He is a banker whose other interests include a deeper appreciation of planes as well as building and designing homes. But even if he is not cruising the skies or creating artsy home interiors, Lim Kee Yeong, Affin Bank’s Executive Director of Enterprise Banking, has landed a career that he enjoys.
Helping his staff grow will always be at his core, he tells Chief of Staff Asia, before reeling off a host of staff support initiatives that Affin Bank has put in place during the unprecedented upheaval surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. And while that massive disruption may be a game-changer in the banking space across Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region, it is also highlighting the value of strong teamwork and leadership in businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Lim says adaptability and agility have become the new character traits that are helping staff to thrive in this period. He says his daily goals are all about helping those team members to continue to achieve great things for themselves and their organisation, even as the landscape continues to change.
“With the little runway I have left in my career, I would like to continue my career growth, and hopefully, one day, give more stories from here on,” he says.
Looking after the workforce
COS Asia: Banks are an essential service but disruptions during the movement restrictions in Malaysia were still inevitable. When it comes to looking after your employees, what forms of support has Affin Bank extended to them during this time?
Lim: Financially, the Bank provides various assistance programs to affected staff including payment relief where merited in line with what is regulatorily allowed. Staff members have been encouraged to approach our People Office for help.
Working from home has been arranged with all the necessary equipment and tools. Any suspected Covid-19 cases will be given due medical attention, including an immediate swab test and contact tracing. Other areas of work enhancements include training sessions, where staff can better understand and appreciate the situation when handling customers or giving feedback.
The Bank has also been among the pioneers of a staff vaccination program that rolled out alongside the nationwide government program. Additional off days are also provided due to the side effects of vaccination. All front liners are required to do rapid tests regularly and must be fully vaccinated, ensuring personal and customer safety.
The availability of help and proactiveness of the Bank in ensuring safety and care is something it has done very well. Few fell ill during the pandemic, and the bank was very quick to act upon receiving such information. Ensuring staff members feel safe to work and customers are informed of our initiatives makes a difference.
COS Asia: Can you also share about Affin Bank’s support to the business community in Malaysia?
Lim: Affin Bank has been positively active in supporting the business community. We offer payment relief assistance in line with government and regulatory initiatives. The bank also offers its Financial Assistance and Instalment Relief (FAIR) scheme involving customisable tenure extension and step-up payment arrangements.
From a non-financial perspective, the Bank is very active in online and offline activities, either as the host, moderator, co-organiser, or sponsor. These webinars, hybrid conferences, and business matching sessions are meant to provide businesses with information, ideas, and experiences on how to maneuver during the pandemic and emerge stronger.
On the digital front, the Bank works with business partners through our multiple award-winning mobile application, SME Colony. It provides offerings, information, and webinars for the business community to learn, connect and enhance commercial knowledge on weathering the pandemic.
The International Finance Corporation recognised SME Colony at the Global SME Finance Awards 2021 as at the forefront of innovation. Staying true to our tagline — Always About You — the bank will continue to assist the business community, as well as be proactive in contacting customers for assistance.
COS Asia: Do you see a major shift in the way the business will be done in the “new normal”?
Lim: Yes, it has changed. Digital and virtual communications have become a norm and are likely to remain so. It is also not as easy to meet customers now, despite increasing efforts. Some customers have also requested some flexibility and the means to meet up, discuss, and engage. As bankers, we will do our best in accommodating our customers, hence the shift in modus operandi.
Exercising management with care
The Executive Director of Enterprise Banking shares his approach to management and the value of his local HR team.
COS Asia: As a director with responsibility for hundreds of finance industry professionals, what is your management style?
Lim: No single style will fit all situations — that’s the mystery of leadership. I practice the participative-directive style. I seek ideas, but with a fair limit in time and scope. I will lay strategic directions and guide tactical approaches while looking for execution outcomes for improvements.
I like teamwork. But I also enjoy great sales outcomes from staff individually. I always tell new joiners that I will remember only two groups of team members: top performers and bottom performers — how the bank can reward the top guys and make them better, while for bottom performers, what can be improved are key questions to continually answer.
COS Asia: How many staff members do you manage?
Lim: The business has over 400 team members, contributing in their unique but collective ways.
COS Asia: Which is more challenging: managing your subordinates or your external clients?
Lim: I won’t use the term “challenging,” but “important,” instead. Both are equally challenging, but I find managing internal team members more important. If internal staff members are managed well and taken care of, that team will handle the customers properly and naturally. As a leader, it is important to keep engaging the team and understanding their needs and wants for them to do their job well, and eventually gain better remuneration in return.
COS Asia: How closely do you work with your HR team? Which key parts of their job do you find yourself engaging with the most?
Lim: Training and staff grooming for succession purposes are the two areas I can add value to. Such efforts are coordinated with our HR team, making the overall outcome more meaningful to the business, the staff, and the organisation. We have a very supportive and proactive HR, or People Office, with ideas and initiatives for the global good and to serve the customers well.
Life lessons from the banking world
He reflected on some of the biggest milestones and lessons from his 20-year history in the finance industry.
COS Asia: Please share one important lesson as you perform your current role.
Lim: Adaptability – it’s a big word, but one that’s fully on trial in my current role. It has been a part of everything: from setting up the business five years ago, with very little to start with, to winning customers’ trust. Most important of all has been how to shift the Bank quickly to online/virtual modes during the pandemic. With a great team, we overcome many obstacles.
COS Asia: If you were not a banker, what possibly would you be now?
Lim: (Laughs) Haha, I have always liked two other professions. One is building and renovating houses, and the other is piloting aircraft. Over the years, I have developed a deep interest in building and renovating homes. I design my home interiors, with minor on and off upgrading or modifying here and there, subject to affordability. Some friends have even sought advice on their renovations, which I happily provided. Being a pilot is the dream of many kids, but somehow, it still attracts my interest. I enjoy reading information on aircraft and the aircraft pages of inflight magazines.
COS Asia: Was there a time when you had to rethink if you were in the right place in your career?
Lim: Most definitely. I started in banking and have remained so since then. I couldn’t say if that was correct or not, but my decision then was focused on the highest pay I could get, given some family issues back then. The biggest turning point to talk about was my decision over 17 years ago to move on from consumer banking, where I was very comfortable, to SME banking, where I knew virtually nothing.
Somehow, I was bold enough, fortunate enough, and grateful enough to have an opportunity to run an SME product portfolio. The rest is history. I still enjoy banking, but I’m loving every minute of SME banking specifically. With the little runway I have left in my career, I would like to continue my career growth, and hopefully, one day, give more stories from here on.
Getting to know: Lim Kee Yeong
Job Title: Executive Director, Enterprise Banking
Company: Affin Bank Berhad
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Years in the role: Five
Family status: Married with three kids
Academic background: MBA from Wichita State University, U.S.
Leadership philosophy: Groom your team so that one day you will be replaced by them to allow you to move on to do something else and continue the learning process.
AFFIN BANK BERHAD COMPANY PROFILE
Industry: Banking and Finance
Regional headquarters: Kuala Lumpur
Employees: Estimated 7,000
HR focus areas:
- Learning and Development
- Succession Planning
- Talent attraction