Women Leaders Spearhead Digital Banking Revolution in Malaysia

Women Leaders Spearhead Digital Banking Revolution in Malaysia

by March 8, 2023

The digital banking industry in Malaysia has undergone rapid evolution in recent years, revolutionizing the country’s financial sector by providing customers with fast, secure, and convenient banking services

Technological advancements and changing customer preferences have driven the growth of Malaysia’s digital economy, which currently contributes 22.6 percent to the country’s GDP, which is expected to rise to 25.5 percent by 2025, according to the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) report.

One of the significant developments in the Malaysian banking industry is the increase in gender diversity, particularly in leadership positions. 

Women are increasingly taking up leadership roles and driving the sector’s transformation in the country. This trend is breaking down gender barriers and challenging traditional norms in an industry that has been male-dominated for decades.

The shift towards greater gender diversity is crucial, as research has demonstrated that companies with more gender diversity at the leadership level typically perform better. 

Passion for innovation and growth in the banking industry

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has awarded five digital banking licenses to Boost Holdings Sdn Bhd and RHB Bank Bhd, GXS-Kuok Brothers, Sea Group-YTL, AEON Credit Service, AEON Financial Service and Money Lion (AEON Consortium), and KAF Investment Bank. 

Of the five digital banks recently awarded licenses by BNM, four are led by women, namely Raja Teh Maimunah Raja Abdul Aziz, CEO of AEON Consortium’s ACS Digital Berhad, Pei Si Lai, CEO-designate of Grab Malaysia’s digital bank project,  Fozia Amanulla, Deputy CEO of the consortium of Boost Holdings Sdn Bhd, and Rafiza Ghazali, Director Digital Banking KAF Investment Bank

To commemorate International Women’s Day, Fintech News Malaysia interviewed Raja Teh Maimunah and Pei Si Lai to gain insights into their experiences and perspectives on women in leadership positions in the digital banking sector.

Raja Teh began her fintech career at an Islamic bank nearly a decade ago. She discovered the importance of providing digital solutions to clients to expand her business beyond perceived capabilities. 

The realization of the importance of fintech led her on a journey of discovery where immersed herself in the community, took short courses, and had conversations with the industry’s founders and tech developers.

Her corporate investment banking background helped her to learn and relearn innovation and technology, which she believes are essential to digital banks’ success.

Pei Si started as a management trainer in a bank after studying economics and political science. Over time, she served customers directly, developed digital solutions, navigated regulations and risks, and defined long-term strategies for organizations. 

Through these roles, she honed skills in listening, problem identification, proposing solutions, and executing rigorously, providing her with an exciting and challenging understanding of stakeholders’ needs and the evolution of the finance industry.

Breaking Gender Barriers: Female leaders in the banking industry

The number of women holding senior leadership positions in Malaysia has increased to a record-high of 37 percent, according to Grant Thornton’s annual Women in Business report.

The report noted a year-on-year increase in the number of women in operational executive-level management roles, with female chief financial officers rising by 12 percentage points to 41 percent, female chief marketing officers rising by 14 percentage points to 36 percent, and female chief information officers rising by 3 percentage points to 20 percent.

Raja Teh highlighted that while the industry has traditionally been male-dominated, there has been a positive shift towards greater gender diversity in recent years. 

Raja Teh Maimunah, Malaysia Digital Banking

Raja Teh Maimunah

“The idea of a glass ceiling discourages women from pursuing their goals, and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. While there may be prejudices along the way, it’s about the individual and not their gender. Men and women face challenges in the banking industry, but it can also be fulfilling if you enjoy its challenges and opportunities.” said Raja Teh.

She believes in creating a supportive and collaborative work environment that fosters innovation, teamwork, and a sense of shared purpose.

Pei Si Lai

Pei Si Lai

Pei Si acknowledges the challenges of balancing multiple responsibilities and understands that achieving balance may not always be possible. Her career has been varied, encompassing roles at work and in her personal life. 

She stresses self-awareness and clarity of priorities to enhance decision-making and confidence. Role models and teachable moments have also contributed to her leadership growth. 

“My leadership team is gender-diverse, with many women in tech and operational roles, and is committed to building a digital bank in Malaysia,” said Pei Si.

Future of digital banking to improve financial inclusion

Both leaders shared their positive outlook on the future of digital banking in Malaysia, pointing out essential initiatives expected to fuel the sector’s growth.

Raja Teh noted that the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint provides a clear roadmap to fully realize the potential of the digital economy in achieving inclusive, responsible, and sustainable socioeconomic development. 

She believes the digital economy presents tremendous new opportunities for Malaysia to become a high-income nation and help the underserved and underbanked. 

“Malaysia is home to many micro-entrepreneurs who are becoming increasingly digitally savvy. However, they face difficulties obtaining financial loans,” said Raja Teh.

This underscores the importance of digital banking in providing financial services and products to those traditionally excluded from the formal banking system.

Similarly, Pei Si lauded BNM’s progressive vision to embrace digital innovation to transform current banking processes and ensure that the underserved can be served. 

“This will create more opportunities for fintech companies and traditional banks to collaborate and offer better products and services to customers,” she said.

Raja Teh and Pei Si Lai stressed the importance of collaboration among stakeholders and industry players to develop digital infrastructure in Malaysia. They also highlighted the need for new guidelines to protect customers and promote financial literacy. 

Educating individuals on savings and helping businesses understand cash flow is essential to achieving their goals. By leveraging digital technology, they are optimistic about digital banking’s potential to drive inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development in Malaysia.

Raja Teh and Pei Si are optimistic about the future of digital banking in Malaysia and its potential to drive financial inclusion and economic growth. They are committed to leveraging their experience and expertise to lead their respective organizations toward building innovative and inclusive digital banking solutions that meet the needs of all Malaysians.

Advice for prospective female leaders

When it comes to advise for women in leadership roles, Raja Teh and Pei Si Lai offer different but equally valuable perspectives. Raja Teh likens life to a long hiking trail, emphasizing the importance of taking the first step and starting the adventure. 

She compares her approach to leadership with that of a parent, where she prioritizes the growth and development of the people she works with, motivating and inspiring them to reach their full potential.

Raja Teh believes that women can achieve their goals and reach the top by being brave, taking risks, and pursuing them confidently and determinedly.

On the other hand, Pei Si Lai emphasizes the importance of investing in the growth and development of one’s team. She believes in providing opportunities for employees to upskill themselves and take on new roles to expand their knowledge and expertise. 

This approach not only benefits the individual but also contributes to the success and growth of the organization. It fosters a culture of continuous learning and development, which can help to attract and retain talented individuals.

Together, Raja Teh and Pei Si Lai’s advice highlights the need for women in leadership roles to take risks, believe in themselves, and invest in the growth and development of their teams. These approaches can help to promote success and inclusivity in the workplace and drive growth and innovation in the digital banking sector in Malaysia.