Your 10 questions with Sng Seow Wah

  • Business
  • Saturday, 27 Aug 2011

Sng Seow Wah, Alliance Bank group CEO answers ...

1. What is your strategy for Alliance Bank, the smallest among local banks in terms of assets? Bernard, Perak

The size of an organisation sometimes matters, particularly when the business requires economies of scale. However, size is not an end in itself. There is enough business and diversity in the marketplace for big and small banks to co-exist. After all, big banks were once upon a time, small banks.

We know where our niche is and we stay focused on our core segments of consumer and business banking, in particular the small and medium size enterprises. Knowing who our core customers are, having a sound value proposition and delivering a personalised banking experience to the customers, will enable us to add value to our shareholders without having to chase market share for its own sake.

We have enhanced our sales momentum. We now have a larger product range to cater to our customers' needs and propel our business growth for the future.

2. Can you share some of the highlights in the revamp of Alliance Bank? G. Sharmini, Penang

I did not set out to “revamp” the bank. What my team and I have done is sharpen Alliance Bank's strategy. We now have a strong, committed and experienced senior team to drive this strategy with clear goals and precise execution of plans.

The strategy has been communicated throughout the entire organisation and we are committed to working collectively and cohesively to see to its success. We are inculcating a strong performance based culture that rewards staff for the contribution they make and values which they add to the organisation.

The strategy reinforces the need for us to invest in our key client segments, with a focus on customer engagement and service levels. A key part of our strategy is to increase fee income and cross-selling of products to our customers. In this regard, we have re-allocated our resources to augment our non-interest income business areas.

3. What is the next phase of growth for Alliance Bank? Ooi Long, Seremban

We plan to achieve higher growth in our assets, deposits and non-interest income compared with previous years. We expect to drive higher performance levels in wealth management, bancassurance, transaction banking, treasury sales, stock broking and advisory businesses, while enhancing our core strengths in consumer and business banking segments.

We want to get to a level where non-interest income contributes 30% towards revenue, our business banking loan book to be 50% of our total loan book, and a return of equity of 16% within the next two to three years.

Ensuring a good customer experience with Alliance Bank is a must and the efficiency of our customer processes across the bank is being enhanced. We are currently remodeling our branches in order to serve our customers better.

4. How is the bank enforcing responsible lending guidelines? Aidan Lane, KL

As a financial institution, we have always taken seriously the need to be responsible, fair and transparent in all our dealings with the borrowers and various stakeholders.

While we strive to grow the assets of the bank, it is important to ensure that both the customers and stakeholders are protected. We are guided by stringent policies and a risk acceptance framework which are closely monitored by independent underwriters and portfolio management.

In consumer banking, our personnel are licensed and qualified to provide professional and sensible consultation to our customers based on their risk profiles, needs and understanding of the products.

With business banking, we have guidelines which ensure that the bank does not engage in speculative and/or unproductive transactions or businesses which have adverse economic, social and environmental implications.

5. Do you think there should be stricter guidelines for personal loans? Rajagopal, Selangor

We support the tightening of guidelines for personal loans that are aimed at being constructive with the best interest of consumers in mind, and yet not impede the growth momentum of the banks or healthy competition among them.

6. Are Malaysian and Singapore banks able to absorb a 50% drop in property prices? Any stress tests before? Ong Ting Lip, Segamat, Johor

I believe that the steady increase in Malaysian property prices over the last few years has been due to economic fundamentals rather than speculation. As such, I do not expect to see a drastic scenario of property prices retracting by 50% in the near future.

Price increases (or decreases) in Malaysia have not been on the same scale as in Hong Kong or Singapore. Speculation in Hong Kong and Singapore has been higher, leading to severe anti-speculation measures introduced in the past year.

Malaysian banks (including Alliance Bank) are generally well-capitalised and conduct regular stress tests to ensure continued preparedness.

