The World is for Polymaths: An Interview with Sajid Amit, Academic, Researcher, and Development Strategist (Part One)

The World is for Polymaths: An Interview with Sajid Amit, Academic, Researcher, and Development Strategist (Part One)

“When you have multiple lenses with which to consider a problem, it is an incredible advantage. The world is for polymaths,” says Sajid Amit as he makes his case for pursuing an interdisciplinary approach to seeking knowledge. Knowledge is combinatorial in nature. New knowledge emerges at the intersection of distinct verticals. New ideas come into being when two or more distinct ideas interact.

Mr. Sajid’s career is a testament to this pursuit of combinatorial knowledge. He describes himself as an Academic, Researcher, and Development Strategist and has been working at the intersection of academia, education, enterprise, and society. Through his work at ULAB as the Director of the EMBA program and the Center for Enterprise and Society (CSE), he has been contributing to our discourse about the interaction between enterprise and society.

Prior to joining ULAB, Mr. Amit attended some of the best institutions in the world: Dartmouth, Columbia University, and SOAS studying subjects as diverse as History and Economics, Applied Mathematics, South-Asian Economies, and Business and Islam in South Asia and worked in diverse sectors spanning multiple countries. 

For Mr. Sajid, exploring knowledge and work at the intersection of different boundaries is what enables us to do meaningful work.

In this excellent interview, Mr. Sajid reflects on his journey to becoming who he is today, talks about his multidisciplinary background and approach to work, talks about his work at ULAB as the Director of EMBA program, and the ULAB Center for Enterprise & Society (CES), the state of CES operation today, its ambition and future plans, shares his thoughts on management, entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bangladesh, and explores why presence is far more rewarding than regretting over your past or worrying about the future and much more. 

The most important lesson I have learned, and I would like to never forget is to have trust and faith in the universe, which means, in people, but more importantly, in life, in general. We are all undeniably blessed, but we tend to get in our own way, with our need for control.  I have learned that you manifest what you seek, usually through a mixture of patience, gratitude, acceptance, and hard work.

Ruhul Kader 

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. Could you please tell us about your background and your path to what you are doing today?

Sajid Amit 

Well, I was born and raised in Dhaka, and my first formal school was Scholastica where I joined as a kindergarten student. Scholastica provided a wonderful experience because the school was in its early days and I sort of grew up with the school!  

Studying in the English Medium System meant I did my O’ and A’ Levels, after which,  I went to study in America. I was a good student. I achieved world-record marks in A’ Level Mathematics and scored 599 out of 600. I also got close to the 99th percentile in all my SAT 1 and SAT 2 subjects. In the US, I enrolled in Dartmouth College, an Ivy League School, and one of the oldest in America. Dartmouth College has an illustrious roster of alumni, including 4 of 5 Rockefellers, over a 100 senators and congressmen and women, notable scientists, artists, researchers, you name it. It was overwhelming at first, to attend a place like Dartmouth, given its intellectual energy, discipline, and sheer density of smart people around me. But it was a much-necessary challenge to adapt to a high-performance culture. 

Dartmouth also decisively broke my interests in specializing in a subject and imbued in me the love of liberal arts, which basically means an appreciation of and exposure to a whole host of different subjects, because, in reality, we are all interconnected. I went in planning to study Computer Science, but ended up majoring in History and Economics, and minoring in Applied Mathematics.

Looking back, the decision to study history was a brave one, and not as naive as it appeared then, because it really reinforced my ability at qualitative analysis and thinking through abstractions, to add my mathematics skills. You could say that I went in as a Math nerd but graduated relatively balanced with regard to my quantitative and qualitative skills. 

I also took a personal interest in studying history because Dartmouth was a very White Anglo-Saxon Protestant ( WASP)  dominated school at the time, so much so, that we called it “Caucasia.” That had the effect of me wanting to understand my own roots, and history of Bangladesh, and going further back, India. 

After Dartmouth, and a brief stint on Wall Street at Morgan Stanley where I worked 100 hours a week and frankly, got a bit burned out – I moved to London and in a far more relaxed environment, studied for my Masters at SOAS University of London. I took courses on South-Asian Economies and Business and also Islam in South Asia. I also took an advanced year-long seminar on Research Methodology, purely out of interest, never thinking I would use it as a professional researcher in the future. I loved London. I loved how diverse, fragmented, progressive, artistic, historical and fun it was. After completing my first Masters program, I enrolled at Columbia University in New York.  

