”Everybody can be a good leader in their professional as well
as personal lives”

Anil Keshary Shah, Former Banker

For Anil Keshary Shah, the past three decades have been a time full of professional success and achievements making him a household name that few Nepalis can dream of. Throughout his career as a banker, he has been an inspiration to a generation who are now bankers and corporate leaders working in Nepal and abroad. Starting in an assistant position in the Nepal Grindlays Bank in 1991, Shah went on to become the Head of Consumer Banking and later as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) when Nepal Gridlays became Standard Chartered Bank Nepal. After serving there for 13 years, he joined Nabil Bank as General Manager in 2004 and a year later in 2005 became the bank’s CEO. In 2009, he joined Mega Bank as its first CEO and led the bank for eight years. In 2018, he returned to Nabil as the CEO.

Shah now has finally stepped aside from an active role as a banker. He has established a company called Lead Nepal Inc, where he is the Chairperson, to work in the field of leadership development. In a conversation with the HRM, Shah reflects on his career in banking, talks about his new venture and shares plans for the future. Excerpts:

After over three decades in banking, you’ve retired from active professional life as a banker. There is a lot of curiosity about what Anil Shah is going to do now. How would be your post-banking career?
It’s been a little over 31 years in banking. Starting from Grindlays Bank (now Standard Chartered Bank Nepal), coming to Nabil Bank, going to Mega, and coming back to Nabil Bank again, the unique part of these years is there have been people in banking for much more than that also. Of these 31 years, I worked as CEO for 17 years. When I look back, that is what has given me the unique opportunity to plan to do what I am. As a CEO, the learning opportunity is immense. Whether the organization is big or small, as the CEO, you get a lot of opportunities to learn and a lot of challenges to face. All these give you the opportunity to hone your leadership skills. So even when you’re a bank CEO for four years, you can be a much better leader than when you start.

There was a question in my mind should I again be CEO of another bank or a company after Nabil? Then I thought about the one main thing that is lacking in Nepal today. It is the leadership void. It persists not only in politics but also in bureaucracy, the private sector, and the social sector.

I decided it is time for me to use those skills that I have honed for 17 years as bank CEO to help Nepali youth become better leaders.

This is what I want to do now. So, I’ve set up a company called Lead Nepal Inc which will work to develop better leaders. And that’s not only in banking or the private sector. It could be the army, police, manufacturing companies, banks, colleges, and educational institutions. Political parties could also invite me to give training on leadership, motivation, and team-building skills.

The way I’ve structured my life in Lead Nepal is a “50:50 formula”. How does this formula work? Suppose a private college in Dhangadi calls me for training, they will have to pay a charge to come there to give training along with taking care of my logistics. That will be my first 50. And, the other 50 is while in Dhangadi, I will also connect with some youth organizations or government colleges that may not be able to afford to bring me there. I will give them talks on leadership, motivation, and whatever they require. That is what I call “pro bono 50”.

By doing this, I will be able to use the resources that I need to survive and also give back to the 50 percent who would not otherwise get the opportunity. And I’m very happy that the initial responses have been very good, and a lot of people are showing their interest. I’m taking a short break with my family before I start fully doing this.

When will Lead Nepal start working, and which sectors will you focus on leadership training?
Right now, Lead Nepal is a startup. As we grow, we will get more people to come into. Surprisingly, political parties also want me to come and talk about leadership; many of them also asked me to come and stand for elections. But when I say I don’t want to get into politics, they have requested me to train the newly elected mayors and ward chairpersons. People who have just been elected for the first time want to know how they can work better to deliver the commitments and promises they’ve made to their voters.

Banks that are thinking of mergers have also requested me to conduct mission, vision and motivation training that will go for six months so that their team comes up with the synergy. And there are of course colleges and universities looking for training. In the past, Nepal Administrative Staff College and Nepal Army used to call me for training. It is not because I was the CEO of a bank, but because they felt Anil Shah is someone from whom we can learn.

