CEO Dialogue - Dato' Ong Eng Bin, CEO of OCBC Bank (Malaysia) Bhd

CEO Dialogue – Dato’ Ong Eng Bin, CEO of OCBC Bank (Malaysia) Bhd

Bank on it.

Dato’ Ong Eng Bin speaks to Michael Oh, the chair and CEO Coach of Vistage International Malaysia, about the bank’s response to digitalisation and how it is not always lonely at the top.

On reflection, what do you consider the defining moments in your first 100 days in this position?

Time really flies and I am now in my fifth year as CEO. Looking back, it appears that one thing I realised early on in my tenure is that the input and output of any effort in an organisation can be positively shaped and influenced by the CEO. And the CEO must be equal to the task.

Considering the business you are managing, what do you regard as the crucial factors for you to stay on top of your game?

Be a good listener and keep abreast of changes; yet don’t just follow the fashionable thing to do or be sidetracked by the latest fad. You must hold to the same direction while moving meaningfully with the times. Patience and perseverance are good virtues to have, especially in banking and finance. Be steadfast always. Some principles just never change. Alongside this mindset, I try to network as much as I can as there is so much to learn from others, particularly my customers. I live by the rule that the one at the very top must lead and work hardest to help everyone else in the organisation achieve their own ideals and the company’s objectives.

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Looking into your crystal ball into the future, what do you foresee are the game-changing challenges facing your industry?

Digitalisation is the next big thing for the banking industry. In fact, it is already unmasking the potential and challenges we face as bankers in this immensely data-oriented environment as we always find ourselves seeking out new and improved ways to increase customer engagement and staff productivity. Early last year, we rolled out our very own FinTech unit in Malaysia called The Open Vault by OCBC, an arm that works closely with FinTechs out there to help us improve the customer’s experience at the various touch points by using digital platforms. That said, I remain a die-hard believer in the proposition that banking remains a people business and that technology can never truly replace humans. Technology is, at best, an enabler, so people can do things better and serve customers more efficiently. To be effective, you cannot run away from the human touch!

Single out a leader in the corporate world you wish to emulate.

Warren Buffet – and his company Berkshire Hathaway – for his ability to sustainably grow the company for so many years and for applying old-fashioned business principles to his investment approach. These principles have clearly stood the test of time. And that posture is always worthy to be emulated.

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As CEO, what most excites and worries you?

I get excited about opportunities and collaborations that create win-win situations for all parties. Yes, I don’t believe in zero-sum games! The prospect of everyone winning is really exciting when you ponder its long-term implications for humanity as a whole. What most worries me is the reality that we can actually miss seeing these opportunities and, ultimately, the big picture. Recently, we at OCBC Bank rolled out our brand promise – Simply Spot On. At the centre of this promise is the resolve to work towards a posture where every stakeholder out there is going to benefit so clearly from what we do that they will reward us with the highest accolade possible, which is to say we have been simply spot on in upholding our duty to them.

What makes your bank stand out from the competition?

OCBC Bank traces its roots to over a century ago. Today, it is the second-largest financial services group in South East Asia by assets and one of the world’s most highly-rated banks, with an Aa1 rating from Moody’s. I guess this means we must have been doing something right over the years. I believe our relentless quest to be reliable, to be smart and knowledgeable, and to take a long-term view for the sake of our stakeholders has been the key. This posture is what has led to the creation of our brand promise, which is to be Simply Spot On in all that we do.

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It is a well-known saying that CEOs are lonely at the top. What do you think must a CEO do to overcome this?

Sometimes it is good to have some solitude away from everything to reflect. It is important to always be transparent in your thoughts and share them without fear or favour but with good intentions, which means to make things better for the organisation and its people. And I guess that is more a statement about the bank, and the friends and partners I have around me than it is about the general notion of being a CEO. When you are always working among friends – which has always been the case for me – there will forever be someone there for you… and you for them. And I have enough friends around here to enjoy a good dose of fellowship every day. On that odd day when I feel a little lonely, it would be no different from the experience of anyone else.

Quick facts:

Age: 56

Present Position: “Apart from my role in OCBC Bank, I am also Chairman of Pac Lease Sdn Bhd, a director of e2 Power Sdn Bhd, Credit Guarantee Corporation Malaysia Bhd and Asian Banking School, as well as a Council Member of the Asian Institute of Chartered Bankers in Malaysia.”

Previous Position: Head of Business Banking (2012-2014) and Head of Corporate Banking & Large Corporates (2000-2012).

Years In Industry: 31

Education: “I have a bachelor’s degree in Accounting & Finance from the University of Manchester. I got my early education from the Methodist Boys School Penang, where I currently serve on the Board of Governors.”

Favourite Quotation: ‘Your attitude determines your altitude.’

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