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Thursday, June 20, 2024

In meetings, I don’t talk about business; I talk about leaderships

Anis A Khan in an exclusive interview with Fintech

Anis A. Khan (AAK), a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, Bangladesh (IBB) is Managing Director & CEO of Mutual Trust Bank Limited (MTB) since April 2009. Prior to joining MTB, AAK headed IDLC Finance Limited (IDLC), the country’s largest financial institution (non-banking) for six years, as its CEO & Managing Director. A career banker, Anis earlier served for 21 years, in a multitude of roles, with the then British-owned Grindlays Bank p.l.c. and it’s successor banks – ANZ Grindlays Bank and Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), both in Bangladesh and abroad.

AAK has received on job exposure and training on nearly all aspects of banking, management, and leadership practices in his 34-year banking career. He has sound knowledge of merchant banking, stock brokerage services, leasing, factoring, legal and compliance, mergers and acquisitions, business process re-engineering and transformation and up gradation of information technology platforms, acquired in Bangladesh, India, UAE, UK, Australia and South Africa.

Anis A Khan likes things to be proper and in place.

A visit to his stylishly decorated MD Secretariat at the MTB Center in Gulshan would tell you why. Upholstered chairs around a large conference table- placed with geometric accuracy, walls donned with carefully selected paintings and room temperature set to make both men/women ‘with jacket’ and ‘without jacket’ comfortable.

You would find bottles of ‘Evian’ water on leather coasters and freshly brewed coffee upon orders. Every nuance sets the mood and gives a hint about the man that you are going to meet.

There he comes, right on the time that he gave you for the appointment.

Fintech had the chance to interview him for half an hour. During that time, he was sharp, poignant and answered all the questions with the subtlety and confidence which only a proverbial skipper can possess.

FINTECH: You have over 35 years of experience of working in the banking and finance industry. Out of these years, you have spent 21 years in three foreign banks namely Grindlays Bank PLC, ANZ Grindlays and Standard Chartered. Can you shed some light on your career in those banks?

AA Khan: I got a chance to join the civil service in 1982. By the time the result came out, it was quite late. Almost one and half years went by and I had started working in the Grindlays bank. I did quite well in the exam though. I stood first in the customs cadre but I didn’t join because of my personal reasons. Besides, a year long stint at the banking sector by then got me interested to continue there.

I joined the Grindlays Bank PLC as a management trainee. It was a great experience of learning there right from the beginning. I was sent to abroad for a number of times for trainings. In those trainings abroad, I met people from all other parts of the world from the Grindlays group. I got an exposure about the international banking norms from them. So, the learning track was fast for me as well as for others in the Grindlays Bank at that time.

For example, any CEO of a bank would have shuttered today to put a management trainee as the head of the branch. But when I was confirmed after completing our management trainee program in 1983, I was sent of straight away as the manager of a branch. It was the New Market branch of the Grindlays located in Balaka cinema building. I was familiar with the branch because I was a student of Dhaka University and I used to go to that branch in my student years.

When I went there, the people in that branch were very skeptical about me as I was very young. Some of them even thought of resisting me but then I sat down, I learned and I was very nice to them. Within a month, they all became my friends. There was not a problem at all. After eight months, one day I got a call from Area Manager, Dhaka Mr Gordon Clark. He told me that ‘the big man’- the country head of Grindlays wanted to see me. Mr Alan J Cooper was the country head at that time. He is one of the best CEO’s I have ever worked with.

I went to the head office to meet him. He told me that he was looking for a person to play the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for that day. I told him that I was not that adept in accounting that I could play that role. He replied,“I know you can do numbers and you can speak and write good English and that’s all I need for now.” He was impressed with my work and offered me to move into the head office on the role of Country Planning Manager. Mr Mahmood Sattar, a legendary banker of the country (who later became the CEO of Eastern Bank and City Bank) was the then Country Leader (equivalent of Head of Treasuries) of the Grindlays. My seat was next to him. Mr Sattar supported me a lot. Mr Mohammad A (Rumee) Ali who was the Country Operation Manager at that time also helped me a lot. I learned a lot from them.

