Driving digital transformation is an important task, says Osman Ershad Faiz, CIOO at AMTD Digital

Driving digital transformation is an important task, says Osman Ershad Faiz, CIOO at AMTD Digital
Driving digital transformation is an important task, says Osman Ershad Faiz, CIOO at AMTD Digital

I am excited to be part of the mobile digital banking revolution and the global financial inclusion agenda

When asked how he planned his career path to be a successful Chief Information and Operating Officer, Osman Ershad Faiz, Chief Information and Operating Officer (CIOO) at AMTD Digital, in an exclusive interview with CIO News said, as the Chief Information and Operating Officer of AMTD Digital, I am responsible for driving the company’s regional banking initiatives, strategic acquisitions and enhancing overall operational efficiencies.

AMTD Digital is the integrated digital platform arm of AMTD Group. It is based in Singapore and covers four key segments including digital financial services, digital media marketing, and data intelligence, digital connectors and ecosystem, and digital investments.

AMTD Group, based in Hong Kong, is a diversified conglomerate in Asia, with businesses in investment banking, institutional asset management, digital solutions, real estate, hospitality, and education.

I moved from banking to Fin-tech after 25 years in international banks. The transition was both a natural and bold decision. Before this, I was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Information Officer of Standard Chartered Singapore, where I led banking operations and advanced the bank’s technology transformation roadmaps.

As CIOO of AMTD, there is many synergies to draw from my experience in global banking and payments, enterprise-wide operations, digitalization and data, technology, and product innovation. A big part of my role is to advance digital banking in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

Fin-tech industry is a vibrant and rapidly growing industry globally. Take Singapore for example, we have become a global Fin-tech centre to host over 14,000 Fin-techs, which contribute around 13% of the country’s GDP and offer jobs to more than 10,000 employees.

I am convinced that technology is the game-changer and an equalizer with the right leadership and corporate values, and I am excited to be part of the mobile digital banking revolution and the global financial inclusion agenda.

When asked about challenges he faced in his career path and how he overcame them, he said, “In my banking career, some of the biggest challenges were leading the digital transformation efforts and implementation of new digital payment technologies”.

My banking career saw the transition from the physical paper cheque payment instruments, to interbank GIRO systems running on a two-day settlement period, to the current real-time 24/7 FAST transfers for both consumers and businesses.

It was a huge effort to standardize banking operations and systems, coordinate the various committees to ensure smooth upgrades of existing systems and integration of new ones, backend operations, and compliance checks. But most importantly, I always take heart that my purpose is to lead people in the financial service industry to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what technologies can do to make our lives better and more efficient, and also future-proof the business and our people.

Now with the Covid-19 pandemic, secure digital payment systems are more important than ever. Enabling cashless payments, online payments, fast transfers are the backbone of business resilience, especially when people are working from home and movement is restricted.

When asked about a cyber-attack or any security incident faced by his current organisation and how he tackled it, he said, though we do not see much in AMTD, cyber-security and mitigating cyber-attacks are key focus areas for the financial service sector. For any financial service provider, one of the most important service goals is to keep the client’s assets and money safe.

With cyber-security attacks getting more and more sophisticated, cyber-defence technologies and solutions are being widely adopted by the financial service industry. Threat-intelligence, cyber-defence tools can equip the banks to counter these cyber-attacks.

Meantime, it is also important to highlight the awareness and importance of being vigilant to the public in preventing scams. One of the most common cyber-attacks is phishing, and statistics show that simple cyber-security awareness programmes, like teaching employees and clients not to open emails, or not clicking on SMSes with links from suspicious websites, can go a long way in keeping our systems safe and avoid being prey for cybercrimes. A simple and effective way to protect your credentials is to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks. With the ever-growing threats, businesses must invest in their security infrastructure and ensure the right safeguards are in place to ensure cyber-security remains a top priority.

Recognizing the importance of cyber-security, AMTD Foundation and AMTD Digital announced a MoU earlier in September 2020, with Singapore Fin-tech Association, Canada’s University of Waterloo, and workforce and mobility platform iQ4, to launch @-Wise Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence. This is a new cyber-security platform headquartered in Singapore to groom talent, build a cyber-security ecosystem and raise awareness of the importance of cyber-security among Fin-techs, financial institutions, and other sectors. We hope more businesses and people would be able to benefit from this programme, and we can contribute our part to increase cyber-resilience against cyber-attacks.

