While Dahal’s initial ambition to become an English teacher did not materialise, with around 28 years of experience, he has, in his own way, become a type of teacher in another field. He taught banking to students of various colleges and training institutes. Similarly, he co-authored a book 'A Handbook to Banking' with his wife Sarita Pokhrel when he was just 27. He was part of some committees set up by Nepal Rastra Bank, Ministry of Finance and Nepal Bankers' Association.
In 1991, Bhuvan Kumar Dahal quit a permanent government job to venture into the banking sector. Dahal joined Nabil Bank in 1991 as an assistant. His decision reaped rewards as he rose to become the CEO of one of the pre-eminent commercial banks in Nepal at a relatively young age (42). Ashim Neupane of New Business Age sat down with Dahal at the headquarters of Sanima Bank to recall his banking journey over the years.
An Accidental Banker
Born in Sindhuli and raised in Rautahat, Dahal always wanted to be a teacher of English. In Rauthahat, an English teacher named Prem Narayan Chaudhary was popular among students and guardians. Dahal was inspired by Chaudhary to become a teacher of English. Accordingly, he completed his Bachelors of Arts with English and Economics major at Ratna Rajya Multiple Campus (1st Year) and Mahendra Morang Multiple Campus (2nd Year). He was engaged in a permanent government job at Parliament Secretariat. As he was receiving a measly around Rs 1,000 as monthly salary from the government job, Dahal decided to join Nabil Bank as he was offered Rs 4,150 per month, which when combined with bonuses amounted to around Rs 6,000 per month 28 years ago.
Not a Business Student
Despite not being a business student, Dahal got through the written examination of Nabil Bank, the first foreign joint venture bank of the country, as he found the questions on Mathematics, English and logical reasoning easy and there were no questions from Accounts and Finance. After joining Nabil Bank, Dahal realised knowing business and finance was a must. Therefore, he completed a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree in Finance from Nepal Commerce Campus.
Tough Initial Stage
As Dahal had limited knowledge about the banking sector when he joined Nabil bank, the initial stages were quite difficult for him. He knew that having limited knowledge in business and finance would hamper his growth. He remembers reading a book by three authors K.K. Saxena, C. Mohan Juneja and R.C. Chawla on accounting, for it was a book that helped him grasp the basics of his newfound profession.
Dahal joined Nabil Bank in 1991 as an assistant. He was promoted to officer in 1995. Dahal shares he was promoted regularly at the bank due to the hard work, dedication and passion he showed towards his work. In 1997, he became a senior officer. After serving as a senior officer for two years, he became an assistant manager in 1999. Likewise, in 2003, Dahal became deputy manager. He was routinely promoted at Nabil Bank, as he became manager in 2006, senior manager in 2009 and assistant general manager in 2010. After working for almost 22 years at Nabil Bank, Dahal joined Sanima Bank in 2013 as the deputy CEO. He was appointed the CEO of Sanima Bank in January 2014.
Respect Your Colleagues
Hard work, honesty and a positive attitude towards colleagues have been the mantras for Dahal to help him grow as a professional. He has always respected his junior colleagues his entire career. He shares that he respects three types of people. One, who is senior in terms of knowledge; second, who is senior in terms of age; third, who is senior in terms of position.
Dahal shares that Sanima Bank treats all their staff equally. “We believe that everybody should be respected. If we find any discrimination on the grounds of race, caste, colour, sex, region, religion etc, we take strong action,” he says.
An Unforgettable Moment
Dahal remembers Standard Chartered Bank Nepal was ranked number one in terms of profitwhile Nabil mostly number 2. In 2008, Dahal was the Chief Finance Officer (CFO) of Nabil Bank. He was assigned to author a five-year strategic plan for the bank taking support of all the concerned. In 2009 itself, Nabil Bank was able to overtake Standard Chartered Bank in terms of profit. Today, Nabil is far ahead and there is virtually no comparision with SCBN. He shares that developing the plan, and being part of Nabil Bank's growthwas an unforgettable moment in his banking career.
"Sanima has been maintaining the lowest NPL in the industry for last 6 years. Sanima is also probably number one among private sector banks in terms of its ratio of individual deposits to total deposits. In addition, Return on Equity (RoE) of Sanima, the youngest commercial bank, is currently almost at par with Nabil bank, the first joint venture bank. Leading a team which has maintained the best credit quality and deposit quality gives a lot of satisfaction though things to do are still many" he says.
Dahal thinks balancing work and life is essential for professionals in the banking sector.
Therefore, he takes a break regularly to get some respite from work and likes to for a vacation with his family during Dashain-Tihar. Also during weekends, he goes hiking on the outskirts of Kathmandu to the extent practicable. He takes an annual leave once a year to spend quality time with his family. Dahal has already been to over 65 districts of Nepal.
He also says that Sanima Bank always cares about the happiness of its staff. “We try our best to limit working hours to not more than 10 hours a day so that the staff can enjoy time with family and friends,” Dahal shares.
Suggestion for Graduates
Commenting on the increasing number of youths travelling overseas for further education and employment, Dahal says the number cannot be controlled as they are getting better opportunities and paychecks in foreign countries. He urges the youth to return to Nepal after completing studies, as the country is blessed with immense opportunities. Dahal believes sectors like tourism can further develop with the involvement of the youth. “With the increasing outflow of youths, there is a lack of skilled human resource in the country. So, I think there are immense opportunities in Nepal,” Dahal added.
Dahal says that Sanima Bank is serious about employee satisfaction. “We believe if employees are not satisfied, they can’t focus on their work. So, we focus on both financial and non-financial motivating factors. Financially, the junior assistant (junior most staff at our bank) has a paycheck of Rs 30,000. Total annual income including bonuses and other allowances is however around Rs 720,000 (Rs 60,000 per month),” Dahal says, adding that the bank provides auto loans to staff after a year, and home loans three years after joining the bank.
Dahal believes Sanima Bank has fulfilled largely the needs of their staff. He further says the bank’s dedication towards employee well being has encouraged the staff to work even harder. He dedicates more time to the bank as he thinks himself as a guardian of more than 1,000 people working with him, and that the guardian should set an example.