At Columbia, I joined with the prestigious title of a Faculty Fellow, which meant I had research and teaching responsibilities and a substantial grant that took care of most of my expenses. Columbia was such a wonderful place to study at. It had a sense of community despite being in New York. Columbia is an incredible research school. I think that, along with Harvard, Columbia has produced the most Nobel prize winners among any university in the world, around 100, if I am not mistaken. I find it impressive because these US schools have produced more Nobel laureates than even Oxford or Cambridge even, which are far older schools. But I was prepared for Columbia’s challenge. I had incredible advisors there: Partha Chatterjee, Richard Bulliet, Mahmood Mamdani and Nicholas Dirks. I was very pally with my advisor, Professor Dirks, who also happened to be the Vice President of Columbia, a largely business leadership role. I think I began to appreciate the balance between academic thinking and business thinking at Columbia.   

After finishing my second Masters at Columbia, I worked at KPMG US Advisory Services for three years. These consulting houses had developed a program to recruit doctoral candidates they could use for strategic work. I was posted in Gurgaon, India.

Again, I was thrown in, into a different culture and asked to do something I had never done before: lead a large research team working on the US, UK, and Indian markets, directly, for KPMG Partners and Senior Partners.

It wasn’t easy jumping into the fray and leading a team of IIT graduates who were extremely bright and even wondered what an American-educated Bangladeshi was, teaching IIT graduates, who could themselves, conquer the world. I was challenged and it helped me grow as an individual as well as a leader. I have to say that  I was quite comfortable in India. I was on an expat pay-scale and at 29, that meant a whole lot of shopping and eating out, in addition to saving. I have always been financially prudent but I have always liked the good life, as well. 

When I was in India, I used to travel to Bangladesh often, to see family. That’s when my interest in returning to Bangladesh for good, solidified. I felt the pulse of Indians as they were experiencing rapid economic growth and brighter prospects. I longed to go back to Bangladesh and contribute to its growth. There was some resistance from family, who appreciated the life I had in India. But I was confident I would find suitable opportunities in Bangladesh and if necessary, make my own. In 2011, I returned to Bangladesh. 

A month or two after my return, I joined BRAC EPL in a leadership role, looking after a very talented equity research team. Truthfully, some of my team members knew more about equity research than me, I took up the challenge to learn and lead. I saw the capital markets as the perfect opportunity to learn deeply about different businesses in Bangladesh, the financial sector, consumer behavior, macroeconomics, you name it. It was the best possible exposure to doing business and research in Bangladesh, and for that, I am very grateful. Moreover, if you look at the US or UK, the smartest, the brightest and the best, work in capital markets organizations like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, both of whom, incidentally, were clients at BRAC EPL.  

The stock market had crashed a couple of months before I returned to Bangladesh, and I also wanted to understand the reasons for the cash, the role of speculation or gambling as some call it, how to detect early, what are the tell-tale signs of an impending crash, and so forth. Above all, I wanted to learn how herd behavior and group thinking work, and how it is possible to manipulate group behavior. I have to say I learned more about financial markets at BRAC EPL than I would have in a finance Ph.D. program. I know this is a controversial thing to say, but it is true, and it’s important that we, as academics, acknowledge the quality of knowledge in the private sector. 

I soon became an AVP, then Head of Research, which used to be a coveted title at BRAC EPL, since my predecessors and those who succeeded me, were some of the best capital market minds you will meet. Eventually, I was promoted to Director and Head of Strategic Sales. I was told that I was one of the youngest Directors in any BRAC company. I was very grateful to BRAC and BRAC Bank leadership.  We also felt connected to BRAC and deeply imbibed Sir Abed’s vision and love for Bangladesh. 

It was around this time when I started teaching part-time at North South University. People often ask me if my varied career in investment banking, consulting, equity research, and academic research and teaching was challenging? But frankly, this cross-pollination of different disciplines and industries make me what I am and who I am. I find it incredibly fun because learning is incredibly fun. And I can see interesting interaction of disparate things, which I think makes me a good strategic thinker. 

Right after BRAC EPL, I had co-founded my own research think tank. We worked exclusively on high-value deals with embassies, government, and INGOs. The British High Commission has been a big supporter of our work and I am grateful to them. The work for my own institute took me places and I got further exposure to the NGO sector in Bangladesh. 

Finally, in 2014, I joined ULAB, through a senior friend who introduced me to the ULAB board and I was blown away by their vision, intellect, love for the country, and passion for education and institution-building. I joined without a moment’s hesitation. The first course I taught at ULAB was on the European Enlightenment. From there I migrated to the Center for Enterprise and Society, once people found out that I was an avid researcher, had worked in the capital market, and had worked in research at KPMG, SOAS and Columbia University. I also found a mentor at ULAB in Professor Imran Rahman, who, I believe, detected my interests early and found interesting ways for me to contribute to ULAB. I work very closely with him. I admire him for his intellect, professionalism, and heart. I know his dedication to ULAB has greatly rubbed off on me. 

