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Zara Jabeen Mahbub: A banker with passion

  • Published at 06:53 am July 29th, 2013
Zara Jabeen Mahbub: A banker with passion

Tell us about your academic background

I went to Assumption University, Bangkok and came back to Dhaka after two and a half years to take over the helm of the family business when my father had a heart attack. While running the family business, I graduated from North South University, majoring in Marketing and International Business. I moved to the US after my marriage to Naveed Mahbub, who motivated me to apply to the MBA programme at Berkeley. I completed the programme with concentrations in Strategic Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

Tell us about your career

I worked in my father’s business, Knit & Weave Fashions, one of the oldest garments buying houses in Bangladesh. There I learnt to run a business in a competitive industry, deal with buyers, manage large teams and make instant decisions. I did this while studying at NSU. After my marriage, I moved to Michigan, USA and worked at an IT firm. Later, we moved to California, where I worked for an electronic manufacturing start-up. I developed software and designed graphical user interfaces (GUI) and was in charge of their marketing team.

How about your career in banking?

In 2008, my husband and I performed Hajj and came to Bangladesh to visit family. After a month in Dhaka, we decided to stay on. I then started to explore career opportunities here.

After exploring several prospective employers, I discovered BRAC Bank, which instantly won my heart. The management of the bank valued my academic background and entrepreneurial endeavours. I joined as a Vice President and Head of Service Quality in March 2009.  In October 2010, I became the Head of Premium Banking. Recently, I was appointed the Head of Marketing & Call Centre at the Retail Banking Division.

Did you face challenges of establishing yourself as a female business leader?

In the mid 1990’s, I faced some challenges working in RMG while dealing with seniors and clients. But it was nothing insurmountable.

BRAC is an organisation that stands for the emancipation and empowerment of women. At BRAC Bank we follow the same philosophy. We have an excellent day care centre for working mothers and the percentage of female bankers is increasing every day. I am fortunate to work for an organisation that promotes and nurtures the culture of equal opportunity. I have not faced any particular challenges in my career due to my gender.

What helped you grow in BRAC Bank?

Shortly after joining, we had the ‘Joy of Banking’ service quality campaign - the first of its kind in the industry. There were branch wide campaigns, special training programmes, awareness raising drives and a small guidebook for our employees to make them understand what customers expected of them. We aimed to instil the service culture DNA among all employees and to inspire them not only in service efficiency but also in taking ownership of one stop service. Our promise was to deliver an enjoyable experience for customers when they interact with the bank. While at premium banking, we streamlined the service offerings, increased value propositions, multiplied the bench strength of the team and substantially increased the portfolio of the premium banking deposits. We have already brought about significant changes in marketing of our retail products and the branding of our service outlets. We are focusing on improving efficiency at our call centre and increasing usage of the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. I attribute the reason behind our successes to the entire team and the prudent and dynamic decisions made by the management.

Does premium banking go with BRAC Bank that supposedly stands for SME?

Our bank is primarily an SME Bank. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed envisioned the bank with the guiding principal to focus on small and medium entrepreneurs. BRAC Bank gives access to people who do not have access to loans to set up and expand small and medium sized businesses.

High net worth individuals contribute in terms of deposits. BRAC Bank uses these deposits to disburse loans to the SME sector. Premium Banking at BRAC Bank is not just about glitz, glamour and personalised service, but is also about recognising the accomplishments of successful individuals. And when that individual recognises BRAC Bank’s ethos of empowering people, he is reassured of his commitment towards Bangladesh. Premium banking customers at BRAC Bank proudly acknowledge their contributions towards Bangladesh’s economy.

Many remember your modelling days in early 1990’s; how did you got into it?

When I was in school, I was into soccer and cricket. I was a complete tomboy which worried my elders. When Nasrine Karim, a relative and a pioneer of the fashion and modelling industry, wanted to groom me as a model, my mother was relieved and agreed. I appeared in TV commercials for Lipton Tea, 7UP and Meril Toothpaste which were made by East Asiatic Advertising Agency and Prochar.

Could you tell us a bit about your family?

I have two daughters, Zaina (eight years) and Maryam (one and half years). My husband, Naveed has played a major role in whatever success I have achieved. He has always inspired me to think big and is a wonderful dad to the children. Without his and my family’s support I would not have been able to do what I do.

What is your advice for jobseekers in banking industry?

Contrary to popular belief, banks are a fun place to be in. You're not just building a career in one of the biggest and most respected industries, but are also taking responsibility of people's hard-earned money. You can change lives by helping people expand their businesses and achieve their dreams. Banks are always looking for new ideas and perspectives form fresh minds.