Banking on Malaysia's dynamic finance industry

A returnee shares his story

The finance industry has played an important role in facilitating the economic transformation and growth of Malaysia’s economy. In the face of rapid changes and uncertainty in the global economic and financial environment, the outlook for Malaysia’s financial and banking sector remains stable, driven by Malaysian banks’ strong capital, stable funding levels and continued high degree of Government support.

However, ensuring this sector is able to continue supporting the changing requirements of the Malaysian economy amid increased volatility in the global market calls for the availability of a pool of high-quality talent across various levels, from entry-level graduates to the leadership level for senior management and board of directors. In fact, it is anticipated that a workforce of about 200,000 financial sector talent will be required by 2020, particularly in high growth and niche areas such as risk capital financing, wealth management, Shariah advisory, corporate finance and investment advisory services.

Chief Operations Officer of Retail Banking at Standard Chartered Malaysia, Nantha Subramanian believes talent development is a crucial element of economic development. Addressing the challenges posed by the global environment on the sector’s talent attraction and retention activities, he explains, “When it comes to hiring talent within the financial and banking industry, it’s important to cultivate a sense of security and hope. And yes, the current economic landscape in Malaysia has caused some anxiety. I’ve seen a constant churn of workforce at niche segments – such as Financial Crime, Anti Money Laundering, Customer Due Diligence, Compliance and Operational Risk – where retaining talent appears to be difficult.

“Banks are faced with increasing pressure to review their talent management process whilst cultivating innovation along the entire value chain. And as the landscape of banking evolves into the digital and financial technology (FinTech) space, talent needs to be mapped accordingly to ensure people, technology and processes are in sync. So [misperceptions] about the country being unstable or stagnant can discourage talent, both local and foreign, from seeking or furthering their personal and professional ambitions here,” he added.

Malaysia’s finance industry as a talent destination

Despite the subdued growth expected as a result of lingering market volatility, Nantha feels the financial and banking industry here continues to remain attractive. Citing the sector’s past performance as one of the region’s most promising financial hubs as well as the presence of close to 30 commercial banking institutions currently in the country, he elaborates, “Malaysia still has the ‘wow’ factor, with growth resulting in high demand for talent within specific areas in banking like governance and regulation. And while there is a sizable demand for junior-level to mid-level talent, as the country looks upward and outward for a more experienced workforce to fill ‘expert’ segments, organisations will strive to recruit the best talent within their reach.

“There is potential for Malaysia to attract and retain home-grown talent and those from outside Malaysia,”

Who came home under the Returning Expert Programme (REP) following an extensive career in Europe, the United States (US) and Asia. “I was abroad for nearly 20 years, and the decision to return was influenced by an opportunity to work for a reputable organisation and for my family to experience Malaysia.”

That said, Nantha believes Malaysia’s banking and financial industry does face several challenges in attracting and retaining talent, with one being the poor visibility of challenging professional opportunities within the industry. “For local talents, and Gen Y’s in particular, banking is not seen as being ‘cool’ like the technology, media, or communications fields. There is also often a lack of opportunities for talents to ‘grow with the bank’, in the sense that they are given the chance to build a career as opposed to merely holding down a job.”

He adds that compensation is another significant factor, especially in situations where employers are either unwilling or unable to match a job-seeker’s remuneration expectations.

Easing the journey back home

Recalling his own transition from working overseas to returning to Malaysia, Nantha has some sound advice for other Malaysians abroad who are contemplating the same move. “The work life in Malaysia could be very different compared to what you experienced before, so it will take some getting used to. However, once you have settled in, you feel a sense of accomplishment when you truly change your work place for the better, for yourself and for the people who work with you.”

He adds, “Naturally, there is a tendency to compare everything you experience against the country you moved from, but this behaviour is quite normal. Take a balanced view and be flexible with your expectations. Also, be mindful that the laws of the land for both consumerism and legal matters are different, so brushing up on your knowledge and keeping abreast of developments would be wise. Lastly, be patient and focus on enjoying your return. Malaysia has much to offer you and your family in terms of culture, vibrancy, food, and travel. There is a lot of work and a lot of play!”