The banker’s story:

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As the interview for my last blog post on ‘Let Us Get Financial Acumen’    progressed, I was deeply touched by the story of struggles and hardships that came through. I felt like sharing it with you.

It is also a story worth reading for those young men and girls who have foreign degrees and expect a golden plate to be offered the moment they set foot in their homeland. It’s a story of tenacity and determination. 

Once upon a time there was a young man named Umer Malik, he lived in Islamabad and had got his admission in a university in USA, but because he had visa issues, he decided to take a degree of BBA Hnrs. in Banking and Finance from the American University in Dubai in 2003-2004. While he was studying here in Pakistan, he had also gained IT experience from Informatics and interned in ABN Amro. At the campus in Dubai, Umer started working as a Librarian; he enjoyed working surrounded with books of his interest. After completing his studies, Umer returned due to his mother’s illness.

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On return, he tried to join ABN Amro because he knew people there.  He was disappointed to learn that there were no openings for him. He persisted and asked them  to give him any work. “Fine, but it will be undocumented, unpaid and without any certificate at the end of it.” said his would-be employer.

Umer agreed to work on these uncompromising terms.

Three solid months followed, working at the entrance of ABN Amro bank in F-7 Islamabad, welcoming clients at the entrance of the bank. Standing daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for no pay or certificate!

“What kept you going?” I asked.

“It was something I wanted so bad! My feet swelled up, my back started hurting. I continued, as there was this desire to work, no matter what.

“I like to interact with a person who enters the bank for paying a bill or any other work …  I am usually looking out for ways to facilitate them. I love getting to know people. I enjoyed working with the cream at the bank and among my clients.”

This was May 2005. Hard work pays, the inevitable breakthrough did come …..

“Suddenly ABN Amro decided to open a new branch in Rawalpindi, and I got hired as Service Relationship Manager: with a Rs. 9000 per month income.  I was living in F 10 in Islamabad with my parents. So, my commute to office in Rawalpindi became further. However, by the end of six months my salary had doubled!”

Hardships and struggles:

Fate has a way of testing people the further they go. So, the struggles hadn’t ended yet, there was more to come…

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“My father was in air force (from G4,) he joined Singapore Airlines after retirement. He  made a lot of money, came back to settle in Islamabad, Pakistan. He faced many hardships while getting a house in F-10, Islamabad.  A great deal of his finances were borrowed, stolen and swindled, by different relatives and ‘associates’. All this left our family with barely enough to manage on.

Another setback occurred during that time too; “I had always been fond of cars – I owned a Honda VTI Oriel. One weekend, I was returning from Murree with my friend. We were on the old road to Murree, as the Expressway had not yet been made. It was a single track with traffic coming from both sides.  (My mother used to warn me about this friend. But as we young people are, I ignored those warnings….)

“My friend insisted on driving back. A person was over taking on a curve and came right in front of us. It was a head on collision. The other car belonged to a Judge. His wife’s head hit the windscreen and she hit her head on the windscreen and bled profusely. “Miraculously, no one noticed me in the confusion of the moment. The friend was handcuffed and taken by the cops. The car was impounded; it was already a write-off due to the accident.  It was insured, but its registration book was in the car. The police didn’t let me have it. So, I couldn’t get the insurance money.   I had the brainwave to put an FIR of losing the registration booklet of the car. A new one was made. With that, I made the claim for the insurance. The repair cost was for four lakh rupees ($ 4000). I requested the parents of my friend to help with payment of repair of the car,  but they refused. Finally, my insurance took care of most of the repairs.

“In hindsight I realize, that that friendship cost me a lot. My mother had always warned me that you need to beware of him. She told me, “ I wouldn’t have kept him as a friend!” Parents are wiser, and one should listen to them more often. So, now here I was with a new job and no car.” So, I started using public transport for two years.

Soon, I became the number one employee for ABN Amro, after having my salary doubled in 6 months.

Finding the right girl:

During this time I became interested in one of the internees at ABN Amro, what I liked was that I was unable to approach her, here was this girl who didn’t want anything to do with me or any guy!

I tried to get her number but she flatly refused. I told her that “I’ll get your number somehow.”  I had my resources, and I got her number and gave her a call.  She was intrigued at my persistence. We spoke on and off, nothing romantic, just casual stuff.  I grew more fond of her.

