An Interview With Mohamed Adam Wee Abdullah


Maybank’s Group CMO speaks to FST Media about how Maybank will leverage digital platforms to reach out to a growing Gen Y customer base.

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

Adam: In the next 12-18 months, there will be a lot of focus on our other home markets, like Singapore and Indonesia. Whilst we are a leading brand in Malaysia, we are still considered more of a challenger brand in other markets. We will be looking at marketing programs to help us accelerate growth in the opportunity markets.

We have immersed ourselves in the areas of social-channel customer service, cloud solutions, CRM, big data and mobile. We have successfully deployed quite a number of these initiatives across our key markets. In the immediate term, we will be focused on mobile innovations and also on driving a deeper adoption of the solutions which we have already deployed. In the mobile space, we have recently launched a new M2U mobile app that has a much improved user interface. It also provides for a simple “quick balance inquiry” interface for customers who are still skeptical about transacting online, but would like a convenient and secure way to check their account balances, anytime and anywhere.

We have also recently launched two exciting new mobile apps: the Maybank Property Finder and the Maybank Credit Cards apps. The Maybank Property Finder is not primarily a mortgage calculator, because customers have a stronger affinity to home-buying before they need a loan. We have incorporated augmented reality to allow for customers to continue to partake in their favorite pastime of house-hunting and still be able to view properties in gated communities. While the Maybank Credit Cards Apps allows users to know what their card can give them, at anytime, anywhere across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines. This allows our customers to shop like locals in these markets, regardless of the card-issuing country. A distinct feature we have built into the merchant app is the ability for our retail merchants to activate unique promotions to manage their distressed stock and this can be broadcast to customers within certain proximity. 

FST Media: What technology or innovation will be a game-changer for the insurance industry in the year ahead?

Adam: The insurance industry in general has been a late-comer in the field of technology and innovation. The social channels will emerge as an important platform by enhancing the awareness of customers’ life-stage insurance needs, and as a forum to gain views and opinions to help us make informed decisions. 

There will also be more direct, self-service channels, either via internet or mobile, which will improve the turnover and persistency of simple products. The inclusion of insurance will be more relevant, timely and meaningful, through better CRM and data analytics, so that customers will not overlook their insurance needs. A good insurance agency will master the skills to manage their business and engage their clients via social platforms to maintain relationships. Segment marketing will increase in importance for these categories as brands bridge their strategies to transition from the insured middle-age segment to the younger under-insured segments.

FST Media: How has your ‘Bridging Worlds in Asia’ campaign delivered value to the business, and how will you measure its success?

Adam: We had two objectives for the campaign: to strengthen our proposition of humanising financial services and to achieve a unified brand theme for advertising across the region. In a technology-saturated world, the only real differentiator is to humanise. We believe this is a real differentiator for Maybank and it will manifest in not only the communications theme but also in terms of shaping the customer experience for all our customers. It has driven the organisation further into the mode of fixing the gaps in our processes, products and service delivery. 

From a qualitative perspective, this has delivered value to the business and from a quantitative perspective, the uniformity, in terms of managing the brand communications across the region, has resulted in the brand value increase of 11 per cent yearly, of which 70 per cent of that growth is attributable to brand programs. 

FST Media: What other marketing strategies is Maybank considering to strengthen its regional presence in Malaysia over the next few years?

Adam: It is very likely that we will pull the sponsorship lever a little and perhaps do more regional activation and engagement programs with our key customer segments in our home markets.

FST Media: How will Maybank leverage digital platforms to reach out to a growing Gen Y customer base?

Adam: Financial products and services cater to changing life-stage needs and continue to have relevance in serving these needs. However, technology is a major factor in changing customer consumption expectations and behavior. We have been investing in building up our tools and capabilities to deliver more quickly to customers leveraging digital platforms. 

For example, we have introduced Maybank2u pay which is designed to facilitate micro-entrepreneurs particularly Gen Y’s who run online businesses through their blogs. Maybank2u Pay offers a convenient payment platform that helps them manage their sales transactions systematically and professionally. It also functions as a simplified “cash management” system that enables reconciliation of sales, provides email notification for every transaction, sales records for up to 60 days and most importantly, details of the type of transaction with each of their customers. 

Another innovation that we have introduced leverages the growing trend of photography posting (such as Instagram) and self-entrepreneurship which is becoming increasingly popular among youths of today. We developed a “Snap&Sell” app that allows them to instantly post a sale by taking a picture of their product and sharing the link in their social network such as Facebook, Whatsapp or even via SMS. The payment for the transaction is then easily enabled through Maybank2u via the “Snap&Sell” app on the sales site. 

What we are doing is to focus on key behavioural traits among Gen Ys  today, among which are their propensity to use digital devices and being increasingly mobile, and then using our digital platforms to meet specific banking, payment and lifestyle needs that they may have.

FST Media: How will you harness the potential of data analytics to deliver targeted and relevant content to customers and a seamless customer journey?

Adam: We have a balanced view towards big data and CRM in terms of harnessing the potential of data analytics. We do not want to over-invest in unravelling the insights that big data promises, if the upside for us is marginal. The application of some traditional approaches to understanding customer insights can still be very effective, as behaviours are not as unique to each individual as we assume. Customers typically orientate towards what is trending, and fads can be capitalised on for the short term. However, we have to be fast in our execution. 