When asked how his organisation geared up in terms of technology in the COVID times, he said, COVID has certainly accelerated technology adoption and digital transformation for many companies, as we moved to an interconnected online culture. There is no question that COVID has changed the way we live, work and play.

AMTD has a proprietary ecosystem named the “AMTD SpiderNet” – a one-stop digital platform interconnecting all our business stakeholders together. The aim is to leverage shared connections, resources and accelerate growth. We currently have over 100 partners from Blue chip companies, Tech companies, Fin-techs, financial investment platforms, banks, educational and professional organizations. There is an increasing demand for digital services and greater opportunities to scale up.

COVID has sharpened our focus for more strategic acquisitions to grow our digital portfolio. We invested over S$8.6 million in five Fin-tech companies in cloud-based financial AI services to cross-border payments. The companies are Active.ai – a platform that offers cloud-based conversational AI to financial institutions, CardUp – a credit card enablement platform, Funding Societies – an SME digital financing platform in Southeast Asia, PolicyPal – an insurtech company that is also the first graduate of the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) Fin-tech regulatory sandbox, and TranSwap – a cross-border payments platform for regional businesses.

Beyond this, AMTD also recognized the need to support the ASEAN and Singapore Fin-tech community, to plug short-term financing gaps and save jobs during this challenging period. In April 2020, we launched the AMTD-ASEAN Solidarity Fund set up in April 2020 with S$50 million, in partnership with the ASEAN Financial Innovation Network (AFIN). This was followed by the launch of Singapore’s S$6 million MAS-SFA-AMTD FinTech Solidarity Grant, in partnership with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Singapore FinTech Association (SFA), to support Singapore-based Fin-tech firms amid the challenging business climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about technology solutions and innovations he plans to implement in the post-COVID era, he said, the high smartphone penetration rate and widespread availability of internet connectivity create many growth opportunities in our mobile-first culture today.

Besides Fin-tech solutions, we are also keen on InsurTech, Cyber-security, and Green Financing. For InsurTech, data and technology can maximize efficiency and savings from insurance, to extract better value for customers.

When asked about challenges faced by technology leaders today in a similar industry while implementing digital technologies, he said, the biggest challenges are ensuring data privacy and security. Technology leaders face increasingly sophisticated and frequent cyber-attacks from DDOS, phishing scams to data breaches. Ensuring continuous IT education and getting everyone up to speed in the organisation is very important.

Secondly, for key financial accounts, it is important to have a robust yet seamless process for Identity verification, especially when the on-boarding process is done remotely.

The last challenge would be the paradox of choice. At times, there are several technology options available to fill a gap. This is when technology leaders need to be familiar with both customer challenges and organisational challenges to implementing the right solutions.

When asked how technology leaders can overcome the challenges, he said, I would like to emphasize leading with a customer-first strategy and the importance of continuous learning.

  • Customer-first strategy – Design solutions from an outside-in perspective and put your customer at the centre of everything you do and every decision you make. This means walking the ground to understand your customer or stakeholder’s pain points, to implement the right solutions and systems for their needs. This in turn creates customer satisfaction and loyalty for businesses to thrive.
  • Continuous learning – Keep up with the latest innovations and key trends, and understand their potential impact and relevance on your business gains. Learning from other industries is a good way to stay open to new and creative ways of doing things.

When asked about best practices/industry trends/advice he would like to suggest to fellow technology leaders for their successful professional journeys, he said:

  • “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a popular quote used in management. The environment and culture are important considerations to successfully implement change or a new strategy for the business.
  • Driving digital transformation is an important task. As leaders, we must recognize a people-first approach is critical for driving change in your organisation, and seek buy-in for your vision at different levels in your organisation. While technology is ever-changing, you still need people behind the machines.

He highlighted, I would like to encourage more women to join the technology and cyber-security sectors, which are fast-growing but largely male-dominated. Cyber-security is an important pillar in our digital economy, where cyber-attacks are getting more frequent and sophisticated. It is one of the fastest-growing sectors with a massive shortage of talent worldwide and good career opportunities.

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