“My first two jobs gave me the real-life experiences I needed when I joined the professional world”

As a banker, Anil Kumar Upadhyay has observed a lot of changes in the Nepali banking sector. The industry veteran, who is in banking for the last 25 years is currently serving as the CEO of the Agricultural Development Bank Limited (ADBL) and is also the President of the Nepal Bankers’ Association. Starting his professional career at the Zonal Post Office, Janakpur, Upadhyay joined ADBL in 1987 and worked in various top management positions until his retirement as the Deputy CEO in 2016. In December 2018, he was appointed as CEO of ADBL. In a conversation with the HRM, Upadhyay shared his professional career journey, changes he observed in the banking sector over the years, and opportunities in banking for management graduates, among other topics. Excerpts:

Tell us about your first job.
In 1980, I got my first job as an assistant accountant at the Zonal Post Office, Janakpur when I was studying bachelor’s level. My professional career in banking, however, started at Agricultural Development Bank Ltd (ADBL) where I joined as an Account Officer in 1987.

How easy or difficult was it for you to get the job at that time? 
The entry job as an assistant accountant in the Zonal Post Office was not much challenging. I was appreciated as the best presenter in my interview and was selected on a contract basis. It was a learning period for me. I had also worked as an accountant at the Defense Control Office during my master’s program at Shankar Dev Campus. Later, the demand for accounts officers was very high, and the position was also socially considered good at the time. So, I applied to ADBL when I was completing my master’s degree. It was a long wait as I had to wait more than a year to hear back from them. Eventually, it became the start of my professional banking career.

Did the sector/field match your academic area? 
As I am a management graduate, in the banking sector, and that, too in the field of accounting, it pretty much matched my academic knowledge. My initial jobs after the bachelor’s level and during the master’s program also contributed to preparing me in this sector.

What major lessons did you learn during the first job? 
My first two jobs gave me the real-life experiences I needed when I joined the professional world. I had to go to college early in the morning and during the daytime, I had to go to work. I was able to be more social and learn the work culture. It helped with grooming professionally alongside increased public relations (PR). Government-owned institutional jobs at the time were also considered very reputed and secure so these initial experiences helped me to achieve the position at ADBL. I was able to be more disciplined, responsible, and financially accountable. I got the opportunity to implement my college-level skills at the professional accounting level in my banking career. Office Correspondence, legal compliance and financial reporting were the major office-related work in my first job.

What were the major achievements for you professionally and personally?
My job at ADBL contributed to making me a professional banker. I worked in the bank for 30 years. From my first entry to ADBL as an Account Officer, I gained the branch level experience for 15 years, zonal and regional level for 5 years, and the remaining part 10 years at the policy level, by leading Credit and Branch Operation Departments for officiating CEO. I retired as the Deputy CEO of the bank. After 2 and a half years of retirement, I was re-appointed as the CEO of the bank by the Board of Directors. I have been able to work in converting the cumulative loss to its recovery and also have been successful in giving a good dividend payout. Since last year, I have been unanimously elected as the President of the Nepal Bankers’ Association.

Regarding personal achievements, I have gained confidence and satisfaction in my field of work with full family support. A simple village guy has got a good opportunity in Kathmandu to lead the banking sector. My dedication and result-oriented approach have also been recognized at the government level and on the international platform. I have been able to gain social capital through my strong professional relations and live a career-centric average stable working life alongside my personal life.

How have you observed the changes in the Nepali banking sector over the years of your career?
Previously, the Nepali banking system was supply-driven and development-oriented. The banking sector followed the “one-way supply service model”, i.e., only the government-owned banks were in existence. Nepal initiated financial sector reform in the mid-1980s and the government as well as the central bank have been implementing the comprehensive Financial Sector Reform Program since 2001. The central bank’s supervisory powers and regulations have been strengthened than in the past. The overall banking system is under prudent regulation & international best practices. We have been in the transformation from “Brick Banking” to “Click Banking”, and digital banking services have made access to finance at the fingertips. Almost all local levels have access to commercial banks. Yet, some shortcomings like unproductive lending, unfair competition and a large number of banks in our small economy need to be reformed.

As a professional who has spent over three decades in different roles and responsibilities in the Agricultural Development Bank, how has this bank progressed over these years? 
Initially established in 1968 as a development model bank for rural & agricultural development and poverty alleviation, the bank then added corporate banking in 1984. Gradually, the commercial banking system was more developed and the bank with joint efforts of the government established Sana Kisan Bank in 2001 to hand over Small Farmers Development Project. In 2006, the bank got registered as a public limited company and licensed from Nepal Rastra Bank as a full-fledged commercial bank. Today, ADBL has diversified its portfolio as 40% in the agriculture sector and 60% in the commercial sector. The bank has digitalized its services with the successful automation of its Core Banking System. IT security is the topmost priority of the bank for which the bank has excellent international banking software (Temenos T-24). The bank has a mixture of expertise from both agriculture and management graduates.

The banks have been successfully providing modern banking services like C-ASBA, securities dematerialization, digital banking, remittance, and so on like any other commercial bank. The bank has been declared the “Lead Bank” in agriculture. It has a huge capital base and become the number one bank in the trading business last year. Bank has satisfied its mass-based customers with quality banking services and its shareholders with sustainable good dividend payout.

The bank has also been working with state, province and local governments and has program ties in agriculture and SME loans. It has also been providing extension services for government transactions. Likewise, the bank has now been working together with several donors and agencies like World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Heifer International. ADBL has been focusing on sustainable resource integration and channelization from a long-term perspective.

Besides agriculture, trade finance, commercial credit, personal credit, C-ASBA, dematerialization of securities, and every commercial banking feature is with the bank. The bank is continuously striving to fulfill the gaps of improvement for sustainable banking in the days to come.

How competitive is the banking sector now for young graduates compared to past years? 
Previously, academic knowledge was scarce, so academically sound youths were easily welcomed by the market. However, these days are different. The youths of today have diverse academic experiences and are always keen to learn new things. This has definitely increased the competition and daily work has also been challenging as there is a continuous strive for improvement compared to the past. Many candidates wish to work in the banking sector, which has made it easy for banks to hunt for the best talents, but on the other hand, it has become quite difficult for candidates who are not updated on the current scenarios in the national and international banking system. One situation we have noticed is that the more talented youths are less interested in government banks. It might be the issue of incentives and the system however; we need to be more optimistic to have more trustworthiness in performance-based incentives and opportunities to secure their trust.

What suggestions would you like to give to the fresh graduates who are seeking to build their careers in the banking sector? 
The fresh graduates have extensive and intergraded knowledge in academics. However, I advise them to undergo practical training like internship programs, attend seminars on banking, study banking-related articles and get updated about the national and international banking laws. Likewise, certification courses like Credit Management and Branch Management courses help a lot in building their banking career.

Understanding the global and national banking system before applying for the job is a necessity, and banks also seek candidates who have these qualities. There are also online resources including courses that the graduates can do while studying or working so that they can have more exposure. I wish the fresh graduates all the best in their upcoming professional careers.

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