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Doing business with loving-kindness

Family at the helm of Myanmar-based KBZ Bank has woven that value into the bank’s outreach to customers, particularly the less privileged

BEING INCLUSIVE: Nang Lang Kham, deputy chief executive of KBZ Bank

BEING INCLUSIVE: Bank employees visit villages across the country to register individuals digitally on KBZPay

BEING INCLUSIVE: Every staff is a KBZPay agent and part of the overall mission to lead financial inclusion

THAT purpose should permeate corporations' ethos is a fairly novel concept, particularly among Asian companies. But Myanmar-based KBZ Bank has blazed a trail as it embraces its purpose as metta, a Sanskrit word for loving- kindness.

The juxtaposition of loving-kindness with a financial institution may seem incongruous, but the family at its helm has woven that value into the bank's outreach to customers, particularly the less privileged. 

Nang Lang Kham, deputy chief executive of KBZ Bank, says the choice of metta as the value by which the banking experience should be guided was voted by 85 per cent of employees in a poll in 2018. The value is partly inspired by her parents Aung Ko Win and Nan Than Htwe, who by dint of hard work founded the KBZ Group of Companies, from its humble beginnings as a textile and food trading business.

"As the largest privately owned bank (in Myanmar), we recognise the critical role we play as change agents in society. With this as our main driving force, we embarked on a bold transformation from the inside out ... to bring loving-kindness to our communities and society.

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"Today, I believe KBZ Bank is the only financial institution in the world guided by loving-kindness. With metta, we can ensure that Myanmar will continue to have sustained and equitable growth at a pace that's right for its people."

Nang Lang Kham believes that as a financial institution, KBZ Bank plays a key role in helping to raise the standard of living of the majority of Myanmar's population, of whom 90 per cent remain unbanked. This is done in a couple of ways - one is by tapping mobile technology to raise financial inclusion. A second initiative is to raise digital and financial literacy.

But first, some background. Nang Lang Kham is the eldest daughter of former teachers Aung Ko Win and Nan Than Htwe. The couple left their teaching positions to explore trading textiles in the Shan State, in an effort to enhance life for their children.

The venture was successful and the business expanded to acquire land in the hope that it would be suitable for mining. Based on an account in the The 4Gs of Business Families, the Business Families Institute's 5th anniversary commemorative book, the KBZ Group of Companies was formed in 1994. Today, the group spans finance, aviation, hospitality and healthcare, among other businesses.

The group moved into banking in 1997. KBZ Bank has since expanded from a single branch in Shan State to over 500 branches in the country. It has a 40 per cent share of the country's commercial banking business, and 40 per cent of deposits.

Nang Lang Kham believes in KBZ's mission of broadening financial inclusion, particularly among the less privileged. "Even though we are now the largest bank with the most branches in the country, our spirit and vision remain the same - to bring as many people into the financial system as possible, as a means to improve their quality of life."

THE lack of access to the financial system limits entrepreneurship and creates unequal growth for people, she says. "As a bank that is by Myanmar and for Myanmar, we're well placed to bring millions into the formal financial system, to make it fit for purpose and to help raise the standard of living for everyone."

Despite 90 per cent of the population being unbanked, 90 per cent own a smartphone. The group has latched on to the ubiquity of the mobile phone to launch KBZPay in August 2018, a bank-led mobile wallet through which people can make purchases and manage funds.

The group mobilised 18,000 bank employees to go out to the streets to onboard customers, agents and merchants.

Within a year of launch, KBZPay has onboarded over 230,000 merchants and agents, and over 3 million fully KYC-ed (know your customer) clients.

Nang Lang Kham says the exercise was the biggest digital migration and KYC onboarding in Myanmar's history, giving many people access to financial services for the first time.

"With KBZPay, millions who had no access to formal banking services will be able to manage their money securely for the first time, and even have access to free life insurance. We are constantly working to improve on this mobile banking service as a way of thanking the people of Myanmar for trusting in us, as we believe this is the way to lead Myanmar into the next stage of transformation."

THIS initiative happens alongside efforts to raise financial and digital literacy. After all, social media while powerful, is also a platform for fraud which is a threat to stability, she says.

"What we need is a digitally literate population that uses social media as a force for connectivity and good. This will require the collective strength of all players, including technology companies and leading industry actors such as ourselves." KBZ Bank has committed to working with the media, grassroots and industry organisations to strengthen vigilance and literacy among the population.

In line with its commitment to integrity and principled management, the KBZ Group has joined the UN Global Compact Network, which promotes sustainability principles in support of UN sustainable development goals. It has taken steps towards enhancing female participation in its workforce. As at 2014, more than half of KBZ Bank's female employees had senior management roles. This is double the proportion of 27 per cent of female leaders in 2009. Meanwhile, the sisters -  Nang Lang Kham, Nang Kham Noung, and Nang Mo Hom have also established the Brighter Future Myanmar Foundation, set up in 2008 to help those whose lives were devastated by Cyclone Nargis.

SINCE then, the foundation has embarked on efforts to alleviate poverty and uplift the lives of the underserved. Its projects include the provision of access to clean water, disaster relief and recovery, women's health and empowerment and youth education. According to the KBZ profile in BFI's anniversary book, the foundation has given more than US$110 million over the past years to social initiative projects and charitable causes in Myanmar.

The sisters are currently in the process of reviewing the foundation's role. Says Nang Lang Kham: "The significant change and transformation in Myanmar over recent years have brought about greater complexity in how organisations need to approach sustainable development.

"Given this we will be charting a new course for the foundation, which involves a review of our chosen pillars of contribution and governance, guided by a board of international experts. This will ensure the foundation is focused on areas where it can continue to have significant impact and achieve its mission." W

"Some families use philanthropy as a platform to suss out the interests of the next generation, and to build a brand and a bond based on doing good for the greater community. Families like KBZ Group have been guided by ancient beliefs in loving-kindness to be in harmony with society and environment. The next generation members have found purpose in doing good, doing well and doing right in all aspects of their businesses. This resonates with how they intend to build sustainable family enterprises in emerging Myanmar."

This column profiles business families and how they approach issues of governance and stewardship. They support the Business Families Institute’s mission. SMU established BFI in 2012, in response to the growing needs of business families in Asia. It encourages business families to Think Generations, Think Growth, Think Giving and Think Global.