Compiled by Isanka Perera

Q: How has your career been shaped since you entered the work environment?
A: I have worked in diverse roles in multiple sectors and industries ranging from banking, insurance and investment bank­ing to apparel, and gained extensive experience given the varied challenges I faced over the past 30 years.

After I completed my MBA in the UK, I joined Standard Chartered Bank and was entrusted with the task of establishing the institutional banking function. My role included marketing SCB’s correspondent banking network to local banks, driving multilateral and bilateral busi­ness, and raising funds for the government via international capital markets. In five years, I grew this business three-fold, making it one of the key revenue generating SBUs for the bank.

When I moved to Brandix as General Manager – Light Sew Cluster, the challenge was to become a preferred supplier to the top brands. By employing production and supply chain process reengineering and work­ing with global consultants, I led my team in a hugely rewarding experience and reduced turna­round time from design to deli-­ very from 10 to four months.

I joined HNB in 2005 and over the past 17 years have played multiple roles – Head of Risk Management, Retail Banking and Chief Operating Officer. By empowering my team to work towards ambitious goals, we have delivered outstanding results in improving asset qua­lity and driving a hub and spoke model that encompasses digi­talisation, centralisation and process improvements.

My appointment as Chairman of HNB in September 2021 came during an extremely challenging time. But the last eight months have made us proud with the conclusion of a successful merger with Prime Finance, leading significant improvements in asset quality and spearheading business revival efforts, which have all contributed to an exceptional turnaround in per­formance in 2021/22.

Q: As a leader driving transformational change through the years, how have you adapted to the ever-changing business environment?
A: We live in exceptional and I add, unprecedented times. Today, the sale of mobile
phones has overtaken that of toothbrushes and smartphones have become an integral part of our lives – from ordering a pizza and purchasing a television to sharing a moment with a friend, keeping up with the news etc.

Unfortunately, the banking and financial services sector has been laggard in keeping up with the momentum of the digital revolution. We need to be fast-paced in adapting our processes to clicks at our finger­tips whether it’s opening an account, applying for a card or a loan, or collecting loan instalments.

The financial services sector in Sri Lanka has a long road ahead to fully embrace the opportunities of digitalisation. COVID-19 was a wakeup call and we should see the opportunities ahead of others and exploit them to build businesses and relationships.

Q: What differentiates HNB Finance in the market place?
A: HNB Finance is backed by two giants – Hatton National Bank and Prime Lands Group. What is less known is that DWM, a global impact investor with operations in over 70 coun­tries also has a minority stake.

I can affirm very strongly that HNB Finance is a safe and stable entity with sights set on growing exponentially with its diversified lending portfolio of microfinance, micro-leasing, gold and business loans. And the recently concluded merger with Prime Finance has cemen­ted our foray into real estate and property financing too.

As a company, HNB Finance achieved a remarkable turn­around performance despite the macro-business environment being extremely challenging. A strength that we draw on to ensure consistent performance is our unique business model. It encompasses women’s empowerment, entrepreneur development, business revival and financial literacy.

Q: What more can be done to transform the business practices of grassroots small and
medium enterprises?
A: To sustain a prospective SME, an entrepreneur needs much more than financial support. Supply chain link-ages, training programmes and workshops are vital to provide technical expertise, financial literacy and value addition.

Although there are over 3,000 MSMEs registered as exporters, their contribution to Sri Lankan exports is negligible. This means that we have a role to play in getting them access to the global marketplace.

Another area that has much potential is value addition. For example, the wastage and commercial exploitation in the agriculture industry can be minimised by supporting businesses to move up the value chain. Producing dehydrated products is a good illustration given the global market demand for such products. Technical assistance is a key imperative here with support for correct storage, waste management, refrigeration equipment and sustainable business practices.

One of the biggest challenges faced by Sri Lanka is that many microfinance institutions have exited or diversified to other industries with small businesses relying on money­lenders to stay afloat. The regulator has a significant role to play in encouraging healthy competition that will ensure financial inclusion and the capacity to leverage the huge opportunities that digital technologies can bring to these businesses, which are truly the lifeblood of the eco­nomy.

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