At ULAB, I oversee an exciting research center, the Center for Enterprise and Society, which is a small research center that already has had an outsized impact already. I also look after the Executive MBA program, which is fresh and new, but you can reasonably expect big things in the coming years!

At CES, two of our major workstreams are in preventing/countering violent extremism, and financial inclusion. We are building up a third work area in startups/entrepreneurship and a fourth in education reform. 

At ULAB, we are rather good at engaging industry leaders and connecting them with students.  We have a flagship event called the CES Leadership Talk to which we have invited business and civil society leaders of the highest repute, to come and talk to students. It is a tremendous exposure and learning for students.  

I should also mention that the ULAB Business School is fantastic in hiring and promoting people who have leadership skills, as well as industry experience. Higher education, as a sector, is not the most dynamic, whether in Bangladesh or anywhere else in the world, really.

If you have seen TED Talks by MIT Professors who are spearheading some online education platforms, you will see that they complain about how slowly things have changed even at MIT.

We have this bias in Bangladesh to hiring PhDs, and I know my opinion may not change matters, but in the Business School, it is far more important to hire industry practitioners. American Business Schools do that exceedingly well. ULAB also stands out in this regard.

In sum, if you have to dissect an asset market bubble and offer solutions to prevent a bubble, you cannot just be a financial expert. You have to wear many hats. A multi-disciplinary perspective is essential. When you have multiple lenses with which to consider a problem, it is an incredible advantage. The world is for polymaths. 

Ruhul Kader 

You have experience of studying and working in diverse fields. How does your experience relating to diverse backgrounds help you in your current work and in coming up with new insights?

Sajid Amit

Let me give you a very specific case study. When the market crashed in 2010, I was constantly analyzing the market and trying to explain it to foreign investors. It was helpful for me to think through why in a country like Bangladesh: 250,000 BO had opened in February alone, whereas only 300,000 people had a TIN at the time. I also had to think through the ease with which rumors travel in Bangladesh lets us see the potential of virality in Bangladesh. It is true.

In homogeneous societies like ours, in which people are mostly Bengali Sunni Muslims, and one in which people live so close to each other, you have a higher potential of virality and rumor-mongering. Thus, we begin to enter subject areas such as demography, geography, psychology, and communication. These play a part in forming bubbles, although they have nothing to do with what you learn in a finance course, do they? In fact, to quote Dr. Kazi Anis Ahmed, there is no particular “anthropological problem,” every problem can be addressed from multiple disciplines. 

Thus, to explain a stock market bubble, you need anthropology, finance, and perhaps even the history of that country. In terms of economic history, our people haven’t had access to investment opportunities. It’s a developing country where people have dreams of getting rich quick. They cannot invest in real estate because the price is beyond reach, given how limited our land area is. You cannot get rich by investing in FDR; it’s 6%-9%, very incremental. Most people cannot invest in a business. So, how are you going to grow your wealth?  

There is another dimension here, which has to do with media and communication. When the market was rising in 2009 and 2010, journalists had a field day talking about how it was going to rise and rise and covering stories of how much money Tom, Dick, and Harry were making. A lot of our journalists have not been trained in financial journalism. I knew a reputed newspaper in Bangladesh which assigned someone with a post-graduate degree in Islamic Studies and no formal or informal training in finance, to cover the stock market. Financial journalism has a big role to play in fomenting stock market or asset price bubbles in any country.

In sum, if you have to dissect an asset market bubble and offer solutions to prevent a bubble, you cannot just be a financial expert. You have to wear many hats. A multi-disciplinary perspective is essential. When you have multiple lenses with which to consider a problem, it is an incredible advantage. The world is for polymaths. 

Mr. Sajir speaking at an event
Mr. Sajir speaking at an event

Ruhul Kader 

I listened to your interview on ATN Bangla regarding the stock market and it was a good one. The question is the number of companies IPO in Bangladesh every year is small and many people say that going to IPO is difficult in Bangladesh. How do you think about it? 

Sajid Amit 

First of all, no matter how much the stock market falls, there will come a time, once again, when people will make money from the stock market. It is in physics. In a country like Bangladesh, real estate will always be expensive. We are a small country with a huge population. Real estate is expensive and most people would not be able to invest in real estate. Banking sector interest rates will eventually go down once fintech enters the market and achieves widespread adoption, which is inevitable for retail banking. So that rules out FDRs. Therefore, the equity market will continue to fascinate people. Foreign investors want this market to grow and succeed because it is a win-win for them and for local investors. 

You are right in asking about IPOs. It can be looked at in two ways: from the perspective of demand and supply. In my opinion, the demand is there. It is latent. A lot of it is not learned demand.

We definitely need more investor literacy, more mutual funds, and a whole host of things to address latent demand. But you just have to look back at 2010 to understand demand. In Bangladesh, I personally feel, there is a greater excitement in the average person towards financial products, whether you are talking about equities or microloans.  

