Malaysian alumna, now Chief Financial Officer of Affin Bank recalls memories of Bristol and shares her career journey

We caught up with Malaysian alumna, Joanne Rodrigues who graduated in BSc Economics and Accounting in 1996. Joanne recalls her time at Bristol, outlines her career path and shares her views on the future of the finance industry, and how it is changing for the better.


Why did you choose to study BSc Economics and Accounting at Bristol?

I wanted to have a well rounded view of the business world, through the rules based accounting discipline and the broader policy based economics studies. Whilst I had not visited Bristol before, it was the 3rd highest-ranked university in the UK at the time, and from the pictures I could see that it was a beautiful city.

What is your happiest memory of studying at Bristol?

There are many happy memories, but one I can still picture in my mind to this day is walking up Whiteladies Road during spring time after a long and dreary winter, the weather was lovely and the daffodils blooming all along the way up to the Clifton Downs. Seemed like everyone was out on the Clifton Downs enjoying the good weather. Lovely.

What has been your career path since graduating from Bristol?

After Bristol I returned home to Malaysia and joined an accounting firm to complete my ICAEW professional studies. It was Arthur Andersen (now EY in Malaysia). I qualified as a Chartered Accountant three years later and not long after that I moved into the banking line. I then joined a small local investment bank as the head of internal audit. Little did I know that this small bank where I joined as employee number 745 was on the cusp of growth. 15 years later, this bank grew to a large regional banking group serving customers across all countries in South East Asia with over 40000 employees!

During those years. I was given the opportunity move into many different roles and I always took those opportunities. Now I am the Chief Financial Officer of a local bank (Affin Bank) trying to create a new growth story again. However this time I am in the front seat – driving this change together with the other management team.

Describe what you find most enjoyable about your job

I enjoy being able to bring positive changes to the team, the work processes and the organisation. The process is not an easy one but there is pleasure in seeing new processes implemented and how it improves the work life of the people involved. I also enjoy the regular interactions with my team members and colleagues, brainstorming and collaborating on how to make the business better and stronger.

How has the university helped you get to where you are today?

University has helped me find my voice. How to articulate my thoughts and bring out my ideas. It has also broadened my mind and showed me how to think beyond just what is presented in front of me at that point in time.

What has been your career highlight?

A person’s career highlight is usually that point when you have the best and worst experience at the same time. For me this was when I was leading the implementation of the very new and difficult accounting standard for the bank and all its subsidiaries across the region. There were a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved but it was successfully implemented and was a defining point in my career.

How do you think the world of finance is changing for the better?

You can see this happening as more and more companies place focus on ESG initiatives. When banks lend responsibly and investment companies invest in companies committed to ESG, they can change the world. For example, the initiative to stop lending to timber or oil palm companies unless they can prove that they have been operating in a sustainable manner has made a difference to the way those companies operate. We need more of these kind of initiatives.

How do you think the finance world can ensure we have more women, like you, in top financial roles?

Women by nature tend to be less vocal about their ambitions, their strengths and their achievements. The finance world needs to be able to cut through the chatter and the chest thumping and to be able to observe those quiet contributors and to encourage them and mentor them into top roles. In fact, this is not just about women. It is also for all those quiet and great workers out there who are not getting the recognition they should.

Specifically for women with families, flexibility is the key. Say what you want but the world is far from where it should be where there is true partnership when it comes to household and family care. Until that day comes, companies need to be able to provide sufficient flexibility particularly to women with kids.

What is your top piece of advice to students studying now?

Make the most of your time in university. You will never get back those three years and make sure you live in a way that will allow you to look back to those years with happy memories. Learn as much as you can from the people you meet in university. You will never have that opportunity again to be immersed in an environment with so much diversity, people of your age, of different races, genders, nationalities, thoughts and ideas. Don’t let that opportunity go to waste.

(Below, photos kindly supplied by Joanne of her time in Bristol). 

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