An interview with Victor Khor


Sainsbury: What are your priorities for the next 12-18 months?

Khor: Transaction banking in its current form is experiencing unparalleled growth in Malaysia. Coupled with direct banking via alternate channels, it has seen the migration of branch-based transactions to electronic transactions at an unprecedented rate. Today, most banks in Malaysia serve at least 80 to 85 per cent of their transactions via electronic channels. The advent of tablets and mobile technology has also opened new and exciting ways to reach customers previously limited by the size of mobile phone screens.

Our key goal has always been the offering of relevant, secured and innovative transaction banking services to our customers. By growing our base of engaged customers who use Alliance Bank as their main transacting bank, we aim to increase the average product holding for such customers to improve our revenues as well as stickiness.

In keeping with our vision to be the “Best Customer Service Bank” in Malaysia, we have invested heavily in Direct Banking services. We launched our new Alliance BizSmart, Malaysia’s first online banking service that offers enterprise cash management services to sole proprietors and small businesses, and AllianceOnline.

Transaction Banking is also responsible for growing the Bank’s deposits for the Consumer and Business Banking. The bundling of Direct Banking services such as online banking, e-payments, e-collections and debit cards with lifestyle banking adds value to the standard deposit products.

The rapid growth of internet commerce and the ease of intra-Asian trade has given birth to a new segment of small businesses – the young, tech-savvy entrepreneur. To address this segment, Alliance Bank launched its next-generation Online Banking solution for Business, the Alliance Bank BizSmart Online Banking in October 2012. We are the first bank in Malaysia to offer “big business online banking tools” to young first-time entrepreneurs, sole proprietors and small businesses. In addition to world-class security features and a comprehensive range of advanced cash management tools previously unavailable to small businesses, it comes bundled with “More Of You” integrated transaction banking offering covering business current accounts, business ATM card and a business credit card where the customer can design their own card face to showcase their business.

Another area of focus is growing our trade business. As Malaysia is very much part of the Asian trading hub, this has always been a mainstay of fee income for banks. One of our key challenges in this area is the adoption of better processes and automation to constantly improve the efficiency in processing trade documents. Equipping the frontline trade sales team with the latest business data, trade trends, pricing and product structuring is also an ongoing emphasis. 

Sainsbury: What do you consider to be the most critical technology opportunities in financial services in Malaysia?

Khor: On customer touch points, 2013 will be year of lifestyle where locality, mobility and social will come to the fore. As mobile devices especially tablets, take over the mantle of being the primary platform for Internet access and connectivity, so does the context of locality (geo-positioning and geo-sensing) and social access to your community of friends / business partners / same interest.

With Mobile Banking, Mobile Commerce and Mobile Payments still finding its feet and e-communities yet to be commercialised, there is still much room for strong market innovation in this space. We believe that the window of opportunity to carve out new markets is still wide open for banks and non-bank players alike in areas where they can leverage their respective distribution strengths.

Internally, risk management, online security, Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), enterprise payments and sales force automation will be hot technology areas for financial institutions.

Sainsbury: How do you see the role of the bank branch evolving as more customers adopt mobile and online services?

Khor: Bank branches today are evolving from brick and mortar to “click-and-mortar” model. For customers, this means having the trusted comfort of a physical branch with personalised service seamlessly complemented by eco-friendly on-demand mobile and Internet banking services.

In Asia Pacific, the human touch is still very important for higher value and consultative transactions. Therefore, the combination of electronic anytime, anywhere convenience backed up by high quality personal services when required is paramount to a holistic lifestyle banking offering.

Sainsbury: What opportunities do you see available to leverage on customer data to improve their experience with the bank?

Khor: Moving from product-centric data analysis to customer-centric interactions via integrated channels for both sales and service is key to understanding customer lifestyles. This includes leveraging on both internal (traditional MIS) and external (social) data points to extend the right product or services to ensure a positive customer engagement.

With a customer-centric capability, banks are able to provide for customer on a “needs” basis rather than a more intrusive product push across the board. Leveraging on the various direct channels of interactions via web, mobile, self-service terminals, etc., banks are able to reach out to customers in providing the right product/service to the appropriate segment at the right time.

At Alliance Bank, this is already embedded in our organisation’s DNA. That’s why our tagline is, “Banking Made Personal”. Our relationship with our customers begins with proactive and positive engagement via conversations. Analytics is used to understand our customers’ financial management behavioural pattern. This combined allows us to provide our customers with the right financial solutions for their lifestyle needs.

Sainsbury: What opportunities do you see for banks to learn from the experiences of organisations outside of financial services?

Khor: Pick any industry and each will have their strengths where financial services can learn from. For me personally, the top three on my list would be:
1. Sports organisations for their relentless pursuit of victory and the uncompromising discipline of teamwork;
2. Hospitality industry for their focus on delighting customers through excellent high-touch services; and
3. The IT industry for their culture of embracing and propagating constant change and innovation, transforming innovation into consumable solutions, and distributing solutions to achieve scale in a consistent manner.

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

Khor: Innovation is an oft-misused term as it is often associated with being the first mover and Blue Ocean ideals. I do not subscribe to this. I believe that innovation must be based on strong value creation. It is about taking the mundane and doing it better to achieve greater value as its outcome. 

My team understands that innovation is built on perspiration rather than inspiration, a practiced discipline instead of a lofty ideal. We begin with the questions of “what delights our customer?” or “what exceeds their expectations?” and grow from there.

The consistency of delivering good solutions almost always results in customers perceiving us as innovative. I call this mass innovation.

Sainsbury: How do you manage the stresses involved in your role?

Khor: I do not see stress as a negative element. On the contrary, my best people thrive on stress. Work stress can be turned into positive stress or eustress by dint of having fun at work and (actually) enjoying the work.

My team and I view goals and KPIs to be a challenge that everyone relishes, and successes should always be celebrated. In my role, I encourage and facilitate an environment of respect, a strong sense of pride, and collaborative teamwork. In a way, my professional values are aligned with the Bank’s – Respect, Integrity, Teamwork and Excellence (R.I.T.E.).

On a personal level, I believe that not taking oneself too seriously helps a lot. I am blessed with a family (and some really close friends) that keeps my feet firmly planted on the ground. Having a sanctuary of family and friends where I can be myself helps me maintain a proper balance.

Sainsbury: If you weren’t working in financial services, what would you be doing?

Khor: If I weren’t in the financial services sector, I would be in the IT segment. I spent six years in the IT industry; I was the Country Director for Sun Microsystems for FSI Thailand & Malaysia in my last job. I had a lot of fun during those six years. The IT industry taught me the skills to adapt to constant change more than any other area I’ve worked in, including banking.

Sainsbury: Every leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?

Khor: Curiously, I have never put much emphasis on being remembered for any legacy from a professional perspective. I have always strived for four “greats” – to be a great husband, to be a great father, to be a great son and to be a great brother. Simply put, I work at my job but I work for my family; therefore, by striving for professional excellence I am a step closer towards achieving my 4Gs.

I am a firm believer in stewardship when it comes to my professional responsibilities. As for legacy, my two children are my legacies. It is important to me that they be God-fearing, conscientious and kind citizens of the world.