But then, to come back to your question, we have a more serious problem with supply. We just don’t have high-quality equities and the situation has not changed very much since I worked actively as a full-time capital markets professional. 

In our country, CFOs are not encouraged to think about the stock market. Until recently, many did not even have an understanding of capital markets. Their targets were to get a lower interest rate on bank loans. The source of their financing was still banks. However, there is only so much investment growth that can be driven by banks. Our banks are not very liquid overall, given both their limited reach among the population of our country and how they are the only source of long-term financing for corporates, which keeps interest rates high. 

But much more than CFOs, even boards of companies do not see the capital market as a long-term source of financing. Most of our large local conglomerates do not list on the stock market. Even large successful multinationals don’t. We still only have a handful of the Beximco and Square Pharmaceuticals of this world, and GP, BATA, British American Tobacco, Marico, etc. In India, however, most of the large local conglomerates have several subsidiaries that are listed!

Ruhul Kader 

I was listening to the conversation of a CEO of an MNC. His complaint was that taxation and other expenses are too high for going public and that existing policies don’t encourage private companies to enlist in the stock market. 

Sajid Amit

In some cases, yes, that may be true, but there are also lots of incentives to list on the public markets. Another thing that works well overseas in the HR dimension: how compensation is structured for CEOs and CFOs. A part of their compensation includes equity options so they have actual skin in the game. In startup lingo, that would be similar to an “equity earn-out.” For a smart individual joins as a CFO, hoping to drive up revenue, increasing stock prices, and then cash out, which is fine. 

In the short-run, to develop and deepen the markets, and investor engagement with the markets, we need more investment literacy, a bond market, more mutual funds that have sophisticated leadership, and more incentives for companies to list.

We also need to create a better talent pool en masse that can enter the stock market profession. I think you will find a severe discrepancy in the talent pool that enters the banks compared to the talent pool that enters the stock market profession. Overseas, it is quite the opposite. I remember being in the marriage market as a stock market professional, and I can tell you, it doesn’t impress as many people as you may think!

Ruhul Kader

You have attended some of the best institutions in the world, have experience of working in diverse sectors spanning multiple countries, what are some of your most important lessons about life?

Sajid Amit

I would like to get abstract here because that’s at the level at which I like to learn “lessons”. The most important lesson I have learned, and I would like to never forget is to have trust and faith in the universe, which means, in people, but more importantly, in life, in general. We are all undeniably blessed, but we tend to get in our own way, with our need for control.  I have learned that you manifest what you seek, usually through a mixture of patience, gratitude, acceptance, and hard work. 

I do think it helps to be clear about what you want. Clarity is important, in terms of the destination you want to reach. But your path will be winding and take you down many amazing alleys, which is important because that’s the only way you will reach your destination. There are no maps and we should keep reminding ourselves that we are lost with maps, but never without them.  

Ultimately, you will only be able to have this high level of faith and trust by being positive and counter-intuitively, by being slightly removed from the outcome of your efforts, which, some would say is the same as being humble. Therefore, the lessons I have learned are moral lessons, really, which are also, to my mind, professional lessons, which have to do with being humble, positive, resilient, and to have faith and trust in life and the universe. 

Ruhul Kader 

Could you please tell us about your work as the Director of EMBA as well as the Director of ULAB Center for Enterprise and Society (CES)? 

Sajid Amit 

At ULAB, I have an exciting set of responsibilities. I love the fact that I get to oversee a research center. I work with extremely talented people. 

The goal of CES has been to produce knowledge that is necessary for society and business while balancing such actionable and cutting-edge knowledge with academic publications and conferences that adhere to global standards of scientific and intellectual rigor. So at once, I have to try to be academically rigorous and practicable and relevant to the industry. That space, I think, is sort of my niche, and I am grateful to ULAB, it’s Trustees, leadership, and Professor Imran Rahman, for helping me find that niche. 

In terms of subject matters, we at CES, are very good at finance, entrepreneurship, macroeconomy, sector research, programming on leadership, as well as social research.  We also work in very progressive and cutting-edge areas such as fintech, digital lending, mobile payments, and so forth, which not many universities are able to do.

I have institutional relationships outside of ULAB which I have also leveraged to mutual benefit for those institutions and ULAB. For instance, in 2017, I had become the Bangladesh Ambassador for the World Innovation Forum (WIF), a subsidiary of the World Economic Forum. This helped me with access to a whole host of resources in the start-up ecosystem, which I promptly used to organize partnerships, programming, and research at ULAB, which also benefited my role at WIF.

I have had long-standing relations with the British High Commission UK as a researcher, USAID, and other international organizations which have also helped my work