There are so few women at senior levels in financial institutions, and this makes meeting Eusnie Arshad, a top banker with 25 years of multi-disciplinary experience, a rare event.
Soft on the outside and tough on the inside, she shatters the stereotype in banking. She is so easy to fall into conversation with.
“I want my children to love what they do because it is the only way they will achieve success. That’s my aspiration for them; I don’t impose. It’s the same approach for my career: If you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work,” says Eusnie, a mother of three boys aged between 11 and 18.
Eusnie had a difficult early childhood growing up in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Flats (better known as Pekeliling Flats), one of Kuala Lumpur’s earliest high-rise apartment buildings for the low-income group.
“I am half Chinese, half Malay, and I was raised by my paternal grandparents from the age of four, when my parents separated. They made sure I had a solid upbringing and good education while becoming self-reliant, because I had no siblings. Also, they saw to it that I learnt Chinese,” she says.
As the saying goes, “From humble beginnings comes great things”. And Eusnie is now using her experience to motivate not only her own children, but also those at the charity homes where she volunteers.
“I’m always happy to share my experience, especially with young graduates who can identify with my background. If I can be where I am today, despite all the challenges, they too can achieve great success if they put their mind to it,” says Eusnie, who is also a competitive runner who has participated in international races.
After graduating from Washington University in the US, she joined Peregrine Research Institute and RHB Research Institute amid the 1997 Asian financial crisis. At 23, she very quickly learnt how job insecurity keeps one on one’s toes.
Then, in 1998, she landed a job as an analyst with the prestigious JPMorgan Chase Bank Bhd, where she was picked from hundreds of applicants and put through a management trainee programme.
“After you’re done with the job rotation system, you are ranked among your peers and your results will be submitted to your superior. It was daunting to be stacked against great talents from all over the world, but rewarding, nonetheless. I really had to up my game,” she recalls.
JPMorgan is a breeding ground for bank CEOs and industry leaders, and it hires only highly skilled talents. Eusnie worked her way up to become a manager of corporate and institutional banking, before leaving to join AmInvestment Bank Bhd in 2002. “Despite the protests of many, I left a blue-chip, American institution for a local bank because the Malaysian capital market was undergoing a growth spurt. I got to dive into local bonds and sukuk, and I felt it was important for me to go through the learning [curve] if I wanted to be a better banker.”
She moved to Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia Bhd four years later and was unstoppable. She rose through the ranks, from being an associate director for client coverage to becoming managing director — head of public sector/structured financing solutions.
“It was an incredible 14 years of my career. I was hired as a ‘relationship manager hunter’, where you’re not given any portfolio. Zero. And you have to hunt for new clients for the bank,” she says.
The bank’s bread-and-butter business at the time was trade and cash management, and it was not active in corporate finance-related businesses. Eusnie was at first hesitant to accept the position because she was neither a trade nor commercial banker, but decided to take a chance.
“I won the first bond for a new client within three months of joining the organisation. I attribute the win — other than my colleagues being very strong partners — to my active listening skills. I was focused on what the client wanted instead of selling the bank’s proposition. It was really a surprise to the market,” she says.
It was also at StanChart that Eusnie celebrated her most important career high. “I was about seven months pregnant with my second child when I started the corporate finance desk. Its niche asset grew from zero to RM10 billion within a short span of time.”
Eusnie had a major life-changing experience during the pandemic. She was in Singapore working for UBS AG as its wealth management director — after leaving StanChart — when the pandemic happened.
“I had made the difficult decision to relocate to Singapore and leave my young children to my husband in 2019, and the pandemic made it worse when the borders were sealed and I didn’t get to see them for more than a year. The whole experience changed me,” she says.
She recalls, with great fondness, the kindness of friends and colleagues in Singapore who helped her get through the challenging time. Seeing her boys literally grow up on video calls during the lockdown will always be bittersweet memories.
She says: “When the Singapore government made the announcement to open the borders, Malaysians in the Lion City were overjoyed. I patiently waited until the second day, to avoid congestion, and walked over the Causeway with so much emotion weighing me down. The feeling of seeing the Malaysian signage was indescribable. I was finally home.”
In June last year, Eusnie joined China Construction Bank as managing director — structured financing, where she is responsible for pitching the group’s value proposition to Malaysian clients by providing solutions tapping both the Malaysian and Chinese markets for capital raising, financial markets and capital markets (fixed income and equities).
“The experience here has been enriching and it’s truly an honour to work with one of China’s Big Four state-owned banks and among the largest banks in the world. It is very much results-oriented and has high regard for your talents and values,” she says.
Eusnie is definitely not a one-dimensional banker, given her exposure to the different aspects of banking and finance as well as her track record of an excellent sales closing ratio. She is one of the few bumiputera bankers who have had the privilege of working in several multinational financial institutions, including a Chinese bank.
“I have achieved more than I bargained for. I wasn’t the brightest kid in school, but my drive and motivation helped me succeed. Humility, compassion and teamwork are also very important, but above all is the overarching self-governance.”
This article first appeared on Mar 6, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.