Bringing with him an extensive global career spanning over 30 years, David Power was appointed Chief Executive Officer of BNF Bank at the start of this year. As he stands at the beginning of this new chapter, David is excited to lead the Bank – which has taken its place as a key player in Malta’s financial services industry – into the digital age, while continuing to emphasise the values and best practices that his predecessors have honed since its inception.
Delving into the international journey that led him here, David began his career with Standard Bank, the largest banking group in Africa, where he spent 17 years. “The training and leadership style at Standard Bank was immense and set the base from which I have grown. The focus on in-depth on the job training whereby you experienced every division in the bank has really served me well over my career,” he smiles.
David’s time with Standard Bank came to an end after setting up their Offshore Banking Group and Priority Banking operation, which he says, “taught me a huge amount of lessons and gave me the opportunity to work with people in other jurisdictions like the Isle of Man and Jersey.” He then moved to Nedbank, where he ran the Nedbank Private Banking Group for five years. It was at this point that he was approached by a head hunter looking to fill a position in Kuwait. Marking the start of his Middle Eastern career, the move to Kuwait’s Gulf Bank also continued to build his ‘fixing’ skills, as he calls them.
“Throughout my career, I’ve often been responsible for starting a new venture within an organisation or fixing a business that needs some help. When I moved to Kuwait, the banking sector was busy modernising to the new way of doing retail banking, and aspects such as Bancassurance and mobile banking were new concepts that needed to be introduced,” he explains. David would then go on to hold the positions of Group Chief Retail and Private Banking Officer for the National Bank of Oman and Head of Retail Banking for Commercial Bank International, Dubai. Here, he focused on rebuilding and expanding their retail franchise across all seven Emirates of the UAE.
After finishing off in Dubai, he returned to Kuwait as Group Chief Retail and Private Banking Officer of Kuwait Finance House and was later appointed Chief Executive Officer of Kuwait Finance House, Malaysia.
“Up until then, I had never worked for an Islamic bank, so it was a huge learning curve for me to work for a bank like Kuwait Finance House, the second largest Islamic bank in the world. My remit covered the global retail and private banking teams based in Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey and Malaysia. I was then asked by the group to go and rebuild their subsidiary in Malaysia. It was the first international Islamic bank to be granted a license in Malaysia, but it needed some help. They hadn’t made profits in a number of years, and they asked me to go and turn their business around,” he recalls. Looking back, he describes it as one of his most treasured milestones: “turning the bank around into a profitable entity is something I’m very proud of.”
After that, his plans to take a short break fell by the wayside as COVID-19 hit. “Many businesses in South Africa were heavily impacted by the pandemic, so a practise called business rescue was established to help firms recover from the financial impact of the pandemic. This was an area where my past experience helped so I began doing some consulting work in this space,” David explains.
And now, his colourful international career has led him here, to Malta.
Reflecting on his main priorities as CEO at BNF Bank, David begins by highlighting the importance of its people. “I’ve worked in many jurisdictions in many places around the world, but when I came to Malta and specifically to this Bank, I was really impressed with the quality of the people we have working within the organisation. It’s a solid business in terms of its people, and there’s a good leadership team that sets the Bank apart from its competitors,” he smiles.
For David, a key focus moving forward is to further open the lines of communication within the Bank. “I’m passionate about communication, as it keeps the organisation moving in the right direction. It also allows me to connect across the organisation, across function. I am a firm believer of Leadership by Walking Around (LMBA), talking and listening to people and finding out what their issues are; and opening myself up and being available to them,” he maintains. In fact, one of the first things he did upon arrival was set up an email account called ‘Ask David’, through which anyone in the Bank can get in touch and ask a question to him directly.
This accessibility and emphasis on communication permeates his approach, and it is the CEO’s belief that “ultimate success is driven through people – if people are empowered to make the right decision, they’re then empowered to make their business fly.”
Another main priority is the Bank’s digital transformation process, which began last year, before David’s arrival. “We’re now moving into Phase Two, which will encompass the fundamental transformation of the Bank,” he says, affirming that the project necessitates a huge amount of effort and planning.
“We’ve got a great CTO who’s joined the Bank recently, and he’s doing a phenomenal job in building the project plan. By start of Q2 of this year, we are planning to begin the next phase, which will aim to make all the touchpoints across the Bank into an omnichannel, thus making BNF a true digital Bank,” the CEO states. He is careful to point out that the human element is still very important to the Bank, and will see the Bank adopt a hybrid approach. “You still need a branch network, because many clients still require access to people within a branch. Personalisation is key – the customer is central to everything we do.”
Finally, David’s third focus at BNF centres on sustainable finance. “ESG is a growing focus around the world – we as a business have an obligation to protect the environment in whichever way we can, to ensure that the future generations can continue to enjoy this legacy. To this end, we’ve set up an ESG Committee to paint the broad brushstrokes of what we want to achieve. At the end of it all, the philosophy is to grow consistently and sustainably,” he asserts.
Linked to this, the CEO continues, is keeping the Bank’s roots front of mind. “At BNF, we are extremely proud of our Maltese heritage, and that’s got to drive its way through the entire organisation. It’s an interesting road, because you’re looking at becoming digital while still providing the human element, and key to that all is how we respect our people and our customers, which is also a key element within the heritage of this country.”
Drawing on his international experience and delving further into the Bank’s digital transformation journey, David explains that every country in every jurisdiction has had what he calls their ‘uber’ moment, “that moment where they’ve realised they can’t continue to grow by continuing to do the same things – so they have to ask themselves how they can re-connect with the community around them.”
To this end, he highlights five key fundamentals for transformation. The first, is bold and fundamental change, closely followed by engaging the customer at all points along the journey, and always ensuring that the needs of the customer are understood. This requires good communication, about which the CEO highlights, “if you’re going to transform, you’ve got to communicate with every stakeholder in the organisation.”
The fourth element he points out is making sure that everyone buys into your plan, from the top all the way down to the bottom: “everyone needs to feel like they are an integral part of the journey.” And finally, the fifth element around successful transformation is to learn to fail fast, he says, “because if you fail quickly and recover, you’re doing OK, but if you don’t acknowledge your failure, you’ve got a problem. And once you pick yourself up, you’ve got to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Going on to share his thoughts on leadership, David believes that fostering trust is amongst the most important leadership qualities, along with being knowledgeable in your field. “You also need to be self-aware and be able to delegate. You must be decisive, whilst also being open to taking advice. You must be enthusiastic and be able to handle high levels of intensity. You need to be persistent, and the thing that ties it all together, at least for me, is that you must be a good listener and communicator. You have to have the humility to talk to people, and if you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” he shares.
Ultimately, the CEO’s leadership advice stems from one important quality: knowing yourself. “If you know who you are, you can understand what your limitations are. If you know yourself, you can then understand what you can do within an organisation. Always remember that humility is key – it shows strength. Build your communication skills and talk the right sort of language that people can understand. Tied to that, become a good listener. Finally, lead from the front – you can’t sit on a hill a million miles away and lead an army.”
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders project. The online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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