UOB’s Jacquelyn Tan on triumphing over expectations, biases to succeed in the banking industry

Tan shares how she leads 7,000 people across the region and her thoughts on women in banking.

Unspoken expectations and unconscious biases often weigh down on women building up a career for themselves, noted UOB’s Jacquelyn Tan.

“I have witnessed how unconscious bias such as societal and cultural stereotypes can impact someone’s career, especially for women in the finance industry. During the early days of my career, there were only a handful of women in leadership and senior management roles in the industry,” Tan, who is UOB’s Head of Group Personal Financial Services, recounted to Asian Banking & Finance

“Thankfully, this has since changed in the banking industry. But there is still an unspoken expectation of the multifaceted role of women in Singapore, to juggle our careers whilst ensuring our responsibility to our families are fulfilled.”

Tan added that it is important to acknowledge these challenges that women continue to face so that leaders could also create a work culture that supports all employees fairly in their personal and professional lives.

If anyone would know the struggles of a woman juggling both career success and her personal life, it would be Tan. At work, she is head of over 2,000 people in Singapore and 7,000 staff in total across the region. She leads the bank’s consumer banking business across the region and is responsible for serving the financial and lifestyle needs of UOB’s clients across the wealth continuum spanning from Personal Banking to Wealth and Privilege Banking—and delivering tailored and progressive solutions to meet consumer’s savings, spending, borrowing, investing, protection and legacy planning needs.

Before that, Tan spent over 20 years in the banking business, serving in roles across treasury, consumer finance, wealth management, payments, and marketing to build up her career. “I’ve always had an interest in finance and am comfortable dealing with numbers, so joining the banking industry was a natural progression from my studies.” 

Outside of the office, Tan sees her family as her life, calling her family her critical support system, but never fails to make space for “me-time” when she enjoys playing the piano and going for casual jogs.

“They are my first priority, and I am a firm believer that when your family and home are taken care of, you can truly be your best at work,” Tan said, sharing that she makes sure she never misses the important moments, such as her daughter’s recitals, swimming competitions, first days at school, and birthdays.

“It’s important to build our own support systems and ecosystems, and I’m thankful that my team also recognises my personal priorities and gives me the space to put them first,” Tan said.

We understand that you lead a team of over 7,000 people across the region. How does one manage such a large number of people and maintain unity and camaraderie within your team? 
I would say that genuine and authentic leadership is important. People are the reason for any success, and so I place a great emphasis and investment in our people and culture. 

The key to growth in our industry where change is a constant is to bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the table. I make a conscious effort to have a good mix of genders, experiences, and backgrounds, on any project, where I can draw out each member’s views and inspire confidence in them. Some may be too afraid to speak up, and this often comes from unconscious biases, where some tend to underrepresent themselves. For these colleagues, I spend more time mentoring and coaching them, catering to their needs that may be unspoken.

I also do regular talks with UOB employees, and these are additional platforms for me to share my personal story with fellow colleagues, and to use my own journey to provide inspiration for women who are just starting out in this industry, or who have been with the bank for the long haul. 

To drive leadership, especially in consumer banking, where women represent a growing economic power, it is important that we get diverse consumer insights. In designing our CVP, we adopt the customer-centricity approach, by first understanding our key target segments. We use Human Capital Diagnostic Tools (HCDT) to understand the pain points, create an empathy map, and draw insights to design product solutions that serve savings, spending, investing, and borrowing needs across different lifestyles and life stages.

What can you say about the gender gap in the banking industry? 
During the early days of my career, there were only a handful of women in senior management roles and as such there were few visible successful female role models from whom I could take guidance. I am pleased to see that this has since changed within the banking industry. More women today are boldly transforming workplaces, and many are successfully juggling both work and personal commitments whilst still being able to pursue their passions. 

For instance, as of the end of last year, women accounted for over 60% of UOB’s total workforce, with nearly 40% of senior management positions being held by women. Women also accounted for about half of the Bank’s middle management.

I’m pleased to see that organisations are also designing more programmes to support women and create an inclusive culture. UOB’s first-in-the-industry gig employment program, Gig+U, was extended to women last year, where the Bank offered gig employment jobs for women to ease back into the workforce whilst juggling their caregiving duties. Part-time and flexible-work options, as well as workplace measures like our Flexi-2 and permanent 60/40 hybrid work arrangement are embedded in the UOB’s culture as well.

Was there a point in your career that made you say, “this is my purpose as a banker?” How is this inspiring you in your position today as head of group PFS in UOB?
My journey in banking has certainly evolved over the years. When I first started out, like many young and aspiring bankers, I was working mainly for my personal goals—achieving key personal and business milestones, striving to be the first in the market to launch products, building my own stellar team, and more. 

But along the way, I realised that apart from my own professional achievements, I can add value to the customers, teams, and communities around me. I began to see how my work can inspire and create ground-up change, and it became more important for me not just to perform for myself, but to use my ability and power to positively impact the lives around me. This is also where I came to be passionate about supporting and mentoring women through my own development. 

As they say, you are sitting under the shade of a tree that was planted by someone many years ago. I am where I am today because of the mentors and people whom I have met and who guided my journey. I believe in paying it forward, in giving courage, confidence, and encouragement to those around me and to support their journeys.

Let’s talk about the UOB Lady's Savings Account and Savings Card. What was the mindset that drove you and UOB to create these products? 
Women are one of our key customer segments. Our women's proposition is an embedded part of the bank’s product solutions, and we celebrate women not just for a day, but throughout every woman’s life. 

UOB was the first bank in the market to introduce a gender-specific card offering, with lifestyle features that are tailored to women. The UOB Lady’s Card launched in 1989 is the first and longest-running card dedicated to women and their changing needs, lifestyle and life stages. As women cross from one age set to the next, their priorities and spending habits change. 

UOB’s Lady’s Savings Account is also the first female-only savings account in Singapore to support, celebrate and empower women who do it all. The latest study by the Life Insurance Association in 2017 showed that an average working adult in Singapore has critical illness coverage of just $60,000—well under the recommended coverage of about $316,000. We launched the UOB Lady’s Savings Account in 2020 to address the protection gap for today’s women, offering account holders complimentary coverage for six critical female cancers of up to S$200,000. 

This helps to encourage our lady account holders to save regularly and also receive sufficient protection in the event of unfortunate circumstances, so that they can continue to protect themselves and their loved ones.

What are your goals in the next one or two years? What can clients expect from UOB and from your team?
We just announced the completion of our acquisition of Citigroup’s consumer banking business in Vietnam, following our completion in Thailand and Malaysia in November 2022, which has already expanded our retail customer base to nearly seven million across the ASEAN region. 

Our acquisition of Citigroup’s Indonesian consumer banking business is planned for completion by the end of 2023, and once completed, we expect to double our existing retail customer base in the four markets. We will also onboard an additional 5,000 people to our team strength, as they continue to grow, develop, and build successful careers with us. 

So far, our teams are integrating well. Our financial and integration costs are on track, and we are expecting an additional $1b in revenue this year.

By tapping the rising affluence in Southeast Asia, we are acquiring and serving customers across the wealth continuum and meeting their financial and lifestyle needs through our omnichannel approach. We continue to drive innovation, leveraging digital and analytics, and tapping on data, technology, and human expertise to acquire customers and deliver personalisation at scale, whilst offering personalised solutions and products.

We also continue to build our regional partnership ecosystem to bring the best deals for travel, fashion, online shopping and dining across the entire region, serving the diverse needs and lifestyles of our customers. 

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