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Sunday, October 2, 2022

‘Fintech services have to optimize their costs and reach to a wider demographic for the sector to grow’

Interview with Amun Mustafiz, Finance Director, BAT Bangladesh

Amun Mustafiz was appointed as the Finance Director at BAT Bangladesh in October 2021. She is the first-ever Bangladeshi female Finance Director in the Company’s history.

Amun Mustafiz spoke to Fintech recently on a number of topics related to career, female representation in the corporate workforce and fintech, among other issues.

What were your career ambitions when you were a student?

When I was in high school, I actually wanted to be a lawyer. It was my way of thinking that I can help the country and bring justice to people. But later in life, I gravitated towards Accounting and Finance. My family had a lot of bankers at that time including my dad. I joined a foreign bank for a very short while and then moved to BAT Bangladesh. It’s been more than 16 years now.  

It seems that there aren’t many women CAs in Bangladesh. Is this an accurate perception? And why is this the case? 

There are about 120 female Chartered Accountants (local professional qualification) whereas the total number is two thousand. So, the female representation is quite low. The programme is quite hectic and requires huge investment of time. One has to be associated with a firm and work there during the day and in the evening focus on the papers. Post this, need to be associated with multiple companies to manage their audits which also requires lot of travelling. For a female, it gets quite difficult to manage given the social context of Bangladesh.

However, good part is that in recent times, the landscape is changing with lot of females and families being lot progressive and focusing more on career. Moreover, a lot of people are heading towards ACCA and CIMA, the UK professional qualifications, where the programmes are more flexible and also allows people to work in one organization and finish the degree in phases. However, there is still a long way to go in ensuring better representation in finance profession, but the number is increasing steadily.  

As a woman in a high-ranking position at a leading multinational company, do you feel that you had to struggle more to get here compared to men?

Firstly, it depends on how conducive the environment is. I have been lucky as I was with BAT Bangladesh, which has a very friendly work environment in every capacity. Being in finance, I was in the head office in Dhaka and there was always good representation of females in my department and also in other departments. I had very good mentors who were both females and males who helped me in my career journey.

Secondly, it rests on the individual. They always had full faith in my abilities, was always confident, bold and vocal and ensured that people perceive and treat me in the same way as they do to their male colleagues.

I have seen many of my female friends who actually had to prove themselves continuously. A common perception is always that women get promoted not for their work but to progress on this diversity ambition across all corporates which is actually not right. Also, for females, it may be difficult to work outside the city and live on their own. Then, opportunities become much less for females than males.

Do you think specific legislation is necessary to ensure better participation of women in the private sector?

We need to first understand why we need a balance in male and female representation. It brings a lot of different perspectives and thoughts and helps organization to grow. However, women have several roles to play especially in our society while managing a career and policies need to cater to that. I cannot stress enough on the notion that if women can be treated equally at work, they can produce equal, if not, better results in return.

So, the introduction of governance and robust HR policy should bring positive changes in the private sector like flexible hours, zero tolerance on harassment, day care and maternity support. Also to ensure training women in both hard and softer skills.

Amun Mustafiz, Finance Director, BAT Bangladesh
Amun Mustafiz, Finance Director, BAT Bangladesh

If you could go back and talk to your younger self when you were in secondary school (HSC/A levels), what advice would you give to yourself? And what advice would you give to aspiring female students who hope to be in a high-level position in their careers?

What I have learned from my experience is that life is all about the choices we make. My first advice is to never regret your decision once you have taken it – you can’t go back and can only learn from it. Second is always be confident in yourself and your abilities.

I think nothing is impossible if we set ourselves up to achieve it. This is why believing in your ability is the most important thing. I think women often underestimate themselves, so I believe that is very important to address.

If someone wants to work in your field: finance. What they might do in their student life that will help them in the future?

I think what has helped me is that before my O’Level, I knew I wanted to pursue my career in finance. So, I shaped my education accordingly and I got an early start which led me to be where I am today.

Post that, it’s important to work to get practical experience while pursuing a professional qualification. This requires perseverance to balance work and education. However, many people are academically very sound but they lack practical experience which then becomes a hindrance. With that, it’s critical to be associated with some finance forum to remain connected and relevant with the finance world.

You are what most people would consider a highly successful woman your profession. What do you focus on now when you think about the future of your career?

I want to contribute to the society via supporting my company and country in ESG journey and ensurethat we focus on long term sustainability.

I also want to be a role model for the females in the corporate world and ensure that I can help shape up their development.

Also, I have big visions for people in my team. I want to develop more local female and males as senior leaders and ensure that they can do big roles in the international arena.

There is a perception, perhaps mostly accurate, that you have to sacrifice a lot in personal life to get to a high-level position that you are in. How can people strike a balance between the professional and personal life? Is that even possible in the current work culture?

I think it is possible to have balance and it depends largely on the company you will work for. We, for example, are introducing a lot of policies to cater the equal opportunity, equal pay, we are looking into flexible hours, zero tolerance to harassment and maternity facilities.

What these do is ensure that there is a conducive environment that will actually encourage more females to join. Once they are in the organization you want to make sure that you give the women the opportunity to voice their opinion, they are valued and respected from day one.

If this is established, then females will feel that they can join the workforce. That’s a starting point. Then there is the matter of the social position of women. They have certain roles to play in their family and within society. For that the family needs to accept and share responsibilities to help the females to focus also on work.

If there is a lot of support from the family and also from the workplace, then striking balance is certainly possible.

What inspired you as a person and as a high-level professional?

My mother has always been  my inspiration. 40 years ago, she worked as  a software developer for a multi-national company. She was probably the only female software developer in the country whereshe used to manage a whole department that consisted of only male colleagues. When most women were at home or maybe in teaching, she was persuading bankers to modernize and digitalize their systems. I try to emulate her self-confidence, her strength of character, and her dedication and how she balanced work and home.

The other thing is that I always used to dream big. I always raised the bar for myself. I always felt that nothing is impossible in life – you have to set your goal and be very clear about how you want to achieve them.

Fintech in Bangladesh is growing, but most of that is MFSs. What components you think are necessary for a full ecosystem to develop? 

I think we have progressed significantly. Even a decade back we could never imagine people in rural areas doing financial transactions via mobile and it’s gone much easier transferring funds or making payments.

To move forward, people need to be made aware of the services available and how it can help in their livelihood and ensure convenience. With that they need to have access to smart phones and know how to use these services. More important aspect is people’s awareness and trust in this financial model and ensuring that costs are transparent and optimized to reach out to a wider range of people. If that happens there will be more development in Fintech. We need to aim to make the economy as cashless as possible.

So far the progress in the Fintech industry has been absolutely mind-blowing. However, what we have achieved in the last 10 years, we have to achieve three times of that in the next 10 years if we want to progress further in this journey.

Saqib Sarker

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