By Elisa Valenta
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) says that while the gender gaps in labor market participation and educational attainment have narrowed, women around the world still encounter a glass ceiling when trying to reach the company boardroom, where female representation remains low. There are a lot of studies that cite the presence of female figures in a company’s management as improving the company’s performance. One was published last year by the IFC, the Women’s Empowerment Working Group, and the Indonesia Stock Exchange. According to the study, companies with more than 30% of women on their boards report an average return on assets (ROA) of 3.8% and a 6.2% average return on equity (ROE). Meanwhile, all-male board only booked an average ROA of 2.4% and 4.2% ROE.
Indonesia is already making steps forward. The study shows that out of the six ASEAN countries studied, Thailand is the most gender diverse with women holding around 20% of board seats in listed companies, followed by Indonesia and Vietnam (both about 15%). While the study does not include banking and the finance sector, as of the end of 2019, the proportion of women representatives on the boards of the top-10 largest lenders in Indonesia based on assets was close to 25% of the total – 24 women from a total of 108 directors. Women representatives in leadership positions in banking in the finance sector are also crucial, given a great deal of research has also showed that investing in women provides a higher and more sustainable yield.
Vera Eve Lim (52) is one of the leading women figures in the country’s banking and finance sector. Since 2018, she has been executive president and chief finance officer (CFO) at the country’s largest private lender PT Bank Central Asia (BCA). She is responsible for directing and overseeing all financial activities in the bank and group, assisting the CEO with developing, communicating, monitoring, and sustaining corporate strategic initiatives and priorities. Vera is a graduate of Tarumanegara University and Stanford Business School. A veteran banker, before her current role in BCA, she started her banking career with PT Bank Danamon in 1990. She served on the board of management and as CFO of Danamon from October 2003 to 2017. Last year she received the Best CFO Award from The Finance Forum for her ability to manage companies amid the decline in global economic conditions.
“I went through many crises. I was a junior when the Asian Monetary Crisis happened in 1997. And in 2008, I was there and every day we talked about the rise in NPLs [non-performing loans]. I learned to manage the crisis, not to avoid it,” says Vera.
It was a rocky journey for Vera during her tenure with Danamon. Suffering liquidity problems amid the crisis, in 1997, Danamon was placed by the government under the supervision of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA). In 1999, the government through IBRA, recapitalized Danamon with Rp 32 billion in government bonds. In the same year, some banks taken over by the government merged with Bank Danamon as a part of IBRA’s restructuring plan. Danamon is a universal bank that serves a variety of consumer segments, ranging from the micro, small, and medium enterprises segment to the corporate and Islamic banking segment.
In 2000, Bank Danamon merged with another eight banks taken over by the government, further increasing Danamon’s size. Over the next three years, Danamon underwent a massive restructuring, which covered management, human resources, organization, information systems, statutes, and even company logo. These changes sought to boost the bank’s growth, transparency and professionalism. In 2003, a consortium of Asia Finance Indonesia, under the control of Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, bought a majority stake in Danamon. The new management sought to further improve Danamon’s performance and position. Also in 2004, the bank built its insurance and durable goods financing business through Adira Insurance and Adira Kredit, respectively. During Vera’s tenure at the bank, Danamon grew to be one of the largest private banks in Indonesia.
Vera says the financial crisis and hard times in the banking industry developed in her a resolve to become more observant in managing crisis. She believes that her current achievements are because of her parents’ support and her willingness to learn more and work hard. Her intense curiosity has led her to pay very detailed attention to any financial figures.
“I started from scratch, and I don’t think I have any special recipes. I am a strong person who pays attention to detail, but if I have to look from a helicopter view, I have no issue. That kind of balance takes time to learn,” she says.
And now at BCA, Vera is dealing with a different challenge. Being the CFO of one of the biggest lenders in the country means she has to struggle to integrate fast-moving situations into projections, with some scrapping of guidance altogether. She joined BCA at a time when technological development in the financial industry is rapid. The biggest private lender by market value is evolving alongside the current changes in digital technology, customer behavior and the business environment. With core strength in transaction banking and innovation, BCA has sustained robust growth in third-party funds and gained a substantial market share of current accounts and savings accounts (CASA). CASA have a lower cost of funds since they offer lower interest rates compared with time deposits. BCA’s CASA recorded growth of 9.8% to Rp 530.6 trillion in 2019, contributing 75.9% of the bank’s total third-party funds. And despite a challenging situation for the banking sector in the past few years, BCA has managed to continue to grow its business and profitability. The company and its subsidiaries delivered a solid performance in 2019 with net profits rising 10.5% to Rp 28.6 trillion and total loans increasing 9.5% to Rp 603.7 trillion.
“When I joined BCA, the banking sector was again surrounded by new fintech, e-commerce, so the timing was good. That makes me very excited, because I have never had an experience like this. Every day I can learn how the bank manages its high transaction traffic and make sure the service level is optimal,” she says.
Lately, BCA has enabled customers to open new bank accounts online simply by using their mobile phones. With the new feature, the lender hopes that customers can enjoy faster and more efficient transactions without the need to visit bank branches. BCA also uses QR Codes in its m-banking application, making it simpler for customers to transfer money to fellow bank customers without having to input the account number. The bank is aiming to capture the next generation of customers, as many young Indonesians enjoy digital lifestyles.
“Innovation is important because it keeps the adrenaline running fast. If we don’t have it, we stop learning. We always try to be ahead of the curve,” Vera says.
Managing financial risk is already a daily task for her, but in her spare time Vera loves to paint. She is one of many artists who have joined the International Watercolor Society. This non-profit organization was established in January 2012 with the objective of promoting the world’s oldest and deeply rooted painting technique. One of her works has been exhibited in Bentara Budaya Jakarta (BBJ). Vera’s painting titled “Tiga Nyonya” was also displayed in an exhibition titled Indonesian Paradise on Earth in July 2018. She also uses her Instagram as a platform for her artworks, paintings of animals, nature and batik.