Most targeted marketing efforts in this space are likely to be permission-based marketing, due to the privacy regulations. What we have injected into most digital platforms we build, is the ability to analyse the performance of the contents we serve, be it our website or mobile apps. What is coming, in terms of a seamless customer experience, will be a simple processing of account opening and applications via digital channels, which will also provide faster approvals.

FST Media: What is your most effective customer acquisition channel and why?

Adam: Our dependency on physical channels for customer acquisition is still high, considering that the implementation of simple processing continues to be plagued by complexities in technology-related implementations. We have the largest distribution, in terms of branches, in Malaysia to serve all segments of our customers and we have more than 2400 offices worldwide. We will continue to harness the potential of this channel, whilst developing other channels that are in line with changing consumption behaviors of customers, in the markets that we operate.

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

Adam: The culture of innovation is important to both our short-term goals and also to  the delivery of our long-term vision. For innovation to become a culture in an organisation, the employees need to understand it in its simplest form. In Maybank, all employees are encouraged to share their ideas and we organise regular competitions to uncover the best ideas to improve our processes, products and services. Winners will typically get support and funding to execute the winning ideas. This philosophy is embedded in our Brand DNA.

When we want to be deliberate about innovation, establishing a clear problem statement, allowing iterative experimentations and providing provocative challenges to the team is essential. It always starts with a problem statement; half the problem is already solved if you can identify it clearly. We also appreciate that we have to invest in finding out what it is that we do not know. This can take the form of investing in learning from other sectors and also from markets and organisations that are ahead of us in solving the problems that we want to resolve, or in capitalising on the opportunities that are present. Investments also need to take the form of marketing experimentations where, through an iterative approach in implementation, we can fail quickly and focus on doing more of what works. The most important ingredient for innovation is the presence of a provocative challenge to fuel passionate commitment to the cause. The outcome must be meaningful and game-changing, and it must give us a key competitive advantage.

FST Media: How significant is the role of technology in your everyday life?

Adam: When we have too much exposure to technology, we appreciate our offline time more. Technology plays an integral role in every aspect of my work life and I have 5 mobile devices that I use for work and on average, I work with 3 display screens on my desk at any one time. I have a device for every operating system, so that I can appreciate the user experience when considering user interfaces for our implementations on these platforms. I subscribe to every social platform for my work, but am completely inactive on Facebook. In my personal life, I only use one phone and the only other forms of technology that I enjoy are my television and car.

FST Media: What role will social marketing play in shaping the future of the banking industry?

Adam: According to Statista, over the next year there will be 1.96 billion people using social media, of which Facebook continues to dominate with more than 70 per cent share. The pervasiveness of social in customers’ lives cannot be ignored and Facebook is not likely to be a passing fad. Therefore, it is inevitable that marketing strategies for banks will need to incorporate a social channel strategy. 

A fundamental truth that forms the foundation of our social channel strategy is that people are going to talk about us whether we are there or not. Hence it is better for us to create an environment where they are comfortable to talk to us, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, and we can respond to them. When it comes to customer feedback, we have developed our own digital content management system that allows our “socially trained” operators to achieve a consistent 95 per cent response rate with a response time of under 60 minutes, easily 5 times more responsive than our closest competitor. We have also successfully rolled out this capability across all our key markets. 

Other opportunities that social marketing presents are need-based and life-stage targeting. A significant area that will be meaningful for the banking sector is the realisation of social commerce. Consumers are generally too trusting in the digital space and are placing too much trust in the intermediaries that operate in the commerce and payment space. There are some degree of risk in the eventuality of the product not arriving or services not rendered as these are typically non-bank entities. Banks need to step up in this area as consumers tend to trust banks more.

FST Media: How can marketing teams work together with IT teams to enhance customer engagement?

Adam: Technology is a factor that is changing people’s lives and it is this behavioral change that marketers are interested to understand in terms of how that would impact on the way they would search for and decide on brands. Their expectations in terms of how they want to be served and the product and service innovations that will come out of technology advancement has made what was previously impossible now possible. The role of the marketer is to identify the opportunities to bridge these expectation gaps between the customers and the bank; to define the customer journey and experience. The role of IT is as an enabler in this context; to look at the areas where technology plays a role in the customer journey and to ensure that we are able to apply the right technology solutions to fulfil the experience we promise. 

In the banking sector, IT is not confined as an enabler. The primary function of IT is to ensure that the bank’s core systems are functioning optimally and to ensure that the bank has the highest possible IT security in place.  From an IT budget standpoint, the majority of the expenditure will remain in these areas as these are essentially the “heart” of banking. The best way for Marketing and IT to work together to enhance the customer engagement and experience is to define a clear RACI (responsible, accountable, consult, inform) strategy for collaboration and decision making.

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

Adam: I want to be remembered as the CMO who brought the science of marketing into the Maybank Group and helped steer the group to be among the top marketing organisations in the world.

This interview first appeared in FST Media’s annual magazine The Who’s Who of Financial Services Asia Pacific which launched at the Technology & Innovation – the Future of Banking & Financial Services conference in Melbourne on 3rd June, 2015.