THIS week we get thoughts and views from Bank Simpanan Nasional deputy chief executive of retail banking Frederick Siew:
Q: How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A: I don’t come from a pure banking background. I was overseas for six years, I was in Canada, England and Hong Kong and worked in various industries. That helps me further understand the other side of banking, the borrowers’ side, what are their difficulties, expectations of a bank and also because of the many countries that I’ve worked in, it actually helps me to see things from many different angles. I have been in banking for about 10 years. I was previously involved in property development, accounting consultancy and manufacturing.
Q: What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?
A: For me when I hire, what’s most important is the person’s go-getting kind of attitude. They have to have the desire and hunger to learn new things, seek new knowledge and always want to improve. I think academic qualification is important but it is not everything. I have in my experience, hired people who are not so academically inclined, their grades are not as good, but I took them in because I liked their attitude, they are willing to learn.
I believe schooling is only one part of your ability to do well in real life. Most of the time, especially in the Malaysian education system, is actually more on memorising and regurgitating and you will do well. You may not even understand the concept. You may just memorise and robotically write down whatever you have memorised. I think many education institutions in Malaysia have KPIs on the lecturers for giving out As. So the number of As does not mean that you are good.
Q: How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?
A: It is going to be disruptive. The conventional brick and mortar branches will probably be a thing of the past in the near future. People are looking into banking at home, going into branches where there are no people serving you; you are actually facing machines. Digitalisation is a thing of the future and you have other non-banking institutions like Alipay and WeChat Pay doing a lot of banking transactions for you. So basically we will have to evolve.
Without evolving and embarking into digitalisation today to mobile banking, internet banking and using the phone to do banking, we will become irrelevant. We are facing some very disruptive technological changes in the world and we have to be ready to evolve along with that kind of trend.
Q: What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?
A: There are some things my CEO shared with me and that has left a very deep impression. This concept is very abstract, it talks about denial. Everyone is in denial. If you do not deny the fact that it is dangerous to drive on the road because there are so many accidents, you won’t go on the road. If you don’t deny the fact that you could be killed sitting on an airplane, you won’t actually take a flight.
Denial for young people must be stronger. You should have a high degree of denial because if you always worry that you will fail, you will never try, you will never succeed. By not losing or failing doesn’t mean you are successful.
A lot of good leaders are in very high degree of denial. If not, they will be so afraid of failure they will never embark on new ventures. They will always be following other people. They will never actually do something that is out of the norm.
Also, being several steps ahead jives well with this denial concept. It opened my eyes as I never thought denial was a good thing. I believe every young person starting out must be really willing to experiment with new things, always willing to learn, always try to be ahead of the group.
If you are always a follower you will never be very successful. You could be successful but you will never be the most successful. Like Steve Jobs, who would have thought a handphone could do so many things? Steve Jobs actually created demand, telling you what you want. That is because he was a few steps ahead of you. He told consumers what to buy, what to look for in a phone. Other phone companies got left behind, many closed down, because they only do the normal thing. Jobs had created a lifestyle which we didn’t even know until he created it.
Q: We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.
A: Technological revolution is actually speeding up. New things come along in a shorter time period. For example, when was telephone invented and when was the first handphone invented? After the handphone was invented, the time period got shorter and shorter before new technology came along because we already have a very strong foundation. Technological revolution is something that you cannot deny and you have to evolve along with it.
Q: How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?
A: In this bank, we create mentoring where you get guidance from people like your bosses. But we are now also talking about reverse mentoring where subordinates are supposed to mentor the leaders, the bosses. I think this is a concept that my boss learned when he was in Switzerland. Why we do reverse mentoring is because for the bosses or the higher ranking officers in an organisation, there are many things that they do not know.
For example, many of these bosses started before the technological revolution started and they may not be able to catch up with many things. So when you do reverse mentoring, it is actually the younger side telling you how to use a handphone, how to use technology to make your life easier. We are talking about both sides.
All along mentoring is always the bosses mentoring the juniors and the juniors just follow but there are many things that are probably outdated. I think mentoring is good but it has to be both ways. However, there’s no point in mentoring if you do not open your mind to learn. You must be like a sponge. You must be willing to admit what you are weak in and what you need to learn to improve yourself. Mentoring will only be effective if you are willing to absorb new things and new ideas.
Q: What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?
A: Working here in BSN is challenging. There are many new ideas that my boss always bring to us and ponder over. There’s a lot of catching up. BSN is not a top-notch bank in terms of technology. We started as a post office savings bank, being run like a government agency.
Now under our current CEO, we are looking into catching up and being more like a commercial bank to be more relevant. What I want to accomplish in the next five years is to bring this bank to another level so that people look at BSN and not say that this is a government bank. We don’t want to be seen as a government bank that gets funding from the government thus we are not as aggressive. We have to let people, especially the customers, know that when they bank with us, we are on par with any other commercial banks.
Q: Best piece of advice you ever got on your career.
A: The denial concept and also there’s one boss from Hong Kong who always told me that he looks to employ people who make mistakes. People learn from their mistakes and the previous organisation would have paid the cost of teaching the person. When people make mistakes, most people do not repeat their mistakes. So that person would bring that kind of knowledge to the organisation and would require less training. That’s something quite interesting as well.
Q: Most admired business leader? Why?
A: I’ve got a few. Google, Chrysler and Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was someone who was actually very brash and knew what he wanted. His management style was very autocratic because he was so confident of himself.
Not everyone can do that and be successful. He was kicked out from his company and re-hired. The thing about him was that he copied. Not all the ideas came from him. The touch screen didn’t come from him, it was actually another company that invented it but he saw the potential and was able to incorporate that into his product, and it became something that was well received by the public. He was able to use other people’s invention due to his foresight. He used it to maximise sales. I think that a person cannot always be an inventor. A person cannot always be the leader in everything, the one who comes up with all the ideas and innovation. Nobody in this world can ever do that. The thing is to be able to see the potential in other people’s invention and that is a true sign of a leader.
Q: How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?
A: I read a lot and talk to people, exchange ideas. My boss also always encourage the younger employees to read. You may not understand the first time but after a while, after reading and talking to people, then you will be able to appreciate what is going on in the industry. Also, to keep abreast, I think you will really have to look at everything that is relevant to the industry, not only on regulations and by-laws, but also the technological advances. Talking to vendors is also very important, to keep abreast of all the applications and software that are used by other banks.
Q: A must-read for every business owner/manager is …
A: First, break all the rules by Gallup. They did a research on that by two guys called Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. When a person in an organisation hires someone, look at their talents, not their weaknesses. A lot of leaders try to correct the weaknesses of their subordinate. What they should focus on is to identify their strengths and maximise it for the benefit of the company. Why do people leave?
Not because of the organisation but usually because of their superior. Thus the frontline managers are very important. People leave because they don’t like their immediate boss. To always pick on weaknesses, you will always delve on very negative things but what you should be looking at is to enhance their strengths and use their strengths to your advantage to improve the performance and help the company achieve its objective.