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Frederick Siew

How BSN is breaking perceptions in the Malaysian market

Even after more than 40 years in the market, BSN is mostly seen as a “rural bank for Malays” in Malaysia. While no doubt a well-known name, it has long struggled to resonate with Malaysians of other backgrounds.

Frederick Siew, deputy chief executive of corporate support at BSN, was given the mandate to change this perception. He joined the bank in 2008 and since then the bank has made steady progress in raising awareness and business from segments other than Malays.

He explains that since BSN was seen largely as a bank for Malays, the Chinese demographic shied away from trusting the bank with their livelihood.

“We were so strongly tied to the Malay community that the Chinese consumers totally disassociated from us and did not want to be our customers,” he said.

So the challenge for his team became to investigate the needs of the Chinese market and address their pain-points to ultimately gain acceptance.

One way it made headway with this group was through the education system. Knowing the Chinese demographic in Malaysia was not fully funded by the government, the bank entered the Chinese schooling and education system.

Through carnival-like initiatives in the schools, inclusive of event and entertainment management and garnering support from external companies to raise dollars for the schools, the bank won over the trust of the Chinese consumers.

“In the past, the Chinese consumers would think of BSN as a bank looking to take their money. But through helping them raise funds, we were slowly, but surely able to change the perception,” he said. This resulted in a 30% growth in terms of enrolment from Chinese school students from 2014 to May 2016, according to the bank.

“Changing people’s mindset and perception is marketing,” he said. Even within the Malay demographic, the bank was torn as the various income groups had differing perceptions of the brand. BSN found it difficult to connect and gain the trust of the Malay affluent.

“The bank is often seen as a bank for the rural folk. Hence, the more affluent Malay consumers do not want to be associated with the bank or know its products. They would much rather bank with the likes of CIMB and Maybank,” he explains.

To this demographic, banking with BSN might not be seen in a positive light. “Our branding as a bank for the community somehow backfired on us.”

To counter this perception, the bank recently underwent a massive rebranding exercise with a refreshed brand identity and logo. The bank’s new visual identity saw its corporate colour switch to teal which represents trustworthiness and reliability. The three-year rebranding is said to cost about RM130 million from its capital expenditure.

The new corporate branding is set to reflect both the evolution of the bank, as well as its vision for the future. Along with the new look, the bank is also introducing a new brand promise of “a better life within your reach”.

All in all, the rebranding is a testament of the bank’s commitment and aspiration to support Malaysians from all walks of life, regardless of circumstance and social standing.

“We want to move our identity from being seen as a ‘kampong bank’ to an urban bank that is actually comparable to other commercial banks,” he explains. Simply put, having a beautiful physical appearance is not enough and the rebranding also promises a better customer experience across all touch-points.

“Without a change in internal processes or improved service level, the rebranding will backfire on us eventually as well. Consumers are not going to come to our bank based on our brand’s colour. In our industry, it all boils down to service.”

While digitisation is on the mind of each and every marketer in the banking industry, a balancing act is necessary, Siew feels.

BSN is careful when adopting new technology as a large part of its consumer base is actually from the rural areas and is not adept with high-tech gadgetry.

“We cannot be overambitious in digitising our branches. We have to balance it out. Many of our consumers still want the human touch.”

However, the bank is still actively trying to educate the masses and push in that direction.

One way it has adopted digital into its everyday services is by creating a virtual teller machine. The machine connects consumers to a human voice anywhere in the nation which eases traffic flow to the branch itself, and cuts down the waiting time.

While the front-line staff at a particular branch might not be free at a certain time, others from any part of the nation can step in to serve the customer.

Coming from an accounting background, Siew said he is an ROI-driven individual. His belief? For marketing to be highly effective, marketers need to think beyond advertising. Advertising of any kind of products alone may not be effective enough in this day and age.

Knowing your target market for each and every product and crafting out a niche is important too, he said.

“Coming from an accounting background, budget and therefore, ROI, is important. I first have to think of how much money I spend, how much am I maximising and at what cost?” he said.

Prior to the role, Siew was chief financial officer of Kuantan Flour Mills for three years. There he was responsible for the financial management together with meeting all statutory reporting requirements of the group. He was also highly involved in advising on new investment opportunities.

Before that he was general manager of Panji Timor where he was directly responsible in handling the due diligence review for new investments, all legal aspects, financial matters, tax planning and human resource management.

From all his experience, he said, he understands that today, to market a product is challenging because real marketing starts way before the campaign starts or the product is created. It starts when a marketer has realised the consumers’ pain-points.

“In today’s competitive world, you have to create a product that suits the consumer at that specific point in time,” he said.

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