As BNF Bank’s CEO, David Power is directing its restructuring and evolution. Drawing from his experience in re-engineering banks from the Middle East to Malaysia, he’s implemented pivotal changes while focusing on strategic growth. His emphasis on collaboration, customer centricity and digital transformation is positioning BNF Bank as a top financial institution in Malta.

BNF Bank is undergoing a transformation and newly at the helm as CEO, David Power, is a seasoned professional banker, whose initial foray into the financial world began in South Africa with Africa’s largest bank. His numerous leadership roles in multiple jurisdictions, while significant, were a precursor to the larger responsibilities that awaited him.

Reflecting on his most recent transition to BNF Bank, David candidly shares, “there was a significant shift in responsibilities and expectations. Moving from a financial consulting role into banking at BNF Bank was like changing gears, but it was a journey I was prepared for.” Indeed, as he discusses his responsibilities, David quickly hammers out an extensive list: from longterm goals such as stability, growth and improving shareholder value, to risk management, corporate governance, ESG, and understanding the market. “Certainly, formulating any strategic vision today necessitates taking into account crucial factors including the recent turmoil in the global economy, regional conflicts, rising interest rates, the rise in cyberattacks, and black swan events,” David says.

When delving into the pivotal moments that shaped David’s career and propelled him to his current position, a hands-on approach becomes apparent. When based in South Africa, he contributed to pioneering Priority Banking for the largest bank in Africa. He was the first corporate relationship manager to go into the Priority Banking segment as a trial and to set it up; now it’s one of the largest priority banks in Africa. He was also asked to set up an offshore banking operation for the same bank, which meant the consolidation of the bank’s assets in the Channel Islands and expanding it across South Africa.

David’s professional history is largely one of being appointed to scale up or restructure. For example, during his time in Malaysia, he was asked to restructure an Islamic bank that had been loss-making for a number of years. After his first year, the bank delivered its first profits. “Another interesting facet to my life is that I am not only a Certified Islamic Banking Professional from CIIF but I am also a Certified Conventional Banker,” David states.

David’s leadership style is deeply rooted in principles that prioritise open communication, collaboration, transparency, and a commitment to deliver on promises. As he often emphasises, “never promise something you can’t deliver.” This ethos is not just a personal mantra of his but is becoming ingrained in the very fabric of BNF Bank’s operations.

Under his guidance, the bank has fostered a culture where decisions are made collectively, ensuring that every stakeholder’s voice is heard. “The bank has seen a change in terms of the way the leadership structure works at BNF. Whereas in the past people were not empowered to make a decision, now they are more involved in the decision-making process and the bank is adapting to a more ‘servant leadership’ style,” David explains.

BNF Bank recognises that while the importance of planned strategic growth cannot be understated, one of David’s focuses is empowerment and communication. One such example is the scheduled open question session at their Townhalls, where any staff member can ask any question and will always receive an answer. David explains, “any staff member can ask any question they want.

“There’s no filtering that takes place and we go through a defined process. At the end of the ‘Townhall meeting’, any unanswered questions are then emailed to me and are answered within four days, by myself, via email to the entire bank,” he shares.

An important element to David is being on the floor with his employees. David reflects happily, “the part that I love the most about a role like this is collaborating closely with employees. I love going out to visit the staff and the branches. I like to hear what their challenges are during their day, what issues we can help resolve without any filters. I often find that, when you sit with your staff and just listen to them, they will tell you stuff that can be really helpful.” This personal touch means that small issues can be resolved quickly, and any communication roadblocks are removed instantly.

These changes for BNF come at the same time as the implementation of Phase 2 of its digital transformation, which encompasses a complete overhaul of the bank’s core banking system. David feels that this fundamental transformation will take BNF to the next level in the digital ecosystem in Malta. David comments that “despite the significant investment our shareholders are making in this transformation, the bank continues to perform and deliver sustainable returns and profits. So, you know, the business is sustainable, it’s profitable, it’s built, and it’s balanced.”

However, as the market and society continue to move into the digital realm, David is acutely aware of the changing expectations of customers. He is at the forefront of ensuring that BNF Bank remains agile, adapting to the digital age while retaining the personal touch that sets it apart. He notes, “the advancement of digital banking will redefine the relevance of physical branches. It’s about striking the right balance. Getting the right balance and expanding our channels of communication with our customers is an essential part of BNF’s success.” David feels that any challenges are opportunities: “for me, a complaint is a moment of truth. It gives a customer the opportunity to raise an issue, help us improve, and remain a client and not walk away.”

Navigating the market is one of the more essential parts to the business, minimising one’s risk while also maintaining insight into the financial landscape, whether local or global. David observes the resilience of the local financial services industry, particularly in the face of global challenges. Highlighting this, he adds, “the financial services industry in Malta is fairly resilient and in spite of challenges had a relatively good year in 2023.”

In relation to 2023, David also comments that Malta is in a unique situation which he hadn’t come across previously in other jurisdictions. He explains that when a central bank raises interest rates globally, the interest rates rise on both the liability and asset sides of the balance sheet. This ensures that spreads remain consistent. “In Malta, what we’ve observed is an increase in interest rates on the deposit side, while rates on home loans and personal loans have remained unchanged. This indicates an imbalance in terms of the interest rates,” David explains.

BNF Bank’s growth has not been limited to its core banking services. Under David’s leadership, the bank has ventured into collaborations, reflecting its broader commitment to society. The partnership with NGO Żibel on the Xibka project stands out as an example of the bank’s dedication to environmental conservation. Such initiatives underscore BNF Bank’s mission of being more than just a financial institution – it’s a community partner. David expands on the importance of ecological practices, explaining, “sustainability is a fundamental pillar of our bank going forward, because we’re heavily involved in the community. We’re involved with several NGOs, specifically around sustainable farming, removing plastic from the oceans, cleaning beaches, clean energy, and more.”

BNF is also in the process of replacing its existing car fleet with electric cars and a number of other initiatives, as David feels that there is little point in promoting sustainability if one doesn’t practise it themselves. He believes that businesses, especially financial institutions, have a significant role to play in shaping a sustainable future.

David’s perspective on the future of the financial services industry, particularly in Malta, is pragmatic. He believes in the potential for consolidation in the banking sector, driven by the rising costs of regulatory compliance. This vision is not just about adapting to change but also about proactively shaping the future. As he often emphasises, “the most important aspect for BNF is landing our digital transformation and core replacement.” This commitment to digital transformation is not just about leveraging technology but also about enhancing customer experience and ensuring that BNF Bank remains relevant in an increasingly digital world.

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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