7. How is Alliance catching up with online banking? What are the pros and cons of online banking? Tabitha CC Boi, Penang

Online banking has become a permanent part of the banking landscape as consumers become more technology savvy. We all know that the benefits of online banking are manifold. For individuals, it is free, quick and efficient. Most of all, it enhances convenience. Customers may perform their banking services anytime and from virtually any part of the world.

At Alliance Bank, it enables us to have a wider reach to customers, beyond our branch network. In the past one year, our online banking users have increased by 25%.

In line with our strategy of improving customer service and efficiency of customer processes within the bank, Alliance Bank is embarking on a major initiative to revamp allianceonline, our online banking platform over the next one year.

The new online banking platform will feature a more user-friendly interface, better screen layout and a much broader range of banking services that will take customer experience to a whole new level.

However, the bank and customers need to be constantly vigilant against new forms of security threats that are associated with transacting over the Internet. The embedded 2FA security and many other precautionary measures are in place to safeguard customers' online banking activities.

8. How do you balance occupational risks versus rewards in the banking sector? Bernard Kean Hyn, Penang

Banking has grown very competitive over the years. The pace of change and consumer expectations will continue to accelerate. Innovative new products become commoditised quickly leading to serious price competition. The pressure is always there.

For those who like a job which requires a fast pace and thrive in an environment where there is constant learning, banking is a good occupation. A bank has many types of jobs within, and provides opportunities for variety and diversity. It can be very enriching. Most of my friends who came into banking early in their careers have remained in the industry.

9. What is your advice on enhancing human capital in the banking sector? Safiah Hussin, KL

In recent years, the banking industry has lost talent to other industries. There is a need to cultivate a larger talent pool in order to propel the banking sector to the next level, and adapt to a dynamic and changing environment.

One way to achieve this is by promoting an environment of constant development and learning, making it more exciting and interesting for talented individuals to join and remain in the banking industry.

In this respect, Bank Negara has taken several initiatives to drive the nurturing of human capital within the industry which Alliance Financial Group strongly supports.

Graduates in Malaysia today actively seek a career path, not just a job. By championing a management trainee programme, Alliance Bank is endeavouring to provide exposure for new graduates to the financial sector, as well as groom and retain a good talent pool within the organisation.

We also work towards retaining positive and passionate individuals with extensive years of experience. Their experiences are invaluable in mentoring, coaching and training younger executives.

I have also noticed that there are talented Malaysians in markets abroad who are keen to return home and contribute meaningfully towards the development of Malaysia's financial sector. We should create opportunities and the right environment for them to return.

10. What is your secret to good health and success while maintaining a career that spans two decades? Daniel Tan

I lead a balanced lifestyle. I jog regularly and visit the gym on weekends. These habits have kept serious illnesses at bay and provided me with high energy levels. I do enjoy a round of golf now and then.

However, what really made the difference was time spent with my family. We were together a lot when my two sons were boys. They are now young adults and studying overseas. They are close to my wife and I, and my family has been very supportive of my job and career.

At work, I am able to win the trust of my colleagues by being straightforward and direct in my communication style. This helps with getting straight to the issues and resolving them. Trust among colleagues, like most things, is needed if the organisation wants to be able to execute its strategic goals.

Over the years, I have learnt to groom executives and empower them so that they can grow and the organisation will move to higher levels.

I focus a lot on building a good team. Key to everything an organisation sets out to achieve is human capital. It is perhaps in this area that I have invested more time than any other areas of work. It is also often the most satisfying when I see positive results.


DATUK K. RAJAGOPAL is Malaysia's national football coach and former national player. He has won six Malaysia Cup and two FAM Cup medals for Selangor. Under him, the national team was crowned champions of the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Federation Championships last year. More recently, Malaysia's Harimau Malaya side went down 4-6 on aggregate to Singapore in the second round of the Asian Zone World Cup qualifiers recently. Malaysia have never made the third round of the qualifiers since taking part in 1974. Any burning questions to ask him? Email

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