Having specialised in mass communications, Sanjeewani Ranasinghe De Silva never dreamt of joining a bank, but readily admits being intrigued by the challenge that lay before her.
De Silva began her career as a news anchor at NewsFirst for six years before joining listed Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) as Communications Manager. She also held the position of Regulatory Affairs Manager at CTC for a short period before joining Standard Chartered Bank. De Silva’s core role in heading communications is central to helping the bank position itself. The U.K. headquartered Standard Chartered Bank has operated in Sri Lanka for over a century.
Today, the bank sees growth opportunities in two areas: Sri Lankan companies venturing overseas, and a growing middle class from areas beyond Colombo. The bank is positioning itself as an aspirational brand for Sri Lankans who built their business and wealth outside Colombo.
By switching industries, leaving the heavily regulated tobacco industry to take up a position at Standard Chartered, helped her see things from a different perspective.
By switching industries, leaving the heavily regulated tobacco industry to take up a position at Standard Chartered, helped her see things from a different perspective. An out-of-the-box approach saw her pioneer research into the unbanked population in Sri Lanka’s tea plantations in the island’s central hills.
The study, conducted jointly with Care International, found that young people there wished for change and many aspired to be entrepreneurs. The bank has now started a project to support young people to achieve these goals. At the plantations, they discovered that financial literacy was very poor for the majority. Bank accounts and ATMs were borderline taboo, with many under the false impression that banks were out to get their money. Ironically, loan-sharks were widespread, some charging interest rates as high as 200%.
“Local banks had offered them accounts and loans,” relates De Silva. “However, there was a great deal of scepticism. But when they saw we weren’t there to coerce them into our products, their jaws dropped. They were more receptive after that.” Small businesses were provided microfinance loans, and each was assigned a mentor; a volunteer from Standard Chartered Bank.
Today, as a direct result of her efforts, the project has gained global recognition and ties in with Standard Chartered Bank’s Global Future Makers programme, which is aiming to raise $50 million by 2023 to tackle inequality and increase economic inclusion for young people.