Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Maybank's Farid: "Rigorous planning required to be fully ready for pandemic"

5 min read

By Abdul Farid Alias

In this, the first in the series of CEO Perspectives on the impact of and response to COVID-19, Maybank CEO and Group President Abdul Farid Alias accentuates the need for rigorous planning in times of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it will bring to the business landscape.

  • Unexpected events call for extensive planning and preparation to ensure readiness
  • Prioritising health and safety as well as ensuring minimal disruption are important
  • The pandemic has changed the way businesses operate, making it necessary to relook business and operating models for long-term sustainability

One can never be fully ready for a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. You prepare as best as you can, taking into account all possible scenarios but also knowing that an odd curve ball can be thrown at you at any time.

In the case of Maybank, we believe that our continuous emphasis on detailed business continuity planning as well as regular crisis simulation exercises over the years have equipped us with insights and necessary experience in managing unexpected events that could occur at any time and disrupt our business.

It is based on this rigorous planning that we activated our business continuity plan as early as January soon after the virus outbreak began. This was followed by live split operations in our Greater China network on 3 February and across critical functions a week later. This is to ensure that we were prepared in case the situation escalated to cause widespread business and operational disruption, as had happened subsequently.

Priority was customers’ and employees’ health and safety and mitigating disruption to society

Our first line responses covered both internal and external stakeholders, in line with guidance from relevant health authorities and our commitment to ensure the safety and health of customers and employees. From early on, we worked quickly on the procurement of personal protection equipment for our employees across the group, and also instituted temperature checks for employees, customers and visitors to our group-wide offices and branches while stepping up the frequency of cleaning and sanitisation of our premises.

At the same time, we implemented travel advisories for our employees, limited meetings with large groups or external parties, promoted remote meetings, issued regular educational advisories on health and safety measures as well as commenced split operations to prepare for the possibility of the operating environment becoming more restrictive.

Realising that the outbreak was causing significant disruption across the broad spectrum of society, we had on 11 February 2020 announced a financial relief package for individual, business and small and medium enterprise (SME) customers which included a moratorium on loan repayments of up to six months, and restructuring and refinancing of facilities on a case-to-case basis.

In addition, our insurance arm Etiqa also offered hospitalisation coverage to its life insurance and family takaful policyholders that fall ill from the coronavirus. Further flexibility was subsequently accorded in line with the financial relief package announced by the central bank and we continue to work closely with clients to assist them through this period to ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods and/or businesses.

These measures were progressively strengthened as the outbreak became more serious and we continue to institute additional ones where necessary to ensure the sustainability of our operations.

Rethinking long-term sustainability of business and operating models

It is important to note that this is a pandemic-induced crisis and will not be fixed until the virus is contained. Having said that, it has already changed not only the banking industry but businesses and lifestyles the world over. It has tested human and corporate preparedness and agility, calling organisations to relook and evaluate their business and operating models to ensure long-term sustainability. Technological capability and connectedness are no longer ‘nice to have’ but a necessity and critical to the survival of businesses – in these times and also moving forward.

It has also forced new ways of working and significant mindset change to quickly adapt, so those who are agile will come out ahead. There are also new areas to be managed in terms of productivity and employee engagement, especially with greater emphasis on work-from-home and social distancing. Equally important is to find new ways of working, new enablers and solutions as well as new dependencies and collaborations.

We may have to invest further to expedite our infrastructure capabilities to empower our people and businesses to run from any location, enabled by the right tools, processes and policies. At the same time, customer expectations will change and banks will have to ensure that we are equipped to address their needs, be it from a product or customer experience perspective. Additionally, the industry will have to quickly evolve to ensure that it continues to have the right products and services for businesses which are themselves undergoing tremendous change and will be operating in a totally transformed environment from now on.

Abdul Farid Alias is the Group President and CEO of Maybank, a Malaysia-based universal bank that operates across the ASEAN region

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