UpClose with Muhammad Rawi Abdullah, Head of Human Resources at Standard Chartered Malaysia

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ProspectsASEAN talked to Muhammad Rawi Abdullah, Head of Human Resources at Standard Chartered Malaysia, to learn from his 37 wonderful years of experience at Standard Chartered. As a methodical visionary, he shares his professional career journey in the HR field and emphasises unique diversity being their true strength at the Bank.

Having worked for a span of almost four decades, Muhammad Rawi first began his career in the Branch network before transferring to other departments, where he was exposed to Loans, Trade, Custody Services, Retail Banking Operations, Cash Solutions, and HR. This versatile and ever-changing nature of an HR job has always intrigued him towards the complexity of people’s behaviours. To conclude the interview, he shared how different individuals have their uniqueness and how that can bring change to values, cultures, and other aspects of an organisation.

1. Given the broad experiences throughout your career journey, what would you define as a positive work environment? Share with us some of the initiatives you or your team had introduced in Standard Chartered Bank to cultivate a great culture and productive work environment.

In my opinion, a positive environment for employees is a conducive workplace and one that promotes their mental and physical wellbeing. Thus, it creates opportunities for growth development and allows employees to speak up with courage on matters concerning them. It should be an environment that is transparent with clear, and concise communication.
In Standard Chartered, we create a positive atmosphere through our attentive and engaging culture of “Better together,” “Doing the right thing,” and “Never settle.” These values are akin to our daily mantra, and no matter what we do, be it policy writing, people or client interaction, product design, or other work aspects, we always conform to these values.

Other than that, we also implemented Speaking Up and Employee Grievance policies to acknowledge the staff’s views on matters relating to their employment without worrying about repercussions. Issues raised via the Speaking Up channels are monitored by an independent team and reviewed in a timely fashion.

Another alternative to prioritise the employee’s wellbeing is establishing an Employee Assistance Programme through which they can connect with appointed counsellors to assist them. The service is completely free, confidential, and available round the clock.


2. The recent global celebration of International Women’s Day has brought up the topic of women empowerment to encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace. What methods did you use to promote diversity and inclusion among employees in Standard Chartered?

The Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda is close to our hearts. We are recognised for our global initiatives aimed to increase the representation of women in senior management. Locally, we have a strong female representation within our executive committee, including the Chair of our Board, Datuk Yvonne Chia, and more than half of our employees across our operations in the country are women. Not only that, but we also became the first Malaysian banking industry to introduce a 20-week minimum maternity leave.

We have a country D&I council representative to ensure a focused approach and delivery on various initiatives. During the recent International Women’s Day, many fruitful activities were done, including but not limited to inviting successful women to share their journey, physiotherapy for pregnant women, and stress reliever tips for women working from home.


3. Drastic changes had been made since the declaration of COVID-19, which has required companies to switch to digital business processes. From your experience, what are some of the most unexpected challenges you faced during this transition?

When the government announced the Movement Control Order in March 2020, a working committee was immediately formed to ensure that the new work arrangements will have minimal impact on clients and employees. I’m proud to say that within 24 hours, we managed to mobilise our employees to work conveniently and safely from their homes without any disruption to our operations. Over the coming months, we became aware of the stress caused by the lockdown to some of our employees. Hence, their mental wellbeing under the new norm became our focus.

We moved towards expanding our Employee Assistance Program and organised various talks as well as awareness training. As a part of our continuous effort, we launched Unmind, a digital platform that provides access to scientifically backed content, training, and tools created by experts in neuroscience, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and positive psychology. Moreover, we partnered with Switch+, a wellness provider that virtually offers a range of activities such as exercise routines.


4. Throughout your decades of experience, what is one of the most significant memories in your career and why?

There are many significant memories in the Bank, amongst which is the year 2000 where the world was alarmed on the effects of Y2K. It has sparked concerns in the Bank and whether or not there would be any impact on our clients. Therefore, effectively from 30th December 1999 until 1st January 2000, the Bank was mobilised to work around the clock to guarantee minimal disruption. It was humbling to see my colleagues spending their personal time away from their families just to ensure our clients were not affected. It was a true spirit of camaraderie and commitment from our employees.


5. As the Head of HR, what are the top five traits you look for when recruiting talents? And what is your advice to fresh graduates who aspire to pursue their careers in the field of Human Resources?

After being in the field for more than three decades, the top five traits I look for are leadership, trustworthiness, responsiveness, courage, and humility. My advice to all new graduates who wish to pursue a career in HR is to be sincere, be honest to yourself, have strong resilience and patience, and set realistic goals. Furthermore, you must have a passion for working with people by inspiring them to develop and grow in their jobs.

Here at the Bank, we have a range of early career programmes to provide talents with the support, autonomy, and opportunity to make an impact. One such example is our talent management programme, STAR, which focuses on nurturing and empowering young talents to help them realise their career aspiration in the banking industry by providing them with an inclusive and collaborative workplace with unrivalled opportunities.

Related: UpClose with MICPA’s New CEO, Novie Tajuddin


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