SME Banker of the Year 2023 nominee: Jaya B. Kathiravalu (CIMB Bank)

SME Banking
08/05/2023 Article
profile picture of Jaya balan Kathiravalu

Jaya balan Kathiravalu

Head of SME Banking, Group Commercial Banking

KJ Balan is the Head of SME Banking, Group Commercial Banking, CIMB Bank Bhd, Malaysia. He has over 30 years’ experience in banking. He started his career as a junior banker, as an operation executive to credit officer, Sales Manager, Regional Head and Head of Business Development. The last 10 years he oversaw the transformation of business and sales in a domestic top 3 bank and as Head of Business Development and now heads the SME Banking at CIMB.

He obtained a Bachelor Degree in Economics from University of Malaya and Master in Management (UUM) and is also a Certified Credit Professional. He speaks and shares regularly in the SME forums and works closely with business chambers, supporting organisation, partners in the industry to support the development of the SME Business in Malaysia. 


"We keep our heart close to the SMEs on the pain point and connecting them "

In the course of your career, what have you seen change in terms of demands/needs of SME clients? And what role should a bank play in meeting these demands?

As someone who have been through the era of physical book ledger, manual credit paper handwriting in pages, witnessing the change of computer from gigantic size to less than an inches in thickness. In general, the business pain point of SMEs have always being surrounded by cost of business (inflation, weaken currency), manpower shortage, cashflow management, information barrier / gap on industry and playing catch up with digital solution. 

In recent year, SME clients have evolved over the time with adoption of digital and we have seen digital footprint of SMEs hasten during Covid period. For instance, SMEs are more open to internet banking and mobile banking, beyond banking solutions in the lights of HR business tool, e-commerce tool, logistic planning etc. And eagerness of SMEs to participate in financial inclusion programme, business management is also on the rise.  Resiliency and perseverance have always been merit points of describing the SMEs.  

We keep our heart close to the SMEs on the pain point and connecting them with the right tool according to their demands / environment where they are operating in. We are glad that our current offering are meeting the need and we are mindful to stay ahead to foresee the future challenges / demand for the SMEs. One of the method we found useful is to participate in immensely instructive, inspiring and enlightening forum like Qorus.

What have you found to be effective in leading your SME banking team/in your leadership position?

Walk the talk and uphold the organization core value – EPICC (E - Enabling Talent. P - Passion. I - Integrity & Accountability. C - Collaboration.) is always the foundation of our daily work. 

Stay on the ground – to have the 1st hand view and understanding on the issues and allowing the junior level to escalate the issue that deemed crucial and urgent.  

Stakeholder management – how to cushion the expectation from the senior leadership and ensure effective execution horizontally and downwards. 

Stay open minded and agile – as what the ancient wisdom has taught us in important matters, one should use several strategy applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of strategy. Keep different plans operating in an overall plan; if any one strategy fails, apply the next strategy. No strategy shall last forever.

Briefly describe, what would be your top 3 achievements/ projects delivered by your bank for SME customers?

  1. Overhaul credit score engine with BASEL compliant standard to underwrite the SMEs with their credit profile and beyond banking data for better segment underwriting.
  2. Financial inclusion programme – to create awareness and upskill the under- privileged (B40) SMEs on importance of business management, strategy and sustainability.
  3. Operational excellence projects - evolving customer lifecycle on loan application and services and deliverables include dedicated website platform setup, documentation simplification, application channel streamlining, virtual helpdesk and so on.

" COVID has resulted changes in SME business model, with almost 76% have some form of digital presence, a change we have not seen in previous 10 years."

What would be the most significant business case that you've applied and learned the most out of it? Both positively or negatively?

Focusing on people and skills development is utmost importance. COVID has resulted changes in SME business model, with almost 76% have some form of digital presence, a change we have not seen in previous 10 years. Hence RM in their conversation need to appreciate the change in business and operating model in order to be able to appreciate and understand business. Hence conversation and assessment is mote forward looking and also having some form of basic conversation on topic not familiar before such as ESG are new skills sets that we are investing on our people. 


One of the key lesson learnt at previous workplace was imperfect change management across all relevant pillars that causes executional gap and unnecessarily wastage of time and manpower.   
In addition, changes across the banks is less agile due to technological constraints from legacy architecture. The changes process has been lot slower than the pace market has evolved.

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