Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD) is synonymous with the Islamic banking landscape in the sultanate. With more than a thousand employees, B$10.5 billion worth of assets under management and a customer base of more than 245,000, BIBD represents Brunei’s largest financial services provider.
Borne out of a merger between the Islamic Bank of Brunei and the International Development Bank of Brunei in 2005, the country’s flagship financial institution has made impressive strides in transforming the way business is done, through innovations such as BIBD NEXGEN and QuickPay.
Guided by the motto of ‘Bruneian at Heart’, the Islamic bank has also reshaped the culture around the role financial institutions play in uplifting the society that it serves.
For almost three decades, BIBD has undergone a great deal of change and has continuously moved from strength to strength and one individual has been present throughout the bank’s growth over the years.
Hajah Nurul Akmar Haji Md Jaafar, the now Chief Marketing Officer, has been an instrumental part in ushering BIBD towards its key milestones over the years, having been involved and played a key role in the transformation of BIBD’s strategic initiatives.
Rung by rung
Since joining the financial institution as a graduate trainee in 1995, she has lived through many of BIBD’s different eras and has had a hand in a good deal of them but most notably were BIBD’s rebranding as well as the development of BIBD’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.
After a year of being a graduate trainee, she was appointed as an accounting officer, a position she held for 11 years, however, this long stint was broken when BIBD began to set up its asset fund management where she became the Deputy Head of Investment Banking for almost three years.
“I was always hungry to learn new things. Coming from a background of learning conventional banking, Islamic banking and investment was something new for me and at the time, it was fairly new for Brunei as well,” shared Hajah Nurul Akmar.
“Thinking back, the Islamic banking landscape in Brunei has evolved pretty quickly in a considerably short period of time (but) we are fortunate to have strong cooperation with players in the region, as we were trained by Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad,” she added.
“It was an interesting time, and I was given a lot of exposure to the learnings and concepts of Islamic banking systems from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Middle East, it really has helped us to build the Islamic banking landscape in Brunei to a level that is competitive on the regional level,” she continued.
By 2008, after having discussions with the Head of Consumer Banking at the time, Hajah Nurul Akmar was presented with the opportunity to enter retail banking and set up BIBD’s first Direct Sales Department.
“That was really outside of my comfort zone, coming from accounting and investment which is more of back-office position and entering retail which is public-facing, it was quite daunting. Also, the banking landscape was different at the time; Brunei’s sales culture in general, was different,” she explained.
“BIBD’s sales were at a steady increase, so the setting up of the direct sales department – which did not exist previously – was apt, so we started setting up a few other related departments, smoothed out the set up for our call centre, taking into consideration international best practices, and the ball rolled from there,” added the Chief Marketing Officer.
A pivotal point for purpose
At the same time as spearheading BIBD’s new sales initiatives, Hajah Nurul Akmar was also tasked with setting up BIBD’s CSR committee. CSR, she explained was – at least for the corporate banking environment in Brunei – a fairly new term and endeavour then.
“In the case of our first few CSR activities, we had to experiment. One of BIBD’s first CSR activities was a charity run for Japan during the 2011 Iwate–Miyagi Nairiku earthquake, we wanted to incorporate a humanitarian aspect for our CSR, and we carried this value forward,” she said.
Though keeping with the humanitarian angle, BIBD’s CSR initiatives then shifted inwards, looking to engage youths of the nation, firstly through the BIBD Cabaran – Anak Brunei 2009, a scavenger hunt style event that aimed to inspire and educate youths on things that were inherently Bruneian such as touring the water village and making your Ambuyat – really exposing them to our Bruneian culture and values.
“The game changer (for BIBD’s CSR) or what I would say the pivotal point that has guided BIBD and its CSR direction until today was when we organised the BIBD Camp Gen-Y in 2010. It was a paid event involving students between the ages of 12 and 16,” explained Hajah Nurul Akmar.
Camp Gen-Y was a multi-day event held at a campsite in Kg Pangkalan Batu and was aimed at developing the youth participants’ leadership and team-building skills.
Initially, the event was a trial to gauge youth interest, thus it was a paid event that was open to students from any public or private school.
BIBD however also chose to sponsor 20 students from Kg Bolkiah, students whom Hajah Nurul Akmar described as “may have only experienced the most basic standard of living,” if not less.
“From the very first day, we were culture shocked, seeing how different the behaviours were between the students who paid and those that we sponsored. I remember during lunch on the first day, the sponsored students stood back as the other students lined up to take their food,” she shared.
“They told us that they were used to having leftovers, that they mostly ate only eggs and rice at home and were unfamiliar with the food that was being served, it was an eye-opening moment for us,” continued Hajah Nurul Akmar.
“On one of the nights, we heard that one of the Kg Bolkiah kids had a birthday (and) found out that most of them have never had a birthday cake, so we bought them cakes and celebrated them, there were plenty of tears that night,” she added.
“As Bruneians, compared to most, we are blessed with a good way of life but there are still segments of the community who are still struggling. After the event, I told my bosses that we needed to do something long term, something that can help those in need, from then on, this has become part of our Sirah (journey) to help the community,” she went on to say.
Bruneian At Heart
Since Camp Gen-Y, BIBD has continuously committed to supporting the underserved with activities which include its yearly Sirah Amal a charity drive organised during Ramadhan, supporting 100 underprivileged families.
A year later in 2010, BIBD began working on crafting a programme that would support underprivileged students with provisions for school and tuition fees, educational materials, and welfare along with mentoring and counselling necessities.
BIBD’s Advocating Life-Long Learning for an Aspiring Future (BIBD ALAF) was launched in 2013 by Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah and was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
In 2018, BIBD launched the BIBD Special Underprivileged Mothers Empowerment Entrepreneurship Development (BIBD SEED) programme, a nine-month programme aimed at transforming underprivileged mothers into successful and resilient entrepreneurs.
“Our (BIBD) tagline is Bruneian at Heart, being that we are intuitive of the local community. We’ve gone on the ground in all four districts, even to remote places like Kg Sukang in Belait, we understand Bruneians and the struggles of its communities, in every level and every district,” said Hajah Nurul Akmar.
“We’ve seen and we understand which part of the communities need us. With BIBD being Brunei’s largest Islamic institution in Brunei, our duty to the community is not just fardhu kifayah. We derive our business from the local community, and it is only right for us to pay it forward and give back,” she added.
“Whatever BIBD does is holistic; for Bruneians, by Bruneians and if we can help inspire other corporations to follow suit and help in whatever ways that we can, if we can inspire people to do good, we’ve done our work, hopefully, we can share barakah (blessing) as well,” continued the Chief Marketing Officer.
Having been present throughout BIBD’s evolution that not only influenced the banking landscape in the country but also uplifted the community on a holistic scale, Hajah Nurul Akmar’s career journey is nothing short of impactful.
“In whatever we do, the values that we hold on to as career women, we should always understand the purpose. Some people will tell you to follow your passion but passion without purpose can lead to aimlessness,” she advised.
“Doing this with sincerity without expectation of any returns, I believe is key. Of course, you will definitely be faced with obstacles. The good that you do may invite judgment, but if what you’re doing is right, and you understand your purpose, your ‘why’, everything Insha Allah will be blessed by Allah SWT,” added Hajah Nurul Akmar.
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN