An Interview with Ken Yong


FST Media: What are your IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Yong: As the banking industry deals with margin compression and escalating requirements for regulatory compliance and global security threats, it is imperative for Alliance Bank to review and consolidate resources to focus on business and consumer digitisation.

Our IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months will be predicated on laying down a customer-facing delivery foundation, which allows the bank to leverage customer analytics to deliver a personalised connected customer experience and positioning the bank to capitalise on the digital revolution.

FST Media: What technology will have the biggest impact on financial services in Malaysia in the next year?

Yong: We anticipate mobility, customer analytics, e-payment and security as the four main areas that will dominate the Malaysian landscape in the next 12 to 24 months.

As the country embarks on a concerted market-wide effort into migrating from paper-based payment instruments to digital, it is a natural progression to increase customer convenience to an “always with me” personalised experience that manages e-payments protected by a customer-confident security model.

Mobility will be the main feature of Malaysia’s banking landscape. Mobile devices enable nearly every Malaysian to be a connected customer to information and their social circles. Customers are extremely discerning and mobile devices have brought about a new context to personalisation. This is why online real-time customer engagement now includes mobility, location and social contexts which, in turn, creates new markets and business opportunities. 

FST Media: What is the future of payments, and how will Alliance Bank develop products to make payments convenient to customers?

Yong: Payments will continue to be a hotly contested space by both banks and non-banks. Alliance Bank will leverage its strength in customer analytics to build strong relationships. Instead of merely facilitating payments, banks should veer towards providing added value pre and post-payment.

FST Media: Should banks partner with disrupters such as Apple, Facebook or Google in the payments landscape, or compete? Why?

Yong: Banks should view market disrupters such as Apple, Google and Facebook as “co-opetitors”. For example, cooperating on customer engagement and competing on overlapping offerings such as payments.

Banks can no longer ignore the roles that these market disrupters play in the new market reality. Whilst banks possess strength in the total customer relationship, intimacy to localised markets, and community and value chain engagement, market disruptors offer reach and ubiquity. Hence, banks need to consider market disruptors as part of their approach in addressing the connected customer.

FST Media: How have self-service terminals added value to Alliance Bank, and how does this impact the future of the bank branch?

Yong: Self-service terminals (SSTs) are the preferred transaction channels at the branch based on the assumption that customers prefer using the branch as their primary channel. More importantly, it offers 24/7 banking to customers. With SSTs, branches can re-focus towards providing personalised customer experience and advisory.

SSTs will continue to play a prominent role in maintaining transactional relationships in branch or offsite. We expect new branch models to feature SSTs that tackle more diverse roles such as account opening or debit card applications. New SSTs are expected to move towards integrating the cross-channel branch, contact centre and SST to personalise the customer experience.

FST Media: What has been the customer response to AllianceOnline, and how will you build on its success?

Yong: My role encompasses both consumer and business online banking. Since joining Alliance Bank in November 2012, both the consumer and business online banking services have been revamped.

Customers’ responses towards the change have been very encouraging. With AllianceOnline, consumer online banking clocked in three times the monthly acquisition run-rate growth.

BizSmart – business online banking – grew six times the monthly acquisition run-rate in one year.

The customer conversion rate was just as astounding at 45 per cent and 70 per cent for AllianceOnline and BizSmart respectively, against the total account opening for the month.

Within its first year in launch, both portals collectively experienced a 37 per cent growth on fee income.

The Bank has also recently launched Alliance Xchange – foreign currency e-deposits – to complete our full spectrum of e-deposit products and is a key market differentiator.

All Alliance Xchange facilities can be accessed online, and require no fees for a platform for savings and no backwards conversion to Malaysian Ringgit to mobilise funds – which is what is required with a traditional foreign currency account in Malaysia.

FST Media: How will you leverage big data and analytics to create targeted and personalised products for customers?

Yong: Multi-channel customer engagement centred on customer insights will be key in drawing commercial benefits from customer analytics. Integration of branch sales and servicing, contact centre and self-service e-channels will help banks realise the objective of deepening customer relationships cost effectively whilst also scaling to mass-personalisation for business.

The challenge for most banks will be cross-channel customer management. While the bank can capitalise on product or channel specific customer personalisation today, there must be a long-term view of building a customer centric culture and engagement across products and channels.

FST Media: What has been Alliance Bank’s most effective customer acquisition channel and why?

Yong: For AllianceOnline, one of our more effective customer acquisition channels is the branch. For BizSmart most effective was the direct sales team. The discipline to provide our customers with adequate channels to access their funds is imperative.

However, business online banking requires additional business documentation while more personalised attention needs to be paid for online access activation for business current accounts. This is the reason why the direct sales model works better for us.

FST Media: What information sources do you consider invaluable for your job, and why?

Yong: We view customer feedback and maintaining a sustained dialogue with our customers invaluable to ensure that the bank’s initiatives remain relevant. By adopting this principle, the bank has gained market share and won industry recognition, winning three regional awards for best online banking in 2014.

FST Media: What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of your career to date?

Yong: My most meaningful career achievement was establishing a sustainable and innovative digital banking outfit that continues to thrive without me. The ability of the award winning team to transform from a conventional cost-centre, typical of a channel play, to a sustainable business expediting the organisation’s digital transformation agenda is one of the most rewarding experiences.

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Yong: I am passionate about developing sustainable businesses and organisational creativity. Being a hybrid, both a seasoned business lead and technologist living in the age of the great digital shift, it is my passion to bring the best out of people and to develop innovative bricks-and-clicks models for businesses that need to transition to meet the market shift.

I derive joy and energy from connecting and empowering like-minded individuals that I meet and have the privilege of working with, in our quest to help build competitive advantage and market disruptions in the pursuit of being the best. I believe having organisational creativity inbuilt as a culture will keep the market innovation spirit intact at the bank and provide for a continuous competitive edge in the Malaysian banking industry. 



If you would like to hear more from key Malaysian industry executives, register to attend FST Media’s 2nd annual Technology & Innovation – The Future of Security in Financial Services conference to be held at the Prince Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on the 3rd of September. Don’t miss out on this important industry event. See the agenda here.