The Edition
facebook icon twitter icon instagram icon linkedin icon


Aishath Noordeen: 40 years of unwavering dedication and commitment

15 January 2023, MVT 12:17
Ms. Aishath Noordeen has served in Bank of Maldives (BML) since its inception-- Photo: Nishan Ali
15 January 2023, MVT 12:17

The groundwork for banking services in the Maldives was laid, without a doubt, by the Bank of Maldives (BML). Last Thursday night, BML held a ceremony to honour the pioneers who contributed to the establishment of the national bank. In 1982, when it was founded, BML had just 10 employees. They were dedicated staff who oversaw the overall operations, travelled to the atolls to ensure accessible service, and were committed to raising public awareness about general banking.

Aishath Noordeen is one of these 10 employees. She joined BML when she was just 23-years-old, as a cashier clerk. Last November, Noordeen celebrated 40 years of service, the same month the Bank marked its 40th anniversary – but she did so as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the establishment and the second most senior member of its staff.

The 63-year-old has played an integral role in all of the Bank’s successes. Her contributions to the country’s banking sector are immeasurable. Clearly, she is capable, steadfast, and a driving force behind all of BML’s innovative initiatives. However, she has never given an interview to any local media, until now.

Just a few days after the Bank celebrated its 40th anniversary in November of last year, Mihaaru Editor Ahmed Hamdhoon sat down with Noordeen for an interview. The following is a translation of the interview conducted in Dhivehi, published on Mihaaru on 13 November, 2022.

What prompted you to join the Bank of Maldives?

I was working at the State Bank of India (SBI). Back then, when we finished school, there was a bond that we had to honour. We have to spend three years serving this bond. I think I had already been in SBI for a year and a half when the government started looking for people to join BML. It was me, Fathima, and Husna Abdul Latheef that were transferred from SBI.

So, if the bank was being officially opened today, we were only told a day ahead that we would be serving the rest of our bond at the new bank. I was pretty disappointed about this at first, and I was sad to leave the place I had been working at so abruptly. But I later realised that there were more career development opportunities and avenues for locals at the Bank of Maldives. In hindsight, I’m very happy that I agreed to that decision back then. This was an opportunity for us to take the Maldives and our people forward.

What was the status of BML when you joined?

The bank was still new. It was a joint venture with the IFIC Bank in Bangladesh. They had a 40 percent stake, and Maldivian companies affiliated with the government had a 60 percent stake. BML was run by Bangladeshi bankers back then; the General Manager and people in other senior posts were [Bengalis].

If I remember correctly, BML started with about seven locals in its workforce. Things worked a lot differently back then—we had to manually keep track of the account details of customers on log books. We had to work really hard to attract customers, too. The bank continued to build up from there, to what it is today. If you look at the bank’s executive committee now, the majority of them are Maldivians. And, all the heads [of departments] are also local, with the exception of just one person.

Maldives’ tourism sector would have been well established then. How was BML faring compared to SBI?

We had barely started operations then. We were working on acquiring deposits and lending; we also focused on developing services in the atolls, as well as trading. We created a development banking cell that catered to fishermen and farmers. This improved their standard of living and paved the way for academic opportunities for their children. BML’s main focus at the beginning was the development of atolls. We ventured into tourism after that, although our current market share in the sector would be quite significant now.

BML has just turned 40, but there are still Maldivians who don’t fully understand the concept of banking. It would’ve been even more difficult back then – how did you find customers?

We had to approach customers directly. We contacted people, our staff made visits to shops and businesses and told them about the bank and explained the services we offered. Another service we offered back then was collecting cash from shops during closing hour—that was a way we attracted customers. We would collect the cash and deposit it at the bank for them. There was a lot of work like that in the early days, and we worked very hard to establish a customer base.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih presenting the award to Aishath Noordeen for her long service to BML, during the ceremony held to mark the 40th Anniversary of the bank -- Photo: Nishan Ali

Forty years is a long time. What made you want to stay in the same bank for that long?

After I joined, I saw that it was a good place for career development. I feel like I am able to serve the Maldivian people here. That’s why I stayed.

Within the last 40 years, if you were presented with another job, would you have considered it?

I haven’t gotten any other job offers. Even if I did, I would not leave BML.

What makes BML so exceptional to you?

BML is very special to me. It is special because there are paths for career development, and it provides an abundance of opportunities for the locals. I also feel like I am serving the public and being actively involved in community development here.

What are some of the notable contributions you have made to the development of BML?

