Felia Salim

felia salim

Vice President Director, Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI)

Since her appointment as vice president director at PT Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) in 2008, Felia Salim has helped bring new innovations to the bank as a way to achieve its long-term goal to become a regional player. The key is shifting BNI’s focus towards products better tailored to the latest consumer needs, rather than simply putting out many new products which don’t always succeed. Felia says that consumer needs have evolved so BNI must keep up with the changes. “We have to listen to the consumers more,” she says. As simple as it may sound, listening well actually requires sophisticated analysis and database management. “We used to be the only game in town, but now we’re not. We can’t take anything for granted,” she adds.

The program seems to paying off. BNI posted a 29% increase in its 2013 net profit, rising to Rp 9 trillion, backed by higher operating income. The main income contributor is higher loan disbursement, which grew 25% from 2012 to Rp 250 trillion. About 75% of the lending is for business banking and the remaining is for consumers. Next year, the company expects loan growth of around 15%.

Felia, 56, admits that the transformation program was not a smooth sail. It faced several challenges in the first year of implementation because it created big changes in the company’s culture. Staff sometimes resisted adapting to the new methods of doing things. Some left to join other companies. “We have to be fair so we let them choose,” says Felia. To fill the gaps, the company had to conduct aggressive recruitment. “There was a talent scarcity, but now we’re closing the gap,” she adds.

Providing better opportunities for female staff was one of the changes. The conventional path to promotion was relocating staff to new positions through the bank’s regional offices, something many women resisted since it meant disrupting their families. Felia created an alternative path for promotions. “It’s hard to relocate them to other regions when they already have a family,” she explains. Instead, Felia suggested that female staff could get promotions through increasing the value of their existing portfolios without relocating. “I believe that if our employees stay with their families, they will be more productive,” she adds. It proved to be a good strategy—today BNI has 15 women regional leaders from none a few years ago. “A company with gender diversity in top positions will perform better. It’s not about gender, it’s the new perspective that can come out of this diversity,” says Felia. “People should understand this.”

Felia’s own path to success is based on her deep experience in financial services. After getting a master’s degree at Carleton University in Canada, she started her career as a vice president at Citibank Indonesia before she became a director at the Indonesia Stock Exchange in 1994 (when it was still known as the Jakarta Stock Exchange). After five years, she became the executive secretary to the Financial Sector Policy Committee before moving to the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA) in 2001 as deputy chairman where she was in charge of monitoring banks under IBRA’s control. Her last position before becoming vice president director was as an independent commissioner at BNI. She is also involved in philanthropy by working with the Tifa Foundation, which promotes an open society in Indonesia.