KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — When Maybank first opened its doors 60 years ago on Sept 12, 1960, with its first iconic branch in Jalan H.S Lee, the nation was at a crossroads.
Malaysia, which was then known as Malaya, was a newly-independent country and the bank’s founding fathers, led by the late Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat, had one main mission — to help finance its economic growth and make banking more accessible to its people.
No one knew whether the bank would survive in an environment long dominated by foreign banks, or if it would flounder amidst competition from the “giants”.
As it marks its 60th anniversary on Saturday, Maybank Group President and Chief Executive Officer Datuk Abdul Farid Alias looks back with gratitude to all those who were instrumental in making the bank one of Malaysia’s success stories.
“We have many to be thankful to — our leaders and employees who built the bank, our loyal customers, the regulators, business partners, investors, and the wider community,” he acknowledged.
It is their collective support that has made Maybank the country’s largest listed entity and Southeast Asia’s fourth-largest bank with over 2,600 retail branches globally, he told Bernama.
Maybank operates in home markets of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
The Group also has presence in the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, India, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
“I believe our founding values from the purpose of the bank itself – humanising financial services to building trust – will continue to drive Maybank’s success in the future if we remain true to them.
“From the outset, our founding fathers were committed to bringing banking services to the masses. They were concerned that ordinary people should have access to financing and be able to progress economically and socially,” said Farid.
This was closely linked to the bank’s aspiration to support nation and community-building, as it realised that the young fledgling Malaya needed to survive as an independent country and build a better life for its people.
“We have never run away from these principles — whether in Malaysia or in all other countries where we operate today — our purpose is the same and many governments recognised this.
“In fact, it has grown more all-encompassing and transformed into our overarching mission — which is ‘humanising financial services’.
“This mission is the acid test which we apply to everything we do — acting with integrity, making a business decision, how we serve our customers, treat our employees, build our communities, relate to business partners, regulators and investors, and everything else,” he explained.
Establishing an unbreakable bond of trust with stakeholders is another area that Maybank values.
“This has been another key pillar on which Maybank was built. Trust is fundamental to a banking relationship and we are indeed honoured to have earned the trust of millions of customers, our employees, and all other stakeholders, which has given us the competitive edge.
“Trust, like reputation, is difficult to build and so easy to break,” he stressed.
“As a financial institution, we are cognisant of this and have worked hard to continuously strengthen these bonds with our stakeholders.”
Farid recounted incidents during the financial crises where this trust was clearly visible.
“We know that during such instances when there was a flight to quality, it was Maybank that was among topmost in the minds of the public — demonstrating their trust in our ability to withstand even the most difficult of times,” he revealed.
Intertwined with trust, another traditional value of Maybank is prudence.
Farid said that as guardians of the public’s money and a key component of the financial system’s stability — not just in Malaysia but in many markets regionally — Maybank recognises that it must remain the bedrock of the system.
“Being prudent does not mean remaining idle or backward — the guiding principle drummed into every Maybanker is that we must grow responsibly and ensure we continuously create value for all our stakeholders — not destroy it,” he expounded.
“This conservative stance has served us well over the years and ensured we stood the test of time.”
A good indication of this is seen in how Maybank has grown steadily since its inception.
In its first annual report in June 1961, after nine months of operations, Maybank made $53,509 in net profit and had assets worth $102 million.
Thanks to the prudent stance over the years, the Group has built a solid foundation, recording a net profit of RM8.2 billion in 2019, with assets exceeding RM834 billion.
It is this innate commitment to being prudent that has also made Maybank resilient enough to withstand the impact of black swan events.
“Whether it is risk management, building our talent pipeline or our capital levels to one of the best in the region today, these are always done in the belief that we must lay a foundation strong enough to withstand unexpected shocks.”
Finding the Right Balance
Farid said Maybank is continuously working hard in finding the right balance to assist its clients and the relevant economies on their journeys to sustainable operations, given the delicate balance between sustainable and inclusive economic development.
“We want to do the right thing, guided by our mission and ensure that we build a sustainable future for all.”
He acknowledges that while Maybank has generally enjoyed steady success over the years, it has not been without its fair share of challenges.
Among others, there was a run on the bank in 1966, the global and Asian financial crises, and now the COVID-19 pandemic which were difficult periods for the Group. “Yes, these were challenging moments, but most importantly, the question to ask is whether we have learnt anything from it — and I believe we have,” he said.
Innovation Key to Success
Maybank has never been one to shy away from innovation. “Our history is replete with milestones of numerous firsts — whether it was phone and internet banking, forays into overseas markets, to banking via mobile bus in the 1970s and now by mobile phone,” he shared.
“At the same time, we have introduced industry-leading human resource practices and community empowerment programmes such as our Women Eco-Weavers and Reach Independence Sustainable Entrepreneurship training for the disabled and marginalised which are recognised regionally.”
Farid believes that innovation will be key to Maybank’s success in a future where digital reigns supreme, and says the Group continues to invest strategically to ensure it is well prepared. “We do not spend indiscriminately but enforce stringent parameters to realise value from every one of our investments.”
“We are especially focused on using data and technology to help us not just in decision making but also in responding to client needs in our fast-changing world.
“Our application development teams in Malaysia and Bangalore already produced a number of proprietary solutions that we use within our operations, including our web and mobile banking platforms, and we will be launching more within the next few months as part of our 60th-anniversary celebrations.”
But even as he looks back with gratitude, Farid said Maybank is actively planning for a future totally different from the past.
“We are living on the cusp of a radically different world, especially with this pandemic. It is ironic that at this milestone in our history, we are challenged anew like when we first started — can we remain resilient in a world where everything is totally disrupted?”
“We often say ‘time will tell’, but now we have to think differently.
“There is a saying — tomorrow is now, it is today that we must create the world of the future. So we are not going to wait for it to unfold — rather, we are working hard to create the future for our following generations,” he said.
It is on this premise that Farid remains confident no matter what, Maybank will be resilient and continue to grow in the years to come.
“We have diversified operations regionally, 43,000 talented people, a solid financial base, and the confidence of stakeholders which we will always work to maintain,” he said.