jobs are made redundant due to digitisation, fresh roles are created and new skill-sets are needed; Maybank’s policy is to fill eight out of every ten vacancies internally, rather than externally.

“As far as digitisation is concerned, robotisation and automation is on our agenda. But as soon as new roles or tasks are created, we reskill our (talents) and make sure that eight in every 10 is filled from internal.”

One thing’s for sure, Maybank does not skimp on investing in talent, even during challenging times. “We never cut back in terms of training - it’s always above RM100 million (annually),” says Nora.

She was quick to add, “Maybank has always been self-aware.”

“We watch our financial and non-financial performance indicators like a hawk,” Nora - a chartered accountant by training - underscores her words. What it means is the group practices vigorous self-assessment, leaving it in a better position to respond to changes in the market, she explains.

For instance, a few years back, as most major banks in Malaysia laid off workers due to a market downturn, Maybank did not baulk under pressure.

“We didn’t have to do a retrenchment, or a mass voluntary separation scheme (VSS). But we put in a lot of checks and balances to make sure that we are very disciplined in watching things like backfilling when there is attrition.”

“We used that as an opportunity to ‘force’ line-managers and the team to think if there is a better way of operating,” says Nora.

The Value in Age, Gender Diversity in Future-Proofing Maybank

Diversity is one other indicator that Nora watches closely as group human resources manager - not just because diversity has shown to help improve bottom line; millennials are more attracted to work in an environment that is inclusive and espouses different world views and ways of working.

“Back then, under 30-year-olds made up of only 12 percent of the Maybank workforce - it is a risk when you do not have enough representation,” says Nora. “You must have a good balance! So, we worked on that and today, almost 60 percent (of our staff) are under the age of 40.”

Women representation in management positions have grown from 38% in 2009 to 48% currently

“People assume that just because we are banks, therefore, the median age should be like 48 or something; ours is 37, actually,” Nora says with an air of pride.

Similarly, having a diverse workforce in terms of gender is something Maybank has strived towards.

“Women representation in management positions have grown from 38% in 2009 to 48% currently.”

“For women in senior management positions, the global average is about 28 percent,” she says. “We are at 34 percent.”

On the back of that, one of Maybank’s bolder policies is its flexible work arrangement (FWA), enabling employees to individualise his or her start and end times of work day.

Employees can also choose to work from home, or an alternative work site, and even requests to convert to part-time employment on a temporary or permanent basis.

Having personally experienced the struggles of juggling a demanding career and family, Nora says these initiatives has enabled Maybank to retain its talents, some of them may have otherwise decided to leave.

“Our retention rate is very good at about 80 percent.”

I’m a believer that when you do the right things, you can be profitable

“We’ve just been practical about not fighting what’s going to be a new normal, and understanding how to enable it to work in our favour.”

Some 15 percent of its workforce have taken up FWA, says Nora, and when asked if the arrangements had impacted productivity, “Productivity is very good - eight billion profit,” she says with a laugh.

The fourth largest lender in Southeast Asia posted a record net profit of RM8.11 billion in the year ended December 31, 2018.

“I’m a believer that when you do the right things, you can be profitable, and we have the data to show for,” Nora drives her point home.

Maybank's Flexible Work Arrangements Allows Employees to be More Engaged

Without a doubt, the future of workplace will be shaped around mobility and a desire for flexibility.

It means less hours spent on the desk, or punching a time clock tied to rigid work hours. It also means a more collaborative work environment - a space to employees to create a sense of belonging and connection to others. 

Toward this end, Maybank also ideated “Crowdtivation”―a gig workforce space for employees to experiment with projects in a Sandbox environment - once a foreign idea to large, financial institutions rooted in traditionalism.

Yet, navigating Maybank into an unfamiliar landscape is a challenge Nora takes up with both poise and gusto.

“My peers have commented that I give my people a long leash, which is often frowned upon because they are used to having control. But that sums me up - it is something that I believe in, and it starts with trust,” says Nora.

“But I am demanding,” she emphasises. “Simply because I am not someone who is born with a silver? spoon - I’ve been exposed to biasness, difficulties in life and I had to fight for everything that I have.”

My peers have commented that I give my people a long leash, which is often frowned upon because they are used to having control

The former teacher of SMK Tekabang in Sarawak reveals that she has had a difficult childhood growing up, and that had shaped her resolved attitude. “I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor. And I want people to be that way and yet be caring at the same time,” she says.

Even so, the HR veteran, with stints in Standard Chartered Bank and Maxis, admits the toughest part of her job is when she has to let an employee go.

“I tell myself the when I’m no longer affected by having to fire someone, that’s the day I have to step down from my job.”

Nora still engages in teaching from time to time; she is an Adjunct Professor at the College of Business, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM). But more often than not - when she gets to take time off work - you’d find her in mentoring and leadership engagements.

She is the Executive Sponsor for the Women Council of Maybank and a Mentor in the ICAEW-TalentCorp’s Women in Leadership programme, aside from sitting on multiple boards.

“I have always been a believer, that it’s of no use for you to criticise from the outside. You have to join whatever it is you are not happy with, and make a difference from the inside.”

'Organisations Should Not Put Employees in a Position Where They Can't Do the Right Thing'