Everybody can be a good leader in their professional as well as personal lives. As good leaders, they will learn to live life properly first. So, it doesn’t matter what your age is, you must start to become a good leader. If we want to increase productivity in the country, we need leaders in every sector. If we look at the developed countries, what we see is every citizen of these nations is doing the best they can to contribute not to nation-building, but for themselves. If you’re a shop owner, you want your shop to be bigger in two years. This will also contribute to the nation’s economy. So, if you want Nepal to be the best, each Nepali has to be the best version of themselves. And that’s my aim.

As a banker, you handled many talents who are already in leadership positions or are on the way to leadership. So, throughout your career, how efficient have you observed human resources management in the Nepali banking sector to be? What changes have you observed over the years in people management?
I always think there is room for improvement. I am not the person who says Anil Shah is the best version of Anil Shah. Anil Shah is also evolving. Similarly, the banking sector is evolving in every realm, from products, services, to technology and people.

When I joined, the banking sector was very plain vanilla. And we used to think we are great. But if I come to the sector today with the same academic knowledge and experience, I had while joining banking, I would not be able to get a job because the competition is much higher today than it was 31 years ago when I joined Nepal Grindlays Bank.

I was very fortunate to have worked at Nepal Grindlays Bank and Standard Chartered Bank Nepal. As global organizations, their focus on human resources management was much more compared to other banks in Nepal at that time.

Over the years, the banking sector gradually realized that the secret to the success of organizations is people. I hope organizations in other sectors will also learn the importance of people management going forward.

Many people often say that the compensation packages of bank CEOs and top management level people are the highest in the country. On the other hand, people in many industries and sectors complain that the minimum wage is too high and unsustainable. I still hear a lot of people say that we need cheap labor to be competitive. I asked them if cheap labor was the reason, wouldn’t the banking industry have failed by now?
The cost associated with human resources is the most expensive in the banking sector, much more than in any other sector. Therefore, cheap labor is not the secret to success. A productive, motivated, dedicated workforce is what you will need. And that is what the banking sector has recognized.
Today, if you ask fresh BBA and MBA graduates where they want a job, their first choice is in the banking sector. It is because the banking sector because it is transparent, and they will get a rewarding career.

So, the banking sector has shown that people have not realized that it is not cheap labor, it is productive labor. If you talk to American companies that have invested in manufacturing in China, they have not invested there because of the cheap labor. Chinese labor is one of the most expensive in the world, but they’re the most productive also.

There is a realization in the banking sector that we need to attract the best people, keep them motivated and provide them with an environment where they can excel.

Look at Nabil Bank. Over the last four years, we have transformed this organization. We were an old bank as the first joint venture bank in the country, but we have transformed. Today Nabil is different than it was four years ago. In terms of customer base, Nabil used to be an institutional and corporate bank. Now Nabil is SME and retail bank. In terms of digitization, Nabil had a core banking system that was outdated. Now, the bank is one of the most digitized banks in the country.
The transformation happened because of the efforts of an amazing team. We added people and new resources to the team and energized the old resources that were there. So, if you ask me about management and leadership, I will say it is all about people.

The private sector in Nepal is seen as much more responsive, productive and agile. Whereas the public sector, including the government, is seen as unresponsive and unproductive. What hinders our government sector to be more productive? Is this about leadership?
Nation-building is a wonderful thing. But it is only possible if everybody thinks they’re building their own families.

Let us look at the compensation package of the government employees in terms of cost. If you’re living in Kathmandu, and your salary is Rs 40,000-60,000 per month, how do you fulfill the basic needs of your family and provide proper education to your children? It will not be possible at all. So, the size of employee compensation does matter. Why is there no corruption in the banking sector? It is because of the good compensation packages. People in banking can have their dreams fulfilled with the remunerations they receive in their organizations.

What I’m trying to do with Lead Nepal is to motivate people and help them hone their leadership skills. You give them pride in the job that they do. If you’re a civil servant, then you’re a servant to the citizen of the country.

The mindset has to change. The employee compensation has to change. If you look at countries like Singapore, compensation packages for civil servants and public sector employees are at par with the private sector employees.

