Vice President, Head, Women Banking Segment TARA & Agami- Student Banking Service, BRAC Bank Mehruba Reza elaborates on her thirteen-year banking career, and the roles of the two segments she is currently heading.
You are one of the most successful female banking professionals in the country. How would you assess the journey, which spans over a decade?
I started my career with HSBC bank in 2008. During that time, there were very few multinational banks in Bangladesh, and HSBC was the country’s premium one. I had always wanted to work in the banking sector since my university days and was very focused on my goal related to my first job. So, after completing my BBA, I applied to work in this field. At HSBC, my journey was very competitive and challenging. I started in the post of Customer Service Officer, an entry-level Retail Banking position and gradually moved to NRB Department as a Relationship Officer. This position helped me learn more and gain confidence in banking. I was very focused and worked hard to stand out from the crowd, which helped me get promoted to higher positions. After five years, I moved to Standard Chartered, where I worked in the Priority Banking segment, another challenging retail banking segment. I took this job because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, excel further in my career, and learn more about other retail banking segments. It was a sales target-based job, with tremendous work pressure and peer competition. I had to learn things quickly, and in less than two years, I became Associate Director, Priority Banking. Soon I was assigned a new role in Islamic Banking, thanks to my product knowledge. While in this role, I realized that if be given to do something for the women of my country, I would be happier. I wanted to do something for the women. Thus, when I got an offer from BRAC Bank to work for the women’s banking segment, I immediately realised I wanted this very job. Therefore, I started working at BRAC Bank, and the women’s banking segment ‘TARA’ was launched under my supervision. During this time, TARA has won the Women’s Market Champion Award from Financial Alliance for Women and laurels from global institutes. This job role has also given me opportunities to visit many countries and highlight the women-centric initiatives of TARA.
I am currently the Vice President and head of TARA, the women’s banking segment, and AGAMI, the student banking segment.
You have worked relentlessly toward building a sustainable and inclusive domain for women customers in the banking industry. How crucial is it to ensure inclusivity in the banking sector?
TARA was the country’s first comprehensive women’s banking solution when it was launched in May 2017. I was very involved in carrying out research in collaboration with various international development organizations, for instance, by carrying out surveys. This helped us figure out what kind of services should be introduced under TARA, and what we can offer to female clients. Globally, bringing women clients to banking is a challenge. It is essential to bring women under the umbrella of financial inclusion to facilitate their socio-economic development. After a thorough market survey, we realized that a comprehensive banking solution has to be provided beyond merely offering loans to women entrepreneurs. Women have other banking needs: daily savings, catalyzing the use of credit and debit cards and building savings through appropriate bank accounts. It is a matter of pride for BRAC Bank and us that many banks have introduced Women Banking Segment, following footsteps of TARA. As a member of the larger BRAC family, which Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG established with the idea of changing systems of inequality in society, it is in BRAC Bank’s DNA to facilitate financial inclusion for women. TARA is one of the most important business verticals of BRAC Bank. The importance of TARA is communicated to every level of the organization to give them a sense of the bank’s priority. In our country, banking activities are usually undertaken by male family members. To break the stereotype, we clearly instruct all our employees that when they bring in female clients, they will receive more incentives, bonuses, and higher performance ratings. The higher the number of female clients in one’s portfolio, the higher the chance of getting a promotion. Such incentives highly motivated the employees to onboard female clients despite the challenges.
Besides being the Head of Women Banking Segment ‘TARA’, you have undertaken a new role as the Head of Agami- Student Banking Service. Could you please tell us a bit about the new service? How can Agami help catalyze youth banking activities in the country?
I have recently been given the responsibility of heading the student banking segment in addition to my other responsibilities. Both the segments are designed to facilitate financial inclusion in society. The youth needs to start saving for their future, and they should start saving at a young age. They could save their Eidi or pocket money through their bank account. Saving money through banking is a proper way of saving. Banks provide interest on savings, and when they have a bank account, they can use various banking services, such as online banking and debit cards. AGAMI provides comprehensive banking solutions for students. It includes a super savings account with no charges or maintenance fees, provides competitive interest rates, and is easier and more convenient to open the first bank account under Agami. We are also encouraging university students to provide their part-time income as a source of income to the savings account as a source of funds. With this account, they can acquire a debit card, which they can use for online transactions and online payments, for e.g. to pay for online courses. Using this debit card, they can also get discounts at bookstores, coffee shops, etc. Some students choose to go abroad for higher education purposes. The government has allowed overseas expenses of USD 12,000 per year, which the students could not do if they do not have a bank account. We also provide education loans, the eligibility of which is determined by their parent’s incomes. Even though the typical student completes graduation in four years, this loan is for five years, so that the student can pay off the EMIs of the last year. The loan’s interest rate is accrued based on how much of the loan is actually exhausted, not the total amount that has been sanctioned.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring bankers (especially females) who have just started their careers?
The trick is to stay persistent and focused. There are no shortcuts to success. One has to invest time and effort to get good at something. At the same time, they must also be convinced to move on when things do not work out.
Lastly, we can’t be the best in everything, hence, we have to choose which one to be best in. Many women struggle to be the best in every role they are in – be it a mother, daughter, wife or corporate leader, and at some point, they give up on their career. It is okay to build a career and may not be able to give 100% to other aspects of life. One should accept and be happy with the limitations and achievements that life has to offer.