Home Interview The Mastermind: Syed Abdul Momen

The Mastermind: Syed Abdul Momen

Mastermind Syed Abdul Momen

Syed Abdul Momen
Deputy Managing Director and Head of SME Banking
BRAC Bank Limited

Mr. Syed Abdul Momen is a distinguished figure in the financial industry. With a wealth of experience and expertise, he currently serves as the Deputy Managing Director and Head of SME Banking at BRAC Bank Limited. Mr. Momen’s visionary leadership and commitment to fostering growth and innovation in the SME sector have significantly contributed to the bank’s success. His strategic insights and dedication to serving the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises make him an invaluable asset to the organization.

Let’s learn about his journey.

The InCAP: Mr. Syed Abdul Momen, please share your professional and academic mounting to our readers!

Mr. Syed Abdul Momen: I am a Computer Communications Graduate from Middlesex University, UK with distinction. During my banking career, I have attended numerous seminars, trainings and workshops in and out of country. I am a governing council member of SME Finance Forum, which is a concern of WBG.

I started my career in ANZ Grindlays Bank in 1999 where I played an instrumental role in the migration of Core Banking Platform in the Middle East & South Asia region including Bangladesh, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Nepal, Sri Lanka after the acquisition of Grindlays Bank’s operation by Standard Chartered Bank. I was also instrumental in Standard Chartered Bank’s IT service delivery & business process centralization Project.

I have joined BRAC Bank in August 2005. During the first 2 years in BRAC Bank, I restructured technology infrastructure, and I was posted at BRAC Afghanistan Bank as Chief Operating Officer (COO) on a 2-year secondment. During this tenure in Afghanistan, I looked after the bank’s SME Business & expanded the bank’s network in three provinces. During this stint, I also contributed in the development of SME Banking Policies and guidelines of Central Bank of Afghanistan.

After I returned from Afghanistan in 2009, I joined BRAC Bank’s SME Division and ran a special collections project, which was portfolio’s prime concern. After successfully driving the countrywide collections initiative, I was appointed as the Head of Small Business in July 2010 and since then I have led the industry’s largest small business portfolio. My team was awarded Chairman’s Excellence Award in 2012 for extraordinary business achievement.

I was appointed as Head of SME in 2017 and till now the growth is phenomenal. Fund under management (FUM) was 8,000 crore when I took over and currently it is BDT 32,000 crore.

Can you please share your journey and experiences that led you to your current role as Deputy Managing Director and Head of SME Banking at BRAC Bank Limited?

The learning curve was steeper in my career after joining SME Banking Division of BRAC Bank Limited.

We had tried different SME business models during the 22 years journey of the bank. We have leaned and deployed effective technology-based solutions to become the largest unsecured SME lender of the country, where our footings are very strong.

SMEs are the bloodlines of Bangladeshi economy and nearly 25% of the GDP growth belongs to SME sector. Without understanding SMEs’ ever-changing challenges and demands, formal sector financing is not possible in an efficient way, which me and my team are doing so far. 

2017 was the turning point of my career. After being appointed as Head of SME, I had presented my strategic planning with honorable board of directors, and it was praised and approved. Accordingly, we had received necessary investments and transformed the portfolio. Currently we have BDT 24,000 crore worth of SME lending portfolio with NPL of less tha 3%. Also, we are coming strong to become the largest and convenient SME transactional banker for Bangladeshi SMEs. We have targeted to double the portfolio by 2025.  

How do you utilize your professional skill and experience to form creative content for your Bank?

SME ecosystem locally and globally faces multifarious challenges and it is ever changing. We learn from internal and external success stories and implement those by improvisation as per local market conditions. Keeping in mind the efficiency factors, we keep ourselves open-minded for the probable solutions and always try to leverage technology. All these factors shape our forward-looking strategic growth mindset. As a result, the team is motivated towards creative solutions.  

Mr. Momen, Can you please share an example of a challenging leadership situation you successfully navigated?

There are hundreds of examples as such, where country was in despair. During COVID period, Bangladesh was startled like rest of the world with different challenges as SMEs were the most impacted ones due to lock down and slowness of market demand for most of the business other than essentials. During this time, we had to ensure that none of the clients and our staff feel insecure. We offered additional financing and other health-related support to our client base. Also, awareness sessions to clients and staff base extensively took place. The financing during this time by other market actors (Banks, NBFI, NGO) were slow whereas we grew. These were made possible by my leadership in terms of motivation, policy advocacy and making sure the adaptability of the team at challenging time like this.

In a rapidly changing financial landscape, how do you envision the future of SME banking and BRAC Bank’s role within it?

As per World Bank data, in developed and developing countries near-by, we can see the GDP contributions (40% globally) by SMEs are larger than ours (less than 25%). They also own 90% of the businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide.

