I was able to gather a great deal of learnings and experience from my time at Barclays

Prakash Bikram Khatri, CEO, Surya Jyoti Life Insurance

I started my career at Barclays Bank, UK in 2007, after completion of my Master’s degree. As a foreign national, generally, only large multinational corporations mainly, large financial conglomerates, and other blue-chip companies, would be able to sponsor my visa and therefore my options were limited and highly competitive. The application process was intensive and demanded a lot of research and effort. The screening process entailed 4 to 5 rounds of various psychometric, aptitude, and interpersonal tests and screening mechanisms before making it to the final interview. However, despite all challenges, I was able to secure a position at Barclays Bank’s prestigious leadership programme which was a well-structured, closely monitored, fast-track programme aimed towards producing future leaders of the bank.

At the time, Barclays with over 300 years of glorious history, 4,500 branches operating across 60 countries, employing over 150,000 employees, and with a customer base of 3 crores, was one of the largest global banks. I was based out of their Global Head Quarters at the famous Canary Wharf in London. In addition to hands on relevant work experience, I also got the opportunity to work alongside some of the best minds and exceptional leaders. This provided me ample opportunity to learn and I truly enjoyed my time at Barclays. Part of the leadership programme was to work with multiple units within the bank to get a well-rounded and holistic view of the bank and its operations. I therefore had to travel across UK and even to Europe. There was a robust support system for me to learn and grow where the senior team would take eager interest in my performance. I had also taken up various professional qualification courses as part of the leadership programme which were directly applicable at the workplace. I was also among a handful of entrants to be promoted within a year to take up much bigger responsibilities within the bank.

At Barclays people were dotted across the globe and I therefore had to work with colleagues whom I would never meet in person and were from diverse ethnic backgrounds and nationalities which meant cultural awareness was a must. Ensuring that everyone was on the same page was critical for success.
The work culture at Barclays was to plan well and execute with precision. It had very mature and robust monitoring and risk management processes embedded as part of their day-to-day operations. It greatly valued team spirit and all of us had a sense of belonging towards the company but also towards the team that we were part of. The leadership always appreciated the team’s efforts rather than just the success.

The working style was aggressive but only after having assessed all the risks associated and all decisions would be based on future implications and nothing would be short term. It wasn’t just about getting the desired output once. There was a strong belief that the underlying process and systems needs to be robust to ensure consistency in the output at all times. Professionalism was the key element among teams and everyone had the same set of values and principles.

I believe I was able to gather a great deal of learnings and experience from my time at Barclays and has now become my core guiding principles which governs my working style. I have of course finetuned my learnings to make it applicable in today’s context but the learnings of my first job still remain the very foundation for me.
In order to adapt in Nepal, I had to firstly unlearn a few aspects that were irrelevant in Nepali context and learn a few things that were. For instance, at Barclays one of the key projects was to ensure availability of online services for 99.99% of the time whereas in Nepal at that time, there was power cut of up to 18 hours and the challenge was to manage 10 am to 5 pm normal operations! It was a different ballgame altogether. However, I believe I was quick to understand the differences and take a Think Global, Act Local approach when I started working in Nepal.

One of the key aspects that I witnessed very closely was the various leadership styles of my senior colleagues and I was able to blend and derive a hybrid model embracing only the best and effective traits. As leaders we are in the people management business and unless and until it comes naturally to us, we will not thrive. It is also probably the most sophisticated and challenging aspect as each human is unique and the same communication can be perceived in a wide range of spectrum by a group of people. Conviction, intention and communication need to be in sync at all times and without it teams will falter. I think all the senior colleagues that I worked with even after my first job, have had an influence in my working methodology. In this regard, I was very fortunate to work under professionals who valued ethics, team work and were highly dedicated and acted as mentors to me.

Some of the senior leaders at Barclays came with experience across multiple industries ranging from banks, insurance, IT, telecom, manufacturing and even consulting. I always found intriguing how they used to approach any problem in a comprehensive manner due to the well-rounded exposure they had obtained. I too wanted a career where as part of my professional journey I would traverse through multiple industries learning skills specific to a certain industry but also enhance skills transferable across the board.

