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OCBC Bank's Elaine Lam: Banker who makes the numbers count

Ms Lam, OCBC Bank's head of global corporate banking, says that she draws on her background as a relationship manager to engage her team, working closely with them to pursue a common goal.
Ms Lam, OCBC Bank's head of global corporate banking, says that she draws on her background as a relationship manager to engage her team, working closely with them to pursue a common goal. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

OCBC veteran's skill with figures helps her size up new markets

At first glance, you might take Ms Elaine Lam for a lady of leisure, with her perfectly styled hair, classic pearl accessories and chic black dress.

But beneath that polished appearance is a banker who has worked her way up the corporate ladder at OCBC Bank, where she was appointed head of global corporate banking earlier this year.

She joined OCBC as a relationship manager in wholesale corporate marketing in 2001, and has since notched up several milestones.

For instance, she became head of wholesale corporate marketing in 2006 and held the post for nine years. In 2011, she spearheaded a new regional structured-project finance business and, in 2012, she set up the China business office.

She was modest during a recent interview, attributing the achievements to OCBC and its people.

GROWING UP IN OCBC

Many of us literally grew up in the organisation. I joined OCBC on Aug 17 , 2001. Some numbers you just can't forget. We've grown roots in the organisation and, being in the head office, we can see the outcome of the strategies taken, we feel accountable for it, and there's a sense of ownership.

MS ELAINE LAM

"Over the years, there have been so many opportunities given to me, and this is something the organisation does for many employees," said Ms Lam, 44. "Things like charting and developing their progress, and having a career development framework and plan.

"Managers identify younger people we want to groom, and have in mind the training plans, development needs and exposure they'd benefit from."

She notes it is a long-term investment and strategy by the bank, and one that she herself benefited from.

She recalls a boss who constantly "walked the floor", remaining close and accessible to his team - she does that as well, often joining in the "daily banter and corridor chats".

Even though the interview was her first full-length one with The Straits Times, her easy demeanour suggested she was able to communicate effortlessly with her team.

"Coming from my background as a relationship manager, I'm quite a good listener and also quite collaborative. I like to engage the team so we work towards a common goal," she said.

Ms Lam has big shoes to fill, taking over from predecessor George Lee, 63, who has retired but remains an adviser to OCBC Malaysia.

Even so, she is undaunted, having spent 15 years at the bank - it now feels like home to her. She collected her long service award just last week, along with OCBC group general counsel Loretta Yuen.

"Many of us literally grew up in the organisation. I joined OCBC on Aug 17, 2001. Some numbers you just can't forget," said Ms Lam.

"We've grown roots in the organisation and, being in the head office, we can see the outcome of the strategies taken, we feel accountable for it, and there's a sense of ownership."

It helps that Ms Lam has her family to lean on. Her husband, who is also in banking, is quite hands-on at home, playing a huge role in helping the children with schoolwork, she said. They have a son and two daughters aged between 10 and 16.

She could have had a different career, having graduated from Nanyang Technological University in 1993 with an accountancy degree.

Starting out, she was an auditor at PwC "for a very short while". She soon made the switch to banking.

"I didn't like the nature of the work or looking back at what people did. I was so young, and simply thought banking would be a good change," she said.

But her accountancy degree, which honed her skill with numbers, has served her well as a banker, especially one who is always seeking to grow the business.

"I'm quite numerate in a way and I sort of see and size things up by numbers. If I were to explore new areas of growth and regions, the inclination would be to find out what that meant in terms of numbers," she said.

"I look at how we size that up in terms of the scope of the market, the business opportunities accessible to us - (all) in number terms."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Banker who makes the numbers count'. Print Edition | Subscribe