There are times when it becomes challenging. Whenever we have trouble acquiring foreign currency, I have personally made calls to the relevant foreign institutes or other sources to secure it. As someone in a high-level position in the bank, I have never backed away in a situation where I had to step up. I have always prioritised what’s best for the bank, and I’ll always try to do what’s best for the bank.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your banking career so far?

The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 comes to mind. But the CEO and the senior management at the time handled the situation cautiously and meticulously and we were able to overcome that. Covid-19 was also very challenging. But we were very organised, and even when there was a full lockdown, we continued to provide services without any disruptions.

What kind of time commitment do you give to your job?

I’ve put in a lot of time at the bank since I started working here. I come in the morning, and there are days when I get home past seven or eight o’clock in the evening. You have to sacrifice more time if you’re in a high-level position. Even after official bank hours close, there’s still a lot that the management has to take care of—there are decisions to make and specific issues to address.

When I first joined, everything was manual. We cannot close the bank and call it a day until we’ve finished balancing the books. And it takes a long time to do all of this manually. Now there are systems established and everything is computerized. But that still doesn’t negate the time commitment you have to make as the management.

You have your own family that you give time to as well. In the last 40 years, how did you manage work-life balance?

I have to give a lot of credit to my mum. And my siblings who helped out. My mum kept a close eye on all my children and did everything for them so diligently. We get about an hour for lunch break in the early days and we spent that time together. And on the nights I get home too late, there have been times when I’ve woken up my children just to let them know that I’ve come home. My mother passed away quite recently, after my own children had children of their own. My parents played a huge role in where I am today.

Throughout the years, you’ve worked with different management teams at BML. There have been instances where you were completely in-charge as well. How did you find that experience?

I learned a lot and gained new experiences under every management. In the 40 years I’ve spent in this field, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of people from all over the world. I’ve worked with Bengalis, Indians, Singaporeans, and Europeans. I always gain a lot of insight from these people, and with their expertise, we’ve been able to improve different areas of banking. I feel like I get the opportunity to train under their expertise and expand my knowledge. With every management, I gain new experiences and learn new things.

A total of 68 employees at Bank of Maldives were honored for their lengthy service at the bank during the banks "Long Service Awards 2022" function -- Photo: BML

Is there a CEO you particularly worked well with

I don’t know; I work in a very particular, principled manner, so I haven’t faced any difficulties. Our father has always reminded us to do whatever we do with honesty and sincerity, and I always keep that in mind. I work in accordance with the bank’s procedures, processes, and regulations, and I think I’ve come this far by sticking to my principles.

With any CEO the bank has had, I have never had any problems working with them.

BML is the biggest bank in the Maldives with the largest customer base. With that, comes a lot of criticism and discontent. How do you address these situations?

There are things that come up, as they do. We handle these matters by the book; we’re upfront about the situations and try to explain things to our customers as transparently as possible. I always try to find some solution for any customer that comes to me with any problems. If they approach me, I try to contact the relevant department or section—whether it is retail banking, corporate banking, the card centre, or any other banking query—and I will try and find a solution. And I’ve given very specific instructions to all the departments that I should be informed after they’ve completed something I specifically requested for. That’s the only way I can be assured that the [customer’s] issue has been resolved or where the situation is.

So, does that mean that if any customer came to you directly for anything, you’ll personally see it through?

If any customer approached me, I would look into the matter from end to end. I get approached about these recent scams, delays in applications and appointments, delays in issuing LCs [letter of credit], and a lot of other issues. We have policies set in place for selling foreign currency, and depending on the bank’s position at any given time, we distribute it in an equal and fair manner.

What is the next step for the Bank of Maldives?

Our aim is to establish an online platform for all of the bank’s services and to provide services that Maldivians are satisfied with. I want to see a BML branch opened abroad as well. And it would be absolutely wonderful to see a Maldivian in the top position of the bank. We have educated and capable Maldivians who are up to par for the position.

Would BML have performed better over the past 40 years if there had been more freedom?

BML has always operated very independently. Some people may think there’s undue influence here. But I think it’s safe to say that the bank has always been fairly independent. Of course, there’s always scope for improvement. But there have been no instances where influence has hindered the progress of the bank.

What are the values you try to uphold in your career and professional life?

I try to uphold honesty, and integrity is very important to me. I try very hard to maintain our policies, procedures, and protocols.

Is there a quality you possess that is absolutely unwavering; what is something that no one can ever persuade you to do?

No one can make me do something I don’t believe in. No management or individual can shake my resolve or coerce me. They’ll be reluctant to approach me with such suggestions too. I could leave tomorrow, and I am 100 percent sure no one could challenge me about this.

Share this story


BML Banking