Maybank Singapore CEO John Lee

Dr John Lee, Country Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and CEO of Maybank Singapore. (Photo: Maybank Singapore)

Lending a human touch to financial services remains the utmost imperative for banks, particularly in an evolving banking landscape made complex by macroeconomic uncertainties and rising geopolitical tensions.

That was the key theme that emerged at the Maybank Golf Day Event, the first in-person golf event post-Covid. Held on Nov 17 at the Sentosa Golf Club, the event was attended by Maybank’s management and its highly valued Maybank clients. In the evening, the guests convened for a dinner and prize presentation to award the best golf play of the day.

As a bank, it remains steadfast in its commitment to put people first, Dr John Lee, Country Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and CEO of Maybank Singapore, told The Peak. It prides itself on its ability to build trust and find ways to connect with its customers, shareholders, employees, regulators and community.

Maybank Singapore
Ong Kim Pong (Regional CEO, Southeast Asia, PSA International Pte Ltd), Lim Seak Koon (CEO, Beverly Group), Kenneth Goi (COO & Executive Director, GSH Corporation) and Alvin Lee (Head of Group Wealth Management & Community Financial Services, Maybank Singapore) at the recent Maybank Golf Day Event held at the Sentosa Golf Club. (Photo: Maybank Singapore)

A digital-first banking experience

To do so, Maybank has accelerated its digital banking experience to meet digital-first needs for its retail and business banking customers.

This ranges from digital onboarding and applications, and online self-servicing for new initiatives and existing services. It is also investing to build more hyper-personalised solutions and service enhancements to customers.

Take the case of Maybank’s branches, explained Dr Lee. Typically, these branches are transaction-based places for customers to fulfill their banking needs in the quickest possible time, and service may come across as unintentionally “distant” at times. But with transactions going increasingly online, branch staff are better able to provide even more personalised service, and in turn better engage, interact and understand customers’ needs in their face-to-face interactions with them, which is important for that human touch.

By next year, it also plans to roll out personalised digital ang paos and digital certificates of proof, said Dr Lee. 

“In the digital world, it’s easy to just transfer money to each other, but you lose that emotional connection which comes with giving a red packet. Likewise, when older people make term deposits, they like to feel secure and to know that their money is safely with the bank.”

“Hence we need to make sure that even as we digitise, we ensure that that sense of emotional connection and security is still there,” he explained.

Maybank Singapore golf day
Lim Kok Boon (Head, Retail Wealth & Branch Distribution, Maybank Singapore), Loo Choon Chiaw (Founder & Managing Partner, Loo & Partners LLP), Goh Keat Jin (CEO, Maybank Asset Management Singapore), John Lee (Country CEO & CEO, Maybank Singapore), Vinothan Tulisinathan (Deputy Director, MIDA), Marc Leong (Head, SME Banking, Maybank Singapore), Alice Tan (Head, Maybank Private Singapore), Johnny Harjantho (Managing Director & Founder, Smart Energy Pte Ltd) attend the post-golf dinner and prize presentation. (Photo: Maybank Singapore)

Such initiatives are geared towards elevating the customer experience, core to Maybank’s tenet of humanising financial services.

In addition, organising such events like Golf Day are a useful touchpoint for its clients to network and rekindle relationships. “It’s not just calls or Zoom meetings. It makes a difference where customers can feel they have access to the team at Maybank. That’s what we mean by humanising, and we hope that translates to trust,” he added.

Being responsive amid uncertainty

Today’s post-pandemic market environment is a challenging one, marked by high inflation, high interest rates and high volatility, especially with the recent tech layoffs, said Dr Lee.

The ASEAN region, one of the fastest growing regions in the world and poised to be the next global power house, is facing cloudier outlook and grimmer prospects ahead.

More than ever, organisations need to be able to respond even more quickly and critically with greater agility to navigate the complex market environment with new business playbooks.

Maybank adopts a “24 by 24 by 24” policy — a company-wide protocol where decisions that cannot be agreed upon are channelled to higher management within a day. This ensures the bank can reach a final decision in faster time to resolve issues to best meet customers’ needs.

Other initiatives include Maybank Malaysia customers being able to open a Singapore dollar savings account with Maybank Singapore online to facilitate real-time funds transfers. The Ministry of Finance (Singapore) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore also started eGuarantee@Gov, to provide a banker’s guarantee or insurance bond to businesses and individuals within a day.

“Uncertainty is always going to be there. But it’s how we can react and adjust so that we can make decisions faster. Will we be right all the time? The answer is no, but sometimes by not making decisions, it is a wrong decision,” said Dr Lee. 

Banking with a personal touch

Zyfas Pharma Julia Johari Mohamed Tahir
Zyfas Pharma directors Julia Johari and Mohamed Tahir. (Photo: Maybank Singapore)

What sets a bank apart from others is also its dedication to ensuring a “personal touch”, said Zyfas Pharma directors Mohamed Tahir and Julia Johari.

As long-time Maybank customers since the early 1990s, the two value the bank’s emphasis on regular communication and level of personal service delivered to small and medium enterprises. During the pandemic, Maybank was the first to alert them to a temporary bridging loan by the Singapore government. 

“We have a lot of new companies and products, but Maybank representatives always make it a point to do face-to-face meetings. It’s the ease of financing and effort to understand us that makes this relationship so positive,” said Mr Tahir.

For instance, registration of new products typically takes about 18 months, followed by another six months to break even. So far, Maybank has readily lent their help to extend its credit facilities, support and “a listening ear”, added Ms Johari.

A leading force for good in the community 

Albert Ching, CEO Singapore Cancer Society
Albert Ching, CEO Singapore Cancer Society. (Photo: Maybank Singapore)

Furthermore, Maybank goes above and beyond the typical bank-customer  relationship, said Mr Albert Ching, Singapore Cancer Society’s chief executive officer.

Citing how Maybank’s global banking team recently reached out to get them onboard, he said he was impressed by the staff’s knowledge of products and offerings with favourable interest rates for their banking needs.

“During challenging times, every dollar matters to a charity. They offered solutions to help us stretch our dollar so we can do more for the beneficiaries… It’s a win-win for us,” he said.

He was hopeful that the bank could establish a longer-term partnership, be it enlisting its staff to volunteer with Singapore Cancer Society, supporting its programmes and tying up with a wide network of clients to champion cancer awareness.

“The relationship isn’t just that of a bank-customer relationship. It’s a bank with a heart,” said Mr Ching. He added that the golf event was a “wonderful platform” for people across different industries to come together and strike up new friendships.

Maybank also prides itself on inculcating a strong sense of belonging and family values, said Dr Lee. On average, its employees have served for around 20 years. 

Woven into the Maybank culture is its commitment to community building. Staff and members of the public were encouraged to put their best foot forward for Maybank’s Walk for Humanity virtual walk earlier this year that raised over S$280,000 for the Singapore Red Cross’ local and regional humanitarian efforts. In 2021, Maybank also pledged $500,000 to the Maybank-CDC Jobs & Skills Series, teaming up with the five Community Development Councils (CDCs), and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to empower job seekers in securing placement opportunities. Since 2010, the bank has supported the five CDCs to provide financial empowerment to over 3,500 low-income households.

“In all that we do, we are driven by the singular mission to humanise financial Services, bringing financial inclusion, security, accessibility, and innovation closer to our retail and business customers,” said Dr Lee.