After that I was sent to Mumbai on job exposure with Mr Arun Nangia who was then the Planning Officer of South Asia for the Grindlays. In the meantime, in 1984, the Grindlays Bank PLC was taken over by the ANZ group and was renamed ANZ Grindlays. Mr Nangia set up a fantastic training program for me. I was made to do a lot of maths, lots of accounting and lots of ratio-analysis. So after I came back from that training and sat down on my desk, things got very easy for me.

I was known in the office for my accuracy and communication skills. Mr Akhtaruzzaman was then the Operations Manager. He was very efficient at his work. He used to write very good English. Interestingly, after filing a draft, he used to come to me and asked me to check the draft. Because he told me that if I checked the draft and our boss Muhammad A(Rumee) Ali knew that I did, he would say, “Ok Anis checked it, then I don’t need to re-check it again.”

I became the Head of Credit in short time. After that I was sent off to Mumbai for training. I came back and became the Senior Relationship Manager, Corporate Banking. I was again sent off to Mumbai. Upon returning back, I became the Area Operation Manager for Chittagong. Later I was made the Head of Grindlays operation in Chittagong. I worked there for five years. Then I came back and became the ‘number two’ person in the Corporate Banking.

It was the year 2000 and in that year, Standard Chartered acquired the ANZ Grindlays. During which process I had the pleasure and challenge of working as the Country Integration Manager, responsible for merging the two banks under the leadership of Mr Muahammad A (Rumee) Ali, the CEO of the merged bank.

It was the biggest challenge of my 21 year career with those three banks. Integrating the two banks and working with the human resources-like who could stay and who had to leave and fixing the compensation package were not easy.

FINTECH: What were the challenges that you faced when you were given the task of looking after the merging process?

AA Khan: Aside from my banking and management capacity, I was chosen as I had a Masters’Degree in Law. The management thought that I could lead the challenging integration by following all the legal norms. Interestingly, I was from the bank which was being taken over, so it was quite an honor for me that the ‘taking over bank-standard chartered’ too relied on me for conducting the integration process.

It was the biggest challenge of my 21 year career with those three banks. Integrating the two banks and working with the human resources-like who could stay and who had to leave and fixing the compensation package were not easy. It was a very painful job because we had a role to play-telling an employee that they had to go- it was very heart wrenching but at the same time we had to do our job. We also tried to get them jobs at the Standard Chartered Bank or elsewhere if possible.

The main challenge however lied elsewhere. ANZ Grindlays bank had a very modern commercial banking system (CBS) of which I was also the project sponsor and Mr Selim RF Hossain (Former MD of IDLC Finance and the current MD of Brac Bank) was the project manager. So we implemented CBS which was a wonderful tool for managing and expanding operation. Standard Chartered at that time had Business Banking System (BBS) and it was inferior in quality and ability to the CBS. So it was a very unique experience that I, who had worked along with other members to upgrade ANZ Grindlays to CBS, and then I got the responsibility of downgrading the CBS to inferior BBS!

But, of course Standard Chartered Bank took over, so we had to integrate for the betterment. It was a task which we conducted with lots of hard work. There were people coming in from overseas, mostly from Dubai to aid us. My responsibility was multifarious-to organize appreciation workshops, conduct gap analysis within the systems and then organize the data conversion workshops. We got a huge team comprising of about 50 people who were constantly moving from head office to branches. I also had to take care of their logistics, their movement and even their food.

I must say that under the leadership Mr Muhammad A (Rumee) Ali and hard work of the people of both the banks, we successfully implemented the BBS system in the Standard Chartered. Senior Management from the head office in London sent us a congratulation message. I remember one message which said-“It was done with military precision and lots of diplomacy”. It was one of the biggest recognition I ever got in life.

FINTECH: What happened after the merger? What role that you played in the newly merged bank?

AA Khan: After the merger took place, I went to Dubai as the first expatriate employee of the merged bank. I could only stay there for one year. In 2003, I was encouraged to come back to Bangladesh and to take the charge of IDLC Finance Ltd as its CEO.

I didn’t want to come back as I was settling in Dubai in regional role and I was going around all the regional countries and learning a lot. But very senior people in the UAE told me that “you are offered to be a CEO in your country, you should take the chance.”

