Alliance Bank's gold win: Spotlight on the 'Sustainability Assistance Programme’

24/01/2024 Interview
profile picture of Kellee Kam Chee Khiong

Kellee Kam Chee Khiong

Alliance Bank Malaysia Berhad

Group Chief Executive Officer

Alliance Bank won gold at the 2023 Qorus Reinvention Innovation Awards APAC edition in the category of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) with their 'Sustainability Assistance Programme' that helps companies establish sustainable businesses. Kellee Kam Chee Khiong, Group Chief Executive Officer of Alliance Bank Malaysia Berhad, tells us more about this winning project, its making-of, and its next steps.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us more about your role at Alliance Bank?

I’m Kellee Kam Chee Khiong and I am the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of Alliance Bank Malaysia Berhad since 1 September 2022. I have been in the financial services industry for over 24 years across both local and international banks.

What made you most proud of the Sustainability Assistance Programme? What was your greatest achievement in making it happen?

In our long-standing relationship with the SME sector, we strive to serve our clients every day in a positive and meaningful way by providing them the support, both financial and non-financial, to help them achieve their goals at every stage of their life cycle. We are a community-centric organization and we believe that helping our customers adopt ESG practices will help them build business resilience and position themselves to capture new opportunities for growth. The Alliance Bank Sustainability Assistance Programme (SAP) was developed based on our 3As approach, which stands for Advocacy, Advice, Answers. 

Through the Advocacy pillar, we raise awareness through relevant and impactful events and activities such as research, partnerships and marketing events to encourage adoption of ESG practices among our customers, partners, employees and the community. Earlier this year, we launched our inaugural annual ESG survey report, ‘ESG Insights from Malaysian SMEs: Building A Better Future Together’, which provides insights into the ESG landscape among SMEs here in Malaysia. It is an invaluable tool for those wanting to know more and gain knowledge with local context about ESG, something which many SMEs have said was lacking among the sea of generic information, frameworks and tools that do not necessarily cater to the smaller players in the market. Still, Malaysian SMEs make up 97% of the businesses in the country and contribute some 38% of the country’s GDP, so we know that helping this segment transition to become more sustainable is crucial to moving the needle and meeting the goals of the nation’s sustainability agenda.

The next step in the SME’s journey is receiving Advice, which we provide along with guides, tools and programs we develop alongside our strategic partners and subject matter experts, to help businesses at varying stages of their lifecycle acquire the needed support and resources that will enable their ESG journey. We recently announced that we have extended our partnership with the UN Global Compact Malaysia & Brunei, with whom we developed an exclusive climate diagnostic tool called PRO-GRESS for SMEs. The tool helps businesses assess their sustainability status and generate a personalized climate action plan for improvement. We are also working closely with the Malaysian capital market regulator Bursa Malaysia as an early adopter of their Centralized Sustainability Intelligence Platform, in order to help suppliers of anchor corporates embark on their ESG roadmap.

Finally, we offer Answers to SMEs in the form of fast, simplified and relevant banking and non-banking solutions that will enable their ESG goals. We provide green financing and capital to enable the transition towards sustainability for the industry. To date, Alliance Bank has achieved RM10 billion in new sustainable banking business ahead of our original financial year 2025 timeline. We are committed to continuing our financing support for our clients’ ESG transition, and are on track to meet our revised target of RM15 billion in new sustainable banking business by financial year 2027. We also have a panel of ‘beyond banking’ solutions providers such as energy efficiency and waste management solutions to help our clients on their sustainability journey.

What is the most important thing you would tell someone considering embarking on a similar project?

In Malaysia, the majority of SMEs approach ESG practices in an ad-hoc manner. Fully integrating ESG principles into their business strategies and operations remains uncommon, with a majority of them not considering it at all or only just beginning to explore it.

From our ESG survey report, we found that only 3% of businesses are considered champions or pioneers who lead the way in ESG adoption. They are proactive about implementing ESG initiatives and seek their own advisors and resources.

We then have the aspirers (47%) and unconscious adopters (9%) who have limited understanding or knowledge about ESG, and their implementation is due to regulatory requirements or because they believe these new business practices will help improve productivity, obtain cost savings such as from energy or waste efficiencies, or enhance their brand value and reputation.

Different industries are driven by different market needs and regulatory policies to transform their business practices to be ESG compliant. This remains a key driver in the initial stages of getting more businesses to adopt sustainable practices. An example of this is changes taking place under the social pillar of ESG, which addresses aspects such as diversity, gender equality and fair wages, as well as health and safety requirements. These come under the labor laws and workplace regulations, thus making it compulsory for businesses to implement.

There are still some ways to go to help this segment adopt ESG practices and transition towards sustainability. At Alliance Bank, we put advocacy and advice first before our answers. Before embarking on any new initiatives, first we need to help businesses understand ESG and help them assess its different facets so they can apply it and achieve their business goals. By understanding the needs, challenges and opportunities of our targeted segment, we can then build the right solutions to address them and truly provide meaningful, pragmatic and relevant help to our stakeholders.

What's coming next for the Sustainability Assistance Programme?

Our next phase continues our journey in guiding and enabling businesses to navigate their ESG adoption roadmap by providing them with relevant tools, training and advisory to successfully meet their challenges in a dynamic marketplace. Towards that end, we have already begun our research and deep dive into industry-specific ESG challenges, needs and opportunities in order to fill the knowledge gap via sectoral playbooks to help SMEs fast track their ESG adoption. We have been working with government-linked agencies, industry associations, subject matter experts and leading academic institutions to help SMEs prioritize actions with the highest impact.

At the same time, we will also continue extending our alliances with state-level entities and strategic partners to reach out to more SMEs across multiple supply chains and help them adopt ESG practices through a variety of activities and solutions including workshops, training modules, financing and tools.

What would you say to companies that might consider entering the 2024 Banking Innovation Awards?

This award program provides a good benchmark of your efforts against peers and provides an avenue to learn from other leading players. Innovation is not a journey from point A to B, ending in a straight line. The Alliance Bank Sustainability Assistance Programme has gone through multiple iterations and we continue to improve it based on our customers’ feedback and understanding how their needs evolve over time.

What does this award mean to you and your innovation team?

We are honored to have received this award for our Sustainability Assistance Programme. It serves as validation and recognition of our efforts to help our stakeholders. We will continue our efforts in deploying the program to help our customers build resilient and sustainable businesses.

Qorus members can access a complete feature including a detailed presentation of all the winners here

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