November 6, 2017

In conversation with Abrar A. Anwar, CEO, Standard Chartered, Malaysia

If you are a Bangladeshi, you will feel proud today. Because the person we are going to talk about has shone so bright in his motherland that he has not just caught the eye of foreign conglomerates but has just been appointed as the CEO of an overseas branch of one of the most successful banks in the history of Banking.

If you are a part of the business world, chances are you already know who I am talking about. It’s none other than Mr. Abrar A. Anwar, CEO Standard Chartered Malaysia.

Abrar A. Anwar

A student of science discipline in college he made the shift to business education during his undergraduate degree in 1987. And what a marvelous decision it was!

As they say like father like son. Mr. Anwar is the prime example of the saying. His father was the CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Bangladesh. And he has served with great pride and dignity as the CEO of Standard Chartered Bangladesh until being appointed as the CEO of Standard Chartered Malaysia last September.

In the early days of his career, he joined ANZ Grindlays Bank back in 1991. Like every other successful person he was ambitious and diligent. He said, “I dreamt of reaching the top. But I always kept my feet on the ground and took one step at a time.”

When asked about the challenges he faced throughout his career, he gave an answer blooming with positivity. He said, “I see every challenge as an opportunity to rise above it and conquer it.”

He moved outside of Bangladesh, to UK and to India in 1997 and 1998 which aided largely in his skill and leadership development. He was exposed to a very modern employee centered work culture and a developed financial market which played a significant role in making him a true visionary leader of the 21st century. He mentioned, “There I learnt about aviation finance, mortgage backed securities, derivatives, options, M&As and what not. That’s when I began to believe that I can come back to my motherland and contribute to my nation.”

Mr. Anwar firmly believes that people are the biggest asset of Bangladesh. 75% of the 17 crore people are below 35 years age which speaks volumes about the unseen potential of this nation.

“Population drives growth. We have to focus more and more in the skill development of the people. Only then can we reap demographic dividend and prosper together as a nation.” He said.

When asked about his thoughts on the macroeconomic scenario of Bangladesh, he said, “82% of all the exports are contributed by RMG sector. Only 15-16% of the GDP is comprised of the capital market. Whereas, it’s more than 100% in many developed nations.” The key to long term capital should be the capital market. Only 20% is institutional capital and the rest 80% is private equity in the capital market, which is opposite to the trends we seen in many mature markets.

To talk about the risks the banking sector is exposed to, Mr. Anwar started off by covering the macroeconomic issues before narrowing down to bank specific risks. He explained, “Bangladesh has been comparatively less exposed to worldwide economic crises and risk factors. But the situation is changing as our international trade is prospering. Our international borrowing is only 15% of GDP. Thus worldwide economic depressions have had low impact on our economy. But, one of prime challenges has been the geo-political scenario. As banks, we are continuously exposed to credit risks, internationalization, and cyber theft and data security.” With the ever rising requirement and value of data, it is also becoming a property very technical and difficult to protect from the wrong hands. Data is very sensitive and every organization today is spending huge sums in storing it in the most secured manner and optimizing their business leveraging data science.

This brought us to the topic of technology adoption, financial technology aka. Fintech. Some pundits say, “Banks won’t exist in the future but banking will exist.” I asked him his view on the topic. He smiled and said, “Bank is a very complex infrastructure. We have to maintain cheque and balance. It is highly speculative if I said Fintech startups could do that. But the Fintech community will come up with better solutions and help us build a better world of banking. We have to embrace them. But bank is a very sensitive ecosystem which is highly regulated. Thus I believe banking will exist for a very long time to come.” A very thoughtful and farsighted intuition expressed in a humorous way.

How could I end the interview without asking him about his secret recipe to success? He shared, “Every organization is as good as its people. A key to whatever I have achieved has been the people I have been surrounded by. Every challenge I have faced throughout my tenure as a CEO has been conquered because of a great team of talented and capable people I have around me.” If they want to thrive, every organization today should create opportunities for the people they employ. Then the employees will advance by carrying the organization forward. Because in the 21st century, every entity is only as successful as the people behind it. If you and the people working with you believe in the vision you believe in, if you create opportunities for them to prosper and thrive; they will give their best, day in and day out ensuring success and prosperity.

When asked about his takeaways from his time as the CEO of SCB Bangladesh; he said, “The greatest takeaway is that I am happy. I am leaving behind a team of world class professionals who are more than capable of taking the bank forward towards the pinnacle of success.”

To conclude my interview I asked him if he has future plans to come back to Bangladesh and play a role in the country’s development. He replied with a firm sense of determination in his face. He said, “Yes! I will. It is a continuous learning journey day in and day out. I am taking on a new challenge to learn. I want to comeback as a more exposed and experienced human being. I plan to come back and a play role in the country’s development by applying the knowledge I will have gathered overseas.”

In his closing words he directed a few word towards the youths, the future leaders of our nation. He said, “Be patient, always try to learn new things, be a good human being and remain fit. Always maintain a work and life balance. Work hard and be true to yourself. You will be astounded by your own potentials.”

Mr. Anwar’s story is an adventurous story of success and rise to the top. For him sky is not the limit, it’s just another milestone. His story is not yet over and I am sure there are a lot more triumphant anecdotes to come.

Interviewed by Izbath Tarik

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