The potential of our SME segment is immense. And growing SMEs is not about conventional banking. If we talk about unsecure lending, it’s more about adaptive practices. SMEs are most potential segment to finance. BRAC Bank is the largest lender in unsecured landscape for SMEs in Bangladesh. Our regulators are giving different incentives for real time impactful SME financing specially to marginal rural entrepreneurs focusing on women segment and agriculture. Leveraging technological capacity, we are even looking at digital loans (nano/cottage) country wide. We have 220+ branches, 1500 agent points and 460+ SME unit offices. Leveraging these wide range of distribution networks and technological advancement, we intend to double our balance sheet by 2025. So far, we have financed 1.5 million SMEs with BDT 1.5 lac crore since inception, which contributed to the wellness of 10 million families. We will continue to grow our business / SME lending portfolio manyfold in coming days and will place BRAC Bank Limited at the zenith of the SME lending ecosystem. We believe the sustainable growth of SMEs will ensure our progression towards middle income countries and will ensure we reach the SDGs by 2030. BRAC Bank Limited will continue its pursuit as leading SME Bank of the country and build full suite of financial solutions (lending, deposits, wealth management, payments, etc) leveraging technology and focusing efficiency by keeping a clean portfolio.   

What specific challenges have you encountered while leading the SME Banking division, and how have you overcome them?

Business model is the first and foremost challenge we face continuously. This is due to ever changing national and global financial ecosystems. We learn and improvise and we are adaptive enough to change our business models to become sustainable and efficient.

Global challenges like pandemic and Ukraine war imposed many economic restrictions and as a result, the global financial ecosystem is facing problem due to reduced/restricted demands. Bangladesh is no exception. And the SMEs of Bangladesh are imposed with more challenges like increased cost of loans (SMART rate with supervision fee). We accommodate changes in criteria to assess credit risk for financing SMEs to fight such challenges.

There are other regulatory challenges which we need to comply and accommodate. The leadership team of SME Banking Division of BRAC Bank Limited always work together and if necessary do policy advocacy. 

Other ever changing country and international financial ecosystem due to Pandemic, Ukraine war etc and as a consequence regulatory change and coping up with them is other challenges. We even do market survey regularly to get ourselves updated on market situation and demands and make internal policy and practice changes.

In your opinion, what are your aspirations for Brac Bank Limited for the next 5 years?

In 2022, we had set our strategic objective to double our balance sheet by 2025. We are already very close to the highest profit earner of the banking industry. We want to be best in terms of balance sheet, profit, asset quality and social impacts. 

For aspiring professionals in the banking industry, what advice or insights can you share based on your extensive experience in leadership roles at BRAC Bank Limited?

We need to be adaptive on the changes and challenges coming towards us. Specifically, towards leveraging appropriate technology to harness efficiency. We need to address the changed market situation, be empathetic towards colleagues, customers and regulators. Success may not come instantly but we need to have forward looking strategic intent to reach to the highest success points. Transformation is the only constant and we should pace ourselves towards effective and efficient directions.

You are an idol to the youth. Many people follow you as an icon of leadership. Say something to them. 

Setting your aim in life is very challenging and at the same time we need to ensure that we are happy and maintaining work-life balance appropriately. Don’t rush to your decisions. Many a times, we need to take a pause, evaluate the situation and set alternative course of action. Patience is an important virtue and we need to practice on what we believe. We should also consider our social valuation as well as fulfillment of social commitments.

You are the future of Bangladesh and you need to prepare yourselves to lead the country. Make sure that you do better than us. I am hopeful with the youths of Bangladesh and right direction of these force will get us to reach the apex of success in socio-economic and political framework of Bangladesh.

Quick Chat With Syed Abdul Momen

The most outstanding achievement of your life as of now:
Growing the SME FUM (loan and deposit portfolio) four-fold in last 6 years.

The greatest philosopher in your view:
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed.

Your Icon:
Selim R F Hossain, Managing Director and CEO, BRAC Bank Limited and Syed Abdul Mayeed (father).

Name the most influential books you have read:
Hope over fate by Scott MacMillan.

Your greatest fear:
Not to create sustainable impact to the society.

Best piece of advice you’ve received:
Everyone possesses unlimited potential if given fair opportunities. We should believe in our capabilities and be able to create impact if given proper empowerment and authority. You have to be big to create impact. Small is beautiful but big is impactful – Sir FHA.

You in only three words:
Look for opportunities to make a better future, always try new things by thinking out of the box, fulfillment of social commitment.  

Skill Set:

  • Hard Skills: Mobility, Adaptability to Changes, Tech Enthusiast
  • Soft Skills: Motivator, Multi-Tasking Ability

Prayer For The Human Civilization:
Live, Laugh and Lead.

The InCAP: Thank you, Mr. Momen! It’s a glittering conversation with you!

Mr. Syed Abdul MomenMy pleasure! Wish you all the best! Thank you.

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