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Let passion, confidence and ethics drive you

When you want an organisation to grow organically, you have to invest in HR

Since first starting out as an entry-level cashier at Grindlay’s Bank in 1991, Sanjib Subba’s career has seen a meteoric rise that most people can only dream of. After serving as the Executive Director at Webster University-Thailand, Subba returned to Nepal and is now the CEO at the National Banking Institute, the apex banking and finance academy that is tasked with enhancing the competence and professionalism in the banking and financial sectors. In this interview with Alisha Sijapati, Subba talks about his career, retention rates in Nepal’s banking industry and why organisations need to invest in Human Resources. Excerpts:

Can you tell us about your journey from working as a cashier at Grindlay’s Bank to working for an American university in Thailand? How difficult was the switch?

I met a gentleman while at an event here in Kathmandu and he was keen on hiring new people to start a brand new campus in South East Asia. We kept in touch and finally I went to Thailand to become part of the project, initiating a new campus from the scratch. Although Webster was a reputed university, it was a challenge to recruit new students from all over the world to a new location.

Because I started out at the registar’s office—handling student recruitment and promotion of the school—it was a very big switch, considering I was previously working at a bank.

It was a completely new field but looking back, I am so glad I took up the risk. Life, after all, is a learning process and being thrust into a new line of work forces you to learn quickly.

Having worked outside Nepal for more than a decade, was it tough for you to readjust and adapt to the working culture upon your return?

It did take a little while but having grown up here, the re-adaptation wasn’t all that difficult. With regards to the working culture, Nepal is still lagging behind in many respects. For instance, in Thailand, I was working with peers who were much older than me but that never was an issue at work. There were no ego clashes or insubordination because the working environment is just so professional. That, unfortunately, cannot be said about Nepal. The professional working culture here still has a lot to improve, but we are taking all the right steps.

As the CEO of the National Banking Institute, you have an in-depth understanding of the banking sector of the country. Why do you think there is such a dearth of qualified manpower in the industry, especially while recruiting candidates for top managerial positions?

It is not just the banking sector but there is a scarcity of qualified manpower in the entire commercial, development and other sectors. This has been ongoing for almost a decade now. In my opinion, there is a huge risk due to Nepal’s skill deficit. If not addressed, it could take industries in the wrong direction. There also is a deficit in exposure right from the entry-level positions to the top. I feel there needs to be a huge investment in Human Resources in the industry to tackle the problem head on.

Many banks do not invest much in Human Resources. Is it that they do not see HR as a capital?

When private banking started in Nepal the situation was much better, the work culture was great.  A lot of time was spent in training and development of the staff. Unfortunately, the culture could not be adopted by the new leaders who came from the same system. There was some sort of paradigm shift—the structure of the board and stakeholder changed and their only focus was on short-term gain and that resulted in a large skill deficit. The end goal should be to make organisations sustainable, it was to grow organically. And when you want an organisation to grow organically, you have to invest in HR.

Banking sector is one of the industries where retention is very low. How does this impact an organisation?

I see no reason to discourage movement. People always look for opportunities—that’s the beauty of free market and competition. I don’t have an issue with that but at the same time banks should also introspect about why it is happening. The industry leaders need to reflect on what went wrong. The young generation is highly ambitious and they lack patience. It is up to the leaders and banks to retain their staff.

Hypothetically, if you had two candidates applying for the same job and one with a Nepali degree and the other with a degree from abroad, which would you prefer?

It doesn’t matter if you have a Nepali degree or a degree from abroad; it is the experience that matters the most. I really don’t see a distinct difference between the education level abroad and here.

At NBI, we have employees who have both Nepali and foreign degrees and it hardly matters.

What matters the most is it’s the passion, confidence and work ethics of the candidates.

What advice do you have for young graduates seeking careers in the banking industry?

Banking is an industry where you must grow organically. You need to come with a lot of patience and have the thirst to learn. To be a great banker your knowledge base needs to be strong, reading and researching rigorously.  You also need to understand economics and people management inside out. Have a vision. Without understanding economics you cannot become a top banker.