There is growing resentment against the leadership in the country, for not delivering what they were supposed to deliver. Successive governments have failed to provide basic needs for the citizens. Don’t you think our political leadership has failed to serve the people? 
As a positive person, I look at everything positively. There is a lot that has happened in the last few decades, be it infrastructure, health, or education.
When there was a lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19, we were not starving. The daily essentials – rice, oil, and vegetables, all were being imported and supplied to the people. Someone managed the system. It was our bureaucracy and political leadership that run the system.

So, the first thing we need to get away with is that the leadership hasn’t done anything. They have done a lot, but they could have done more. That is where the growth and the learning come. The first thing is that we need to move away from corruption. How do we move away from corruption? Yes, there are laws and the anti-graft body. But we need to look at why are people corrupt? Why are bankers not corrupted? It is because their compensation packages are good. There is a need to make the compensation packages for bureaucrats and politicians better.

Private sector organizations are able to offer attractive salaries because of high productivity. I can say what work a Nabil Bank staff does, if the same sort of productivity is there in the bureaucracy, we can get rid of 10 people.

The biggest expenditure in our budget is not on defense or health, it is on education. If we are spending so much on education, then why do Nepali laborers who go to the Middle East when start earning insist on sending children to private schools? If we look at the compensation packages of the teachers in the government schools, it is much better than in private schools. But, why are people trying to move their children to private schools? And how do we change that?

We need out-of-the-box thinking. If bureaucrats and politicians start sending their children to government schools, then they would probably think of having the best people there as teachers instead of political cadres. So, I think what our leaders need to do is to learn from other countries.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad›s transformation team came to Nepal once and we had a chance to listen to them. And one thing that I took away from his speech was when you want transformation, you will not look at what you are doing and try to do it better. That is evolution and not transformation.
Malaysia, for example, transformed its visa system. Earlier, getting a Malaysian visa was very cumbersome. What they did was, they brought in the best system, which was from a Scandinavian country.

That is what we need to do in Nepal. Nepalis don’t have the patience for evolution. Don’t look at what we are doing now and how to do it better. Look at who is doing it the best. There are countries with federal governance systems all over the world. We need to look into how they are doing it. How are they using technology? How are they delivering service more efficiently?

As a banker, you must have been closely following the latest merger and acquisition initiatives taking place in Nepali banking. How the banking sector will evolve in the next few years?
When I became the CEO of Nabil Bank for the first time, Nepal Rastra Bank started giving a lot of licenses to operate commercial banks. At that time, I told the Nepal Rastra Bank that maybe it was not a good idea to have many financial institutions which would create unhealthy competition and make it difficult for the central bank to supervise. The central bank’s view was there should be more banks in the country and they can easily supervise the organizations. Now, we come a full circle. I agree we need bigger and more stable banks. But, along with that, whether banks merge or don’t merge, banks need to focus on technology. If you want to succeed, it has to be technology. If you do not digitize and do things in conventional ways, you will become irrelevant.

Second, with technology, we need a new breed of bankers to come in. It is time for youths to take over. Third, the customers are changing. They are no longer based in urban Nepal. Money coming into Nepal as remittances is directly going to rural areas. Banks must evolve to serve new customers who are outside urban areas. And, fourth, banks need to think about sustainability. It is not good if you have a vibrant economy but a country that lags in terms of environment and ecology. Banks must think about how they can promote electric vehicles and alternative energy.

A couple of years down the line, where we will see Anil Shah? Will we see you in politics?
I held one of the most powerful positions as the CEO of Nabil Bank. And I will now say the time has come for me to share the knowledge that I have with a larger audience. This is something I won’t be able to do as a parliamentarian or as a mayor. What I want to do, in the next three to five years is I want to see a billion-dollar Nepali company listed on New York Stock Exchange. I don’t want to be a CEO to ring the bell there. But I want the CEO of the company to send me a WhatsApp message thanking me for guiding them to reach there. I want to create leaders among the youth who are in agriculture, banking, bureaucracy, and armed services, among others.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top