In Conversation With Amit Malik, President WadzPay South Asia & Pacific

In his second year, Amit realised that engineering is not something he wants to do for life. By his own admission, it was part direction and part destiny that led me to a career in HR. In this exclusive interview with BW People, the dynamic C-Suite leader shares his experience of working in top companies and how it helped him to grow towards leadership positions throughout his illustrious career.


Amit, would you please take us down memory lane and tell us about your initial years. You come from an engineering background. Why did you choose to build your career in HR?

Amit Malik: In our times, we hardly had any choices in terms of choosing a career. During the second year of my engineering, I realized that engineering is not something I am going to do for the rest of my life. When I told my father about my decision, he asked me to complete my engineering. 

“You cannot be a quitter, you can do anything after completing engineering,” he had said back then.

I was very clear that I wanted to pursue an MBA and started talking to a lot of people about the options for specialization available. While Marketing, Sales and Finance were the more popular answers I received, someone told me about this upcoming field called human resources and the opportunities it presented back then.

And then I got admission into Symbiosis International University, Pune which had one of the top three courses in the country, and I said why not. 

So, it was part direction and part destiny that led me to a career in HR. The circumstances made it happen and yes, I always say that once an HR person always an HR person at heart, I remain despite moving on to building a business across South Asia Pacific.

You climbed up the ladder from being a Chief People Officer to becoming the Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director at Aviva India. How would you describe your transition to the new role at Aviva India?

Amit Malik: First and foremost, It was the confidence of the Board and the leader that I had as my CEO who thought that I could go on and do this role.

There is an interesting story as a precursor to the development. Back in 2015-16, everyone on the Executive team was asked to present a strategy to the Board which is outside their domain as part of the strategy review at Aviva. I got to present the sales and distribution strategy which was outside my domain. 

And at that time, some of the board members remarked to my boss saying, "oh, you have a successor for the succession plan for the CEO’s role". I think that is where the conversation ignited. And gradually the Board came back to me to discuss the prospect.

The fact that I spent 5 years at Aviva helped. I knew the people and the organization.

When you join from outside of the organization, you get three to six months but when you move up from within the organization you are expected to deliver from day one. Overall, from an Aviva standpoint, you know the whole culture was of developing people and people really stepped up to help.

And I also have a habit of asking a lot of questions which helped me in the transition.

I did a couple of things that I would like to share. I sat down with the call centre executives to understand calls and to understand the basics of the process. I read every policy document to understand every dimension of the insurance business which helped me in taking better decisions. 

Also, I always communicated with the team that I am not the smartest person In the room and my idea is never the best. This enabled the team to share their ideas freely and facilitated my learning and helped me in the transition process.

Dwelling a bit deeper on your internal movement at Aviva, how did you cope with the transition in functional areas beyond the human resource function in the, seemingly, tough to comprehend actuarial industry?

Amit Malik: It was very rapid. I took over in January and we had to do our financials as per the regulators in March. And then you have to do all the reserving and present the insolvency report and year-end financials to the Board in April. On one side, there was pressure to do a lot of business because January, February, and March are very high-intensity sales process months for insurance companies. We were also coming out of Covid at that time, so we had 3x to 4x monthly claims to process above the average. We had to do a lot of reserving and yet maintain the solvency and the capital position of the company. So, these were the challenges I faced when I walked into the CEO’s office on my first day. But I was very clear about what I knew in my previous role as an HR and COO of the company. Also, I deep-dived into reading company policies and the things I did not know about. 

I used to ask questions to my junior team members, peers and the appointed actuary. Ultimately, I believe it is a combination of empowerment and delegation that comes into play when one assumes leadership roles. I was always very clear to involve both my appointed actuary, my CFO and my Chief Investment Officer to understand critical issues over team calls. All of us collectively came together to guide me and then it is easy when you have capable team members by your side. It was a very interesting phase. Would I do it again? anytime!

How was your experience of implementing work from home model during Covid?

Amit Malik: When I took over the ops role, I was always intrigued when I saw the ops team sitting in the office at the month end and working till 3 AM at night. And I would ask why can't the underwriters go home and do this online? And I was told we can’t do the month-end process from home. Regulations also came into the picture. Many times, I would visit the team late at night to pep them up and then lo and behold came Covid and the whole world stopped but the business did not stop. We had to pivot ourselves to do that annual closing in four days’ time from home. And I think that was a big learning for all of us. It was about empowerment. 

You did not have a boss or colleague to whom you could refer to. 

We told people to take their own calls keeping the organisation and the customer at the centre of the decision-making. And that’s how everyone gained confidence and stood by each other in those times.

Today work from home is part of the fabric of the organisation. 

What prompted you to move to WadsPay? Tell us about the array of work you handle at your current organisation.

Amit Malik: After 10 years at Aviva, I really thought that I'd done enough of insurance. I wanted to start a new chapter to do something else that I had not done, something that brings in a new challenge and gives me an opportunity to learn. 