I have so far been part of an international bank, a local bank, IT industry and life insurance which has all been an enchanting experience. My Information Technology background has also enabled me to understand business process and learn the fundamentals specific to an industry and adapt quickly as it’s all underpinned by IT. Irrespective of the industry that you are part of, except for the technical skills which is unique to the industry, people and business skills are transferable across industries and that has been my mantra as well.

In the case of JyotiLife, I joined the company from pre-licensing phase and had the opportunity to build the company from its very foundation. Within a very short period of time, JyotiLife transformed into a well-established company, had a unique proposition in terms of its products and services with a huge focus on digitalisation and innovation. We were able to create a professional and meritocratic environment where staff and agents worked together in partnership to meet company goals. Despite being a new entrant in the industry, we were also able to payout 10% bonus shares to our shareholders and competitive bonus rates to our policyholders.

After five years of operations as JyotiLife, a new exciting challenge of merger awaited us where SuryaLife and JyotiLife would merge making it one of the biggest players of the industry. SuryaJyoti was the first successful merger among life insurance companies in Nepal. Within a very short period of time we have stabilised our systems, streamlined our operations, and SuryaJyoti team is now working towards a common goal. SuryaJyoti has carved out best practices for mergers in the life insurance industry.

I consider myself very lucky to be in the forefront of inception of a company, establishing it and taking it through a complex merger process. Both the processes were very challenging but it also provided abundance of personal satisfaction and learnings.

Life insurance industry has completely transformed in the last seven years due to the strong desire from all the players to take the entire industry to the next level which was supported, endorsed and facilitated by the regulatory body, Nepal Insurance Authority (NIA). NIA also took a proactive approach to resolve some of the issues that was detrimental for the industry. Insurance awareness has increased due to various initiatives and unhealthy competition among companies has reduced by a great extent. Companies are now looking at quality mix of business rather than just booking quantity. The industry is now looking into digitalisation as their top priority to streamline their operations and better serve their customers. Training and development of staff are now part of the annual plans and insurers are now taking a proactive approach. I think insurers are now competing to come up the next innovative item, be it product, service offering, investment strategy or anything that would set them apart from the rest. The focus of overall management of Board of Directors of the company has also shifted towards the technical side of the business rather than just sales and marketing. A number of initiatives and standards are being adopted by the industry as a regulatory requirement which requires highly technical workforce who are specialists in their area rather than just generalists. I personally am very excited with the changes that has occurred which I believe will be the foundation for further growth and development of the industry.

When starting any career, the key to success is to be brutally honest about your capabilities and have the drive, hunger and passion to learn and grow. Learning is a continuous process. Every interaction, transaction, event is an opportunity to learn as long we have our learning attitude switched on. Adaptability is key and one should be able to steer ourselves as per the external factors or the need of the hour rather. This surely doesn’t mean losing our personal identity but rather to make the most of the environment that is beyond our control.

I also believe in developing leadership role from an early stage in one’s career. I have seen people wait for them to be appointed in a leadership position before acquiring leadership skills, but by then it’s too late. People working at all levels need to be able to contribute, make an impact and sort of steer the team towards the next thing to do based on our ideas, and without even being the leader, you should be leading the team. We need to be the “go-to” employee because you can add value in everything.

Emotional Intelligence and positivity are key as they define one’s complete persona. They say, age is just a number but I have also begun to realise that age and maturity are not synonymous at all times. Therefore, one should always have a highly positive mindset and not let any negativity even approach us and show maturity by using our emotional intelligence even in the most difficult situations.

Insurance is a rapidly growing sector and has a long way to go with the momentum gained by the recent developments. This will offer even better employment landscape and chance to witness an industry propel itself to the next level in the days to come. I find insurance an interesting mix of sales and marketing along with technicalities of mathematics and actuarial science which in all makes an interesting working platform. Especially, in the life insurance segment investment diversification is going to see a lot of innovation as life insurers accumulate more funds and will have a massive portfolio to manage.
(Based on conversation)

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