Financial constraints to settling down:

I realized that I don’t’ have enough money to get married, something had to be done, as proposals were coming for her.

After two and half years in ABN Amro, I wasn’t that well off. I realized that only hard work doesn’t take you up the ladder of promotions. You need PR too. Thanks to the fact that I only focused on my work and didn’t bother much about PR, I  missed out on my promotion and bonuses. When I asked about it,  I was promised a vague “next time maybe.”

“Realizing that I wasn’t getting very far, I left banking and got into Telecom Subsidiary of DHA I, Islamabad. It was owned by a close friend. In fact the same friend who was in Dubai dorms with me.

“It was a great time for me and the company; within six to seven months down the line: There was a great deal of rebranding, marketing, sales development, sales model, Kohen Brown sales model – which I used successfully. I suddenly realized that this is not a career. I also realized it is hard to balance friendship with job. So far we had managed well, though sales is a commission based thing …. money is money, how do you ask your friend to give you more? The time had come for me to choose between my job or my friendship.

I chose to keep my friend.

“I left the job, and remained Jobless for 3-4 months.” During that time, he realized that banking is his field. He wanted to get back into banking. However, the gap between banking jobs, didn’t look too good on the CV.

“Finally, I got into JS Bank (Jehangir Saddiqui Bank) as an area sales manager, looking after external sales, dealing with sales  for Azad Kashmir. It was a place in Chandni Chawk Rawalpindi. Soon everyone was being laid off …. due to shift in location etc. After an interview, I got selected for their Blue Area branch… and helped them with raising the portfolio of the branch almost quadrupled … I was number one sales person for almost three years.”

“The same person who moved me to JS, went off to Standard Chartered, again inviting me. I initially refused, because my bosses’ boss didn’t want me to go. But then, I complied. I told my JS bank that I’m going to Standard Chartered, in Diplomatic Enclave.

How I got my girl at last:

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Meanwhile, Farah’s parents were wanting to get her married. I was making Rs.40,000/- a month. I realized I couldn’t get married on that, I needed more cash, to marry.

My mother offered me her plot to get married.  I wanted to sell it.  Then I found out it had been mortgaged by my maternal uncle, my mamoon.  First time in my life, I found out what ‘court kacheri kay chakkar’ meant. I would go to the lawyer, and work with him painstakingly, I realized very quickly, I was getting no-where. One day, I literally bullied him when he was trying to get into his car. I stood there and let him gave him hell.  He was speechless there was nothing wrong in the case. He did the job, and not a penny was spent.

I could finally afford to get married.

The girl of my dreams, had her apprehensions, and wondered how it would be possible?  I told her, ”I’m coming to talk to your parents. I’m coming myself.”  I needed to know first what their reaction would be before bringing my parents into their home. I didn’t want my parents to face another setback by being refused. One day, I went to her home. Her father came to the door, I introduced myself, and said “I’ve come for a cup of tea.”  I told him “I’m coming with great hope, I want to send my parents to you.”  Fairy was fainting upstairs, shocked.

When I got home, we talked, and she said, “they really liked you.“

For the wedding, I said to my mother “let’s have no mehndi, barat or waleema. Plz give that money to her, and let’s have one reception.”  I spent 70% of money on Jewelry, the rest for the wedding … I went to Margalla Hotel and told him, this is my budget. It has to be done here for free. He gave me a phenomenal package. We got married in Oct 2011. ”

Now, he is proud father of two boys. Here, you see him with his elder son.

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“Two years on, my boss was moving to Alfalah. Now, this is my first job as Bank Manager. When I moved here, I did major leg work I went door to door in this area, inviting people to open accounts in Alfalah Bank. Now I know which street has how many of our clients. I’ve got promoted to Vice President rank now.” Umer Malik has ten years  banking experience to date.So, this is the story of one banker in Islamabad.

Whatever job you may have, or business, remember you are the writer of your own story. Make it as exciting and full of fulfillments as possible. Insha Allah, you will be living ‘happily ever after’ too.

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Meanwhile, Stay blessed.  🙂

Note: Family photographs provided by Umer Malik and all portraits taken by Waliya Najib Khan.

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