There is so much more to banking than dealing with currency, explains AUT alumnus Ray Li. In fact, it’s much more about people: customers like you and I.
At just 36, AUT alumnus Ray Li is the head of international banking at ASB Bank Limited, a position he’s held since 2015. He leads a cross-functional team of banking professionals between Christchurch and Auckland, developing and executing ASB’s strategy to support migrant and international customers.
For Ray it’s all about positive customer outcomes, and he talks to Insight about growing people, values and finances.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most? What are some of the challenges?
People. I really enjoy seeing people grow. By understanding each team member’s motivation and career goals, I have the privilege to coach, lead and inspire my team to build their skills so that they’re able to achieve their career aspirations. The bigger picture is that by doing so, we are also able to work towards ASB’s purpose of accelerating financial progress for all New Zealanders.
Acquiring and retaining talent becomes an interesting challenge for organisations our size because when employees are fully trained, they may look for other positions to continue progressing in their career. ASB bankers are well regarded in the banking industry and it’s important for us to be open-minded and create great experiences, as well as opportunities for our staff to take on new roles or change directions in their career.
This empowers them to fulfil their ambitions and enables us to retain our top talent.
“I work with the 70/20/10 rule – 70% of my training comes from work, 20% from one-on-one knowledge transfer – this could be a mentor, friend, or family member, and 10% from university.”
What sparked your interest to work in international banking?
I actually got into banking by accident. However, when I was in the role, I became really inspired by the customers we look after – they are mainly migrants and international clients. I’m passionate about helping people who want to make New Zealand home and supporting them in my capacity as a banker to achieve their ambitions.
I also have quite a diverse team, so I always ask myself how I can do a better job of looking after them, with a leadership style that embraces diversity through inclusion within a Kiwi culture.
Why did you choose to pursue a Master of Professional Business Studies at AUT?
I chose to study at AUT because of its practical approach to teaching and learning. Most importantly, the lecturers were mostly ‘pracademics’ even 10 years ago; they were practical academics rather than ‘single malt’ academics or practitioners.
The classes were also offered at night, and this enabled me to study after work.
How did your qualification from AUT contribute to your career?
For me, it’s important to be future ready. In terms of capability, I would like to be ‘m-shaped,’ which means that you have a broad cross-functional knowledge base with a number of areas you specialise in. To achieve this, I work with the 70/20/10 rule – 70% of my training comes from work, 20% from one-on-one knowledge transfer – this could be a mentor, friend, or family member, and 10% from university. Going to university is a great way of upskilling in specific areas.
Two particular subjects at AUT stood out for me – relationship marketing and entrepreneurship. Relationship marketing taught me the importance of building long-term relationships with customers by understanding their needs, and that it is never just a transactional relationship. It’s always a lifetime relationship based on value for the customer.
Entrepreneurship taught me that you don’t have to leave a big corporate to act. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, you can still make a difference while being there.
“ASB’s values are very similar to AUT’s values – they are integrity, caring, ambition, and passion.”
What advice do you have for students who aspire to work in a role similar to yours?
AUT is now in the top 1.2% universities internationally, which is a huge improvement compared to when I was a student here 10 years ago. My question to students is – are you ready to be in the top 1.2% of your chosen profession worldwide? What must you do to get there?
Also, people often emphasise capability or performance over character. However, there is more and more of a need to place character before capability and performance. My advice to young graduates is to build their values. You need to have value-based thinking or behaviour and once you have that, opportunities will find you. Be patient and trust your journey; you’d be surprised at the opportunities that come to you. At the same time, wish less and work more because the more you work, the luckier you get.
Have you employed any AUT graduates?
Yes, of course. I also have a few colleagues who graduated from AUT. I commend their problem-solving skills and ability to use creative thinking to find new and better ways to get things done.
What do you look for in the graduates you hire?
What I really like about ASB’s work culture is that it’s progressive with humility. So, we have this high-achieving culture of being one step ahead in talent management, technology execution and banking excellence, but we are also big on diversity and inclusion - we want people to bring their whole self to work regardless of race, sexual orientation, or disabilities. The graduates we would like to hire should embody these values.
How do you like giving back to AUT?
I’m happy to talk to students and be a guest lecturer or speaker. My motivation to speak to students is to re-instil some important core values in the way they think. For example, I find that students these days often choose a major or first role based on the starting salary rather than on passion - and to me, that’s wrong, this needs to be addressed. Another example is that people are looking at new technology and thinking that some of the older ways of doing things have no value - that’s also wrong because technology is supposed to enhance the experience, but it doesn’t change the value of human interaction.
I’m especially interested in talking to finance, marketing and IT graduates and international students as I am from that background myself. With the changing face of Auckland, we need more bankers with the right attitude and values from different backgrounds in New Zealand banking.