Ghana and Malaysia may be thousands of miles apart but both countries have more in common than you’d think. Both gained independence from British rule in 1957, both are tropical countries producing palm oil, and both are ethnically diverse. In 2012, Fidelity Bank Ghana, a privately-owned indigenous retail bank, opened a private banking subsidiary in Malaysia.
Phina Dziso spoke to Leslie Aryeh, finance manager of Fidelity Asia Bank, an extension of the private banking wing at Fidelity Bank Ghana, about his move to Kuala Lumpur, his plan to develop a service for start-ups and how he developed a taste for Malaysian food.
Why did you move to Malaysia?
I had been responsible for preparing the accounts for Fidelity Asia Bank and as a result knew more about it out of my whole team. My bosses at Fidelity Bank Ghana wanted to have someone from Ghana in Malaysia who understood the business and could be a liaison between the teams in both countries. They asked me if I was interested.
At the time, I was newly married and our plan was to travel around Ghana. I spoke to my wife Naana about it. Her only condition was that if I was going, I had to go with her. My bosses agreed so went.
Tell us more about your work in Kuala Lumpur
Fidelity Asia Bank is an extension of the private banking arm of Fidelity Bank Ghana, which provides a service to high net worth clients in Ghana. Because there are restrictions on how banks can handle offshore funds in Ghana, customers are compelled to send their money to global banks such as HSBC.
The threshold for what these global banks define as high net worth is different to Ghana’s economic bracket, and it can mean that these clients do not necessarily get the same level of service. To address this, Fidelity Bank Ghana obtained an offshore licence which allows them to extend their private banking offering to customers even when they are outside Ghana.
What is your role?
I am a finance manager and because I work in a small team, I’ve been able to play a number of roles, stretch my skillset, and learn more about every part of the business. A typical day could include financial reporting and budgeting, looking at our financial performance and reporting to our stakeholders. This job involves liaising with our operations and relationship teams to address the needs of our clients.
What skills have you acquired that you think could be beneficial in Ghana?
I’ve gained a certain amount of business acumen which I believe I can apply to support start-ups. I realise that people may have the ideas or the skills to create a business but not necessarily the business acumen to raise capital and run a business. I am developing a service for start-ups that supports them in managing these finances and offers coaching support.
Like Ghana, Malaysia gained independence in 1957, and is a large palm oil producer. But the development paths of the two countries are quite different. Why do you think that is?
Malaysia has had good political leadership over the years and its geographical location means that it is surrounded by high performing countries including Singapore and Australia. These countries are doing well so there is pressure for Malaysia to perform well too.
How would you describe Malaysians?
Depending on where you go, people can be nice but I have encountered racism as well. Fortunately for me, these situations are rare. I live in a very urban and expat-dominated (like my church) part of the city, so I don’t often encounter racism.
Like Ghana, there is a lot of ethnic diversity. Malays are in the majority but there are other ethnicities too, including people who are genealogically from India and China, but who a few generations ago, settled in Malaysia and so are now fully considered Malaysians.
The Chinese tend to have more of the wealth. Although Malaysia is an Islamic country, religious diversity means people of other faiths have the freedom to practice theirs, and there is no restriction in how you dress as long as you are not a Muslim. But because Islam is part of the constitution, laws are strict on trying to convert people from Islam to another religion.
What tourist attractions would you recommend to visitors?
Malaysia is a bit more humid than Ghana but the weather is very similar. There are a lot of outdoor activities for people to participate in such as visiting jungles, forests, mountains and beaches.
I would recommend the Perhentian islands, which are known for their green turtle populations; Tioman, which is a densely forested island and is surrounded by coral reefs, and Redang island, which is one of the largest and is famous for its crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches.
The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur has an aquarium where you can watch the piranhas and sharks being fed. I would recommend the KL Bird Park, which is home to more than 3,000 indigenous and foreign birds.
My wife’s friends introduced me to their church, which has been very foundational part of how I’ve been able to integrate here. Through the church’s cell groups, I had my first experience of hiking and picked up snorkelling. When I lived in Ghana, I didn’t think about hiking but I have come to love the outdoors since being here, it’s a lovely place.
Do you speak Malay?
A little. I can order food and recite the numbers in it. I was getting better at it because I could go out, order food and practice but Covid-19 lockdowns meant I lost a lot of my skills.
What is the cost of living like there?
The food is good, cheap and diverse like the people - you just have to develop a taste for the cuisine. I was scared at first but when I joined the cell group meetings, people would bring all sorts of food, which allowed me to try. I tried a fruit called durian which has a very pungent smell - you either hate or love. Also, fuel, electricity and water are also cheap - so, in terms of utilities, it’s easy to live here.
Would you like to return to Ghana someday?
A lot of people tell me to look for opportunities outside of Ghana and stay there but I’ve always wanted to go back home. Although living and working in Ghana is hard due to the lack of infrastructure and the high cost of living, these same challenges create a lot of opportunities.
Ghana will never run out of ideas for start-ups and there will always be people that need guidance, which is the reason why I have developed my service for start-ups. When you’re able to create a service or business that solves a problem in your own country, there is a certain pride and joy that comes with that – especially when you are aware of the inequalities some of us African/ Black people can face when we live abroad.
**All images are credited to Leslie Aryeh.**
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