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With a history of more than 80 years in Singapore, OCBC is a bank centred on people. The Bank has come a long way from its first days of helping rice merchants continue to trade times of war. This is evident in its sterling performance in recent years. In May this year, Bloomberg Markets magazine announced OCBC as the world’s strongest bank. Also, one in two businesses currently operating in Singapore has an account with the Bank.
The success of the bank is built on the back of sound business policies and active talent management and development.
For instance, within the first three days of a company being incorporated, OCBC will contact them about opening a corporate account with the bank. “The Bank practises the same proactivity when it comes to managing and developing its people,” says Eric Ong, Head of Emerging Business, Global Enterprise Banking, OCBC Bank.
OCBC takes training and development seriously as human capital is the Bank’s key differentiator. Investment in this area helps to build the capabilities of employees to deliver superior performance.
“Learning is part of the Bank’s ongoing business strategy and helps to create a win-win situation for us and our staff,” says Ong. “By aligning employees’ learning objectives with business goals, we help employees succeed in building a career and not just a job with OCBC.”
OCBC encourages its employees to take charge of their own careers through the Bank’s ‘Career Best’ programme, launched in 2002. This programme involves helping employees evaluate their strengths and career orientation, and finding the best fit between their talents and OCBC’s needs.
The Bank also introduced the ‘OCBC Learning-3’ programme in 2007. A structured three-year development programme for employees, OCBC Learning-3 clearly delineates learning roadmaps for individual employees during their first three years of service with the Bank.
“Underscoring our commitment to training, we have created the OCBC Learning Academy and also dedicated an entire floor at the OCBC Centre, called The Learning Space @ OCBC, for the sole purpose of learning and development,” says Ong.
In addition to the typical classroom training, the Bank has also tapped on learning technologies like eLearning and virtual classrooms. Through the use of Web 2.0 and video conferencing technology the training programmes are now able to reach out to employees in different geographies.
Employees are given the first opportunity to learn of and apply for job-openings within the OCBC group through the Internal Job-Application Programme, in which after 18 to 24 months, an employee has the open to move into another role.
“We want to encourage employees to continually acquire new experiences, knowledge, skills and competencies, and allow individuals to fulfil their career aspirations at different stages of their careers,” Ong explains.
This is especially so for Gen Y staff who constantly seek change and want progression – something to look forward to. They need to feel challenged and recognised for the work they do. If they are ‘stuck in a rut’, performance dips.
“In banking, employees need foundation,” says Ong. “I was once a bank teller. I then moved on to typing bank drafts and the like.”
Leaders walk the talk too. “In my business review, one part is financial numbers and business initiatives, while a large part (50%-60%) is based on the human resources,” says Ong.
A mentor to even people who’ve left the business, Ong believes in developing his people’s potential to the fullest.
“I meet with business heads and see if there are vacancies in which we can slot the high potential candidate in,” he says. “This makes sure these people are given opportunities within the bank before they start looking elsewhere for them. It’s a proactive measure of staff retention.”
Senior management constantly works to push high-potential talent out of their current roles or comfort zones. This exists at all levels, be it ground sales people to middle and senior management level staff.
“We don’t want staff to be ‘too comfortable’ in their roles. They are not stretching their potential,” says Ong. “We assign them to other departments for three to six months. My sales folks, for instance, might be posted to risk management or operations.”
While there is risk of losing talent to another department due to this job rotation, the advantages outweigh those risks. “After coming back from their short job rotation stint, they come back with fresh insights and they can come up with new business ideas leading to increased productivity and business success,” says Ong.
Ong cited an example of an employee who moved to the operations unit two years ago. When he came back to the Emerging Business department, he gave a new idea which was piloted and resulted in business growth of five times.
Hi-potential staff are also given opportunities to travel and explore new markets. Young staff are accompanied by their senior leaders on these trips.
“There has to be a little risk-taking, be it with the business or with our people,” says Ong. “Being senior in management, we can give that gentle push, allowing our staff to soar.”
Eric Ong joined OCBC Bank in 2004 as Vice President in charge of the Business Development team. Currently, he is head of Emerging Business, Global Enterprise Banking, responsible for driving the growth of the Bank’s Emerging Business unit, which focuses on providing a whole suite of products and services to meet the needs of Singapore’s small business owners.
Ong is a veteran in the banking industry, with 17 years of industry experience, beginning his career with Overseas Union Bank in Commercial Banking. Prior to joining OCBC, he was with Citibank, N.A. from 1999 to 2004, working in business development with the corporate and investment banks in Singapore and China.
Ong holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the National University of Singapore, and a Master in Applied Finance from Macquarie University, Australia.
A competitive man who indulges in sports such as marathons, Ong wakes up at five o’clock every morning to run with his dogs. If he does not have a lunch appointment, Ong does hot yoga for 45 minutes. Almost on a daily basis, he is in the office by 7.30am and if need be, stays until midnight. Still, amidst his hectic schedule, he finds time to exercise, saying that exercise makes the mind clear.
Perseverance – you don’t give up, it’s about hard work, diligence
Perfectionism – do anything, do it well, raise the bar, raise the standard. It reflects on the organisation as well
Paranoid – being overprepared is better than being underprepared. Pre-empt questions, possibilities, and scenarios
Communicating with the people
Transparency is essential in the OCBC’s communication strategy. For instance, business leaders in Emerging Business (EmB) track numbers on a daily basis. This is readily shared with members of their respective teams so that if there are anomalies, everyone can work together to immediately pull the numbers back in.
EmB staff are also kept abreast of happenings within the Bank through ‘Pulse lunches’ during break time, one-to-one sessions with hi-potential talents, monthly key meetings and quarterly dialogues where financial numbers are flashed out. Quick daily discussions keep communication channels free of static.
At 8.30am every morning, EmB business heads meet for the ‘Big 5’ session to discuss the top five priorities of the day. “This can include issues they have been facing, lessons learnt from the things they did the previous day and plans for the future,” says Ong. “This ensures that everyone is on the same page.”
Also, if any business head is facing an issue, putting these heads together solves the matter more efficiently, he adds.
After the ‘Big 5’ meeting, at 9am, all 300 EmB staff come into little huddles. As most employees in the unit belong to Gen Y or are new to the banking industry, these huddles accelerate their learning process.
“The huddles are about 15 to 20 minutes long,” says Ong. “They can’t be too long so that attention is held for an optimum period of time.”
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