I listened to their advice and to my inner calling so I came back and took the charge of IDLC Finance.

It was a great six years of working experience in the IDLC. In 2009, I got an offer to join the MTB and I took that.

Anis A Khan
Anis A Khan

FINTECH: How does your experiences of working in Grindlays, ANZ Grindlays, Standard Chartered and IDLC Finance aid you to re-shape the MTB?

AA Khan: When I joined the MTB, some people snubbed me. Though I had over 21 years of banking experiences with foreign banks by that time, but they started saying that I came to take the charge of a bank from a leasing company. Yes, I went there from IDLC Finance which is a non-bank financial institution but it’s not just a leasing company. IDLC is the best Non-Bank Financial Institution (NBFI) in the country and it is also the top most investment bank in the private sector. I had great time working there. There were only two branches when I joined but we expanded to a number of branches and we diversified our product portfolio immensely. During my time there, we also floated IDLC subsidiaries.

So, the truth is, six years of working in IDLC gave me this valuable experience of running an investment bank and I believe that very few people at the top positions in the banking industry today have been able to get such diversified experiences.

There I learned about leasing, about factoring and about mortgages, I learned about SME financing, I learned about NGO financing and so on. There was a retail finance division which did auto loan and lots of other personal loans. It was a beautiful working experience there. The board was fantastic and didn’t interrupt at all in the operation with prescribed suggestions.

So, with confidence, I can tell you that I don’t think anybody else in Bangladesh has this privilege and his diversified experience. I feel blessed for that.

Now I am trying to make MTB a strong bank with the experiences that I have gathered in my previous institutions. When I first joined the MTB, I was quite dismayed to be frank. The overall look of the head office and the whole banking environment there were quite bad. There were very good and qualified people who were efficient in what they did. But bankers have to look smart and they were not looking smart at all. In fact they were looking very shabby. The offices were very shabby. The toilets were dirty. The head office was in the back street of Dilkusha area. There was only one lift in the building and you had to get down in the rain, in the heat and in the dust of the road. There was no proper porch there in the building. People even there had no proper place to pray.

I tried to give it a revamped look of a modern comfortable bank with modern buildings and modern banking facilities. I also revised the salary structure. Our salary structure is probably the best among the local commercial banks in the country now. This is one of the main reasons that the young aspiring bankers want to work in the MTB.

From 36 branches, now we have 211 branches. We have three subsidiary companies. I implemented the model of IDLC finance in the MTB Securities. MTB Securities now have one of the largest networks and have become one of top ten largest brokers in the market. We also have MTB Capital Ltd.

We also didn’t have any ATM booths of our own when I joined. I was told that we were co-sharing another 10 | FINTECH bank’s ATM network. Now we have nearly 250 ATMs of our own. We used to have a very poor ATM card. Now we have introduced the most modern chip cards. From 3,000-4,000 credit cards, we now have over 25,000 cards holder. We had no contact centers; now we have 24/7 contact centers. We have set up a MTB club for the employees. We have a monthly magazine called MTBbizz that comes out every month. I have also set up a comprehensive management trainee program in 2011. Our sixth batch is under training right now.

I want to build talent. I want to invest in building knowledge and experience. I also try to build leadership because I will not carry the responsibility to the grave rather I want to make sure that in my absence, the bank will run with utmost efficiency.

There is no doubt that the image of MTB is very good in the banking industry now. The corporate governance is very good, the current board is one of the best in the industry. The reputation is very good but we also need profit.

Because of the low margin and as we are extremely compliant bank, the profits are very hard to make. Though we are making 20% profit per year but compared to our peer, our profits are still quite low.

FINTECH: Many bankers in the Bangladeshi market want to work with you. They consider you as one of the best CEOs to work for? What is your secret of leadership?

AA Khan: I have to be frank here. The main reason that young bankers now want to work with me is because that I make sure that they are getting paid more than the employees of most other commercial banks of the country.