WadsPay is a fintech organisation based out of Singapore. We have operations in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States. South Asia and Pacific is where I have joined to build the business. We are an interoperable blockchain payments organization. That is what we do. Our vision is to bring digital currency and assets to the masses. That's what we want to do within the regulations. So we study each country's regulations and see what is allowed and accordingly offer our products in a particular country. That is where it is an interesting space. It is a space that we are building for the future. My remit is about eight countries in South Asia, Australia, New Zealand and some islands in the Pacific. I have never had an opportunity to build a business and that is what excites me about my current assignment. From taking first-hand decisions on the kind of licences required to creating product offerings, everything comes under the fold for me.

You will see the power of the brand in the next 12 to 18 months and the offerings that we have once we are through the building process.

From GSK to WadsPay, how have these organisations contributed in building your career?

Amit Malik: I am very thankful to each organization Talees. Each organisation gave me a different experience. When I started my career with GSK, I found a mentor for life in P. Dwarakanath. From him, I learnt the value of understanding sales for an HR person. I have sold Horlicks in the streets of Azamgarh. So, all that experience of understanding the business came from GSK.

And after GSK, I moved to American Express. Moving from the FMCG sector to the finance sector meant that I did not know how a credit card works. And that's where the experience came in from a financial standpoint. Again, American Express gave me the opportunity to work in India and to do a very strong HR project in the Malaysia region on closing a business in a different country. 

I moved into ABN at a time when it was to be acquired by either Barclays or RBS. It was all in the news. There was uncertainty but I wanted to be at the centre of how an acquisition or merger works. Consequently, I got an opportunity to be the HR leader of a retail bank. The opportunity came because of RBS. 

By the time Aviva knocked on the doors, I was 13 years in the profession. Insurance was a completely different field for me. But my mentors encouraged me to leave the apprehensions behind and grab the opportunity with both hands. I can’t stress enough on how fortunate I feel to have three to four mentors whom I feel fortunate to approach for different things. Each one of them brings something different to the table to cherry-pick from.

I've been very lucky with both my mentors and the organisations I have worked with. 

Coming to WadsPay, I'm very thankful to them. They have taken a bet on someone like me who has never worked in a startup environment and never worked in a Fintech space. I come from the financial industry. So, I think I have been extremely lucky with the organisations who have taken a bet on me and I've always strived to give them back in whatever way possible.

How is technology going to change the HR function?

Amit Malik: I will take a step back. I think every job in the organization is going to have a digital element so every job holder should start asking themselves if their job doesn't have a digital element then they should be very worried because then that job is going to get extinct in the near term. On the aspect of HR Tech, I would say that we got to adopt technology a little later than other functions in the organization. but HR has that feature that no matter where it joins the bandwagon, it creates a larger impact. It is for HR professionals to make the most of the opportunity technology brings. In my view, the challenge comes at an HR leadership level where people need to understand technology. 

A lot of HR leaders may not like it but even today the technology call is taken by the CTO and not by the CPO or the CHRO. I think the transition needs to happen. The HR function needs to own the call that it takes from a tech standpoint. 

And I think that shift is happening but needs to be accelerated. That's the first part. The second is part is that technology will bring a lot of focus on metrics and a lot of focus on delivery and measurement. That is the change everyone in HR needs to be aware of. 

You can now expect discussion on numbers and find yourself under the radar when it comes to measuring ROI. We shy away from talking about ROIs, whether it is on training budgets or LMS or payroll systems. Such questions will get asked by the CEO or the CFO considering the huge investments involved.

Technology will enable the HR teams to answer the questions and human resources as a function will become more successful in the process. But my caveat will be that technology cannot replace the human touch. The human touch will go hand in hand with technology.

What would be your success mantra for people wanting to tread a similar path and build a career as an HR Professional?

Amit Malik: First and foremost, having a goal is important. Whether it is a compass method goal or a bullseye goal, it is up to the individual but have a goal within a timeframe. Every step that you take in your career should bring you closer to your goal. Secondly, when we come out of business school, we have a lot of knowledge. But people need to remember that knowledge is like a well. In the initial years, we keep taking out of the well and succeed. 

We also have to keep refilling the well otherwise the well goes dry. So keep learning and refilling the well.  Third is having the courage and the conviction to say the right thing and articulate your views nicely if you are convinced about them.

It is also important to take risks. I wish I had the opportunity to move into cross-functional positions earlier in life. 

Take a different role for a year, and come back to your functional expertise after one year. Success is not only vertical, but it can also come in the form of building lateral skills. Lastly, I always tell younger people to have fun. Your career is a long journey. Build relationships and get yourself, mentors.

Watch the full interview below:

Note: The automatic transcription has been lightly edited for a better reading experience. Some names and parts of the transcription may carry inadvertent errors that we are in the process of editing. Thank you for your understanding. 

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Amit Malik WadsPay hr BW HR Voices c suite leadership HR Tech


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