The Best of Banking
We spoke to Chris Loh, CEO of uab Bank, about the company’s place within Myanmar’s finance sector
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Vivek Valmiki
Bordering China and a close neighbour of India, Myanmar is set between two giants of global industry.
Previously known as Burma, the country is renowned for its jungles, unique culture, and ancient temples that mark a rich history. Yet in contrast to this, Myanmar is also a hub of increasing development, both on the technological and financial front.
Myanmar’s uab Bank is a fully-fledged universal banking group, and one of the four banks that have an investment banking license. With a whole spectrum of services, uab Bank is one of the top financial entities in the nation and continues to serve its customers with outstanding and innovative methods necessary in the rapidly evolving digital age.
“We have been around for 11 years, and we were established as part of the four licenses given in 2010,” Chris Loh, CEO of uab Bank, states proudly.
“We have a clientele base of about just over half a million, and approximately 2,000 employees covering 78 countries including 17 locations across Myanmar at present.”
An Alternative Path
Loh has worked in the finance sector for over 20 years, however, hadn’t initially planned to enter the space.
Prior to his choice to go to university, Loh fluctuated between many jobs, including selling street food, working at bakeries, and fast-food services. At university, he undertook an engineering degree that engaged his interests and involved a six-month internship as part of the course’s requirements.
He found himself joining consulting firm Accenture (known prior to this as Anderson Consulting) during this six-month period – an experience that spurred him towards the position he holds today.
“It was those six months at Anderson Consulting that really piqued my interest in banking, and ever since that, and after I graduated from university, I spent the next 13 years at the firm purely carrying out banking-related projects,” Loh explains to us.
“I ended up running the entire Accenture management practice across Southeast Asia. We were among the first to be responsible for consulting and support experience with deposit to adoption and transition.”
Following this, Loh left Singapore and spent two years working for Barclays based in London, where he was a Chief Functional Architect, also spending much of his time in various locations around the world, including Indonesia, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Malaysia before ending up joining RHB Group. Here, Loh held multiple positions, such as Chief of Strategy, and afterwards the Head of International Business. Now he sits as CEO of uab Bank.
uab Bank stands out from its national peers as a company that is continually advancing and developing its security, operations, and service, as it has done since its beginnings.
“We were the first company in Myanmar to adopt biometric authentication for office entry access control,” Loh informs us.
“This operates hand-in-hand with our installed AI software. The biometric authentication process not only prevents cases of fraud, but it also increases bank security in overall.”
Technological developments for bank accounts customer security are not the only innovations at work, however. The company utilises digital services to reduce in-person bank services.
Traditionally, in-person bank withdrawals have been the primary form of bank interaction for customers. But uab Bank has changed this. The continual development of digital banking services is paramount for the company, especially over the course of 2020 due to the restrictions on social interaction. COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of digitalisation for a variety of industries and services across the board.
COVID-19 impacted almost every industry worldwide, and as many have suffered as a result of pandemic restrictions slowing or completely halting their businesses. In order to financially survive, these companies have turned to governments and banks to support them during this challenging time. For uab Bank, customers came first, and it wasn’t long before the company offered a quality services to help these businesses stay afloat.
“We were the first in the market to offer monitoring to our customers when the first wave hit,” Loh informs us.
“For many covering various industries, such as hospitality, travel, and real-estate, uab Bank offered six months of a grace period for business payments, giving these companies breathing room during such a challenging time. We deferred these payments for the six-month period so that these businesses didn’t have to worry about trying to meet their obligations, and also increased our consultation advice for our customers who required that kind of support.
“This six-month period we have extended up to a 23-month period to aid individuals and companies further, and we have not reduced our company salary payments as we believe in maintaining full employee support and welfare.”
Sai Sai Pay
This people-centric support is an aspect of business that uab Bank holds in high regard and focuses its operations around. It’s Sai Sai Pay App is one example of this.
Working alongside the famous Burmese celebrity Sai Sai Kham Leng, uab Bank launched Myanmar’s first celebrity app to help create a digital lifestyle ecosystem and support the local music and film industry in order to raise funds for COVID-19 and those who required support the most.
Sai Sai Pay gives customers free access to live-streaming, music services, e-commerce, online rewards, and even a fan club feature that gives individuals the chance to interact with local artists to support and chat to them.
Together with the launch of the app, “Sai Sai Birthday Show in Bedroom” that was live-streamed exclusively to app users only during April of 2020, Sai Sai’s fans were able to donate to the COVID-19 relief fund, to assist in relief work during the pandemic. A sum of 80.2 million Myanmar Kyat (MMK) was raised.
The company is also investing in establishing separate banks as hubs of activity for socialising, and now that COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out worldwide, this becomes an exciting prospect.
“uab Bank are creating a flagship bank that we are partnering with a restaurant from Singapore to combine services in one space,” Loh explains.
“It will be a location that you can go for food, or a drink and socialise, and the bank will be there for you. In this way, the bank merges with an alternative service to form a social space that caters to many needs and creates a hub of activity for customers.”
uab Bank’s quality services can be seen through its multiple awards in the finance sector. For two years running (2019 and 2020) the company has been awarded “Myanmar’s Best Bank” and was also ranked 1st at the 2020 Pwint Thit Sa Report released by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. This latter accolade being an annual initiative that reviews the corporate disclosure of companies in Myanmar and covers areas of corporate profile, corporate governance, sustainability management, and reporting – transparency being one of uab Bank’s key values.