I however always try to motivate and share knowledge with my employees. Whenever I am in the meeting, I am always correcting people immediately if they make mistakes. I even try to correct spelling, grammar of people-Bengali or English whatever they are speaking or writing with. I also try to teach them proper manners; diplomacy-what should be said and what should not be said. I also teach people the dining etiquette. When you are meeting a foreign business delegation over a lunch or dinner, you have to be aware of proper usage of dining fork and knife.

These are also taught in our bank-the etiquette of pushing back the chairs, the etiquette of opening the doors for the elderly people and the etiquette of opening the doors of the cars for the lady and so on.

I wish my employees happy birthday every day. I also wish people anniversary and take the name of their spouses to wish them. On Thursday afternoon, I sit and give advanced wishes for Friday and Saturday. Every day I asked to provide me with the list of top ten people who brought in the largest deposit for that day. I personally send them congratulations message. And in employee meetings, I always talk about leadership. I don’t talk much about business because for that I have our Additional MDs, DMDs. I talk about cooperation, networking, friendships between the employees and the clients. I talk about building a family and relationship with the colleagues. If someone dies, I immediately send the family a message, offering my condolence. I try to go to the family if I can. I also try to attend staff wedding, at least for a few minute. May be these are other reasons, why young bankers want to work in the MTB.

FINTECH: Many of the largest banks in the world are investment banks. Why do you think the concept of investment bank is yet to flourish properly in Bangladesh?

AA Khan: Because you see most businesses here in Bangladesh are from first generation. Before the businesses were always of proprietor length and in most of the business houses- the chairman or CEOs were reluctant to leave the control and delegate authority. They gave the employee high salary, but they did not give authority. They also feared to float the company as they didn’t want to lose the control of the company.

There is a change going on right now. Lots of the companies are moving to second generation and a number of companies have also floated their shares. The number of public limited companies is now 400. I happen to be the Vice President of Bangladesh Association of Public Limited Companies and I know what is going on there. However the number of IPOs coming to the market is still very poor.

But I believe that within two to three years from now on, you will see a lot of IPOs, and then you will have the real boom of investment banks in Bangladesh.

So, the truth is, six years of working in IDLC gave me this valuable experience of running an investment bank and I believe that very few people at the top positions in the banking industry today have been able to get such diversified experiences.

FINTECH: I see that you are wearing an Apple Watch. You are known in the banking community for being tech-savvy. What is your opinion about that technological disruption which the banks in Bangladesh will face sooner or later?

AA Khan: Bangladeshis are always very conservative about changes. At the same time they are also very good in adopting with new technologies. The commercial banks of the country also have this adaptability. Most of the banks have already introduced internet banking and sms banking. The central bank is very smart now. They implemented the automated clearing house.

Besides, the bankers are now equipped with the latest tools. As its sophistication grows, treasury technology has become at the focal point in banking operations. Now we are seeing more treasury technology deployments in hosted private cloud environments. This helps remove the weight of IT maintenance from the treasurer’s shoulders and allows for more focus on liquidity management.

Meanwhile, the mindsets of people also have changed. People are hardly writing checks anymore. If I need to transfer some money into my friends account, I now can do that digitally. I don’t need to write any checks. In the future, the number of branches will obviously come down. Even the ATM Machines will not be required because in the near future you will be able to do all of your payments through the digital wallet in your smartphone.

The trend of a digital wallet is growing rapidly. There is, however, a big chunk of our local population who are still mostly comfortable with cash. In order to keep all of this in check, we must simplify the tax regime. In terms of taxation, the authorities continually ask for five to ten years of account information. This deters the population from going through the banking system. A digital wallet through banking services will push this phenomenon and ease the matter of collecting taxes.

FINTECH: Do you think that time has come for the commercial banks of the country to expand network in foreign countries?

AA Khan: Setting up a branch or banking subsidiary in foreign soil is not an easy task. First of all you need to have huge capital for setting up branch. Secondly you need compliance. Suppose you want to establish a branch in London in UK. Then your compliance will be the same as Lloyed Banks or Barclays Bank. So, the cost of compliance will be very high. And now the anti-money laundering has got very stringent across the world, if you go wrong, you will be fined severely. Considering those, I don’t think Bangladeshi banks are now in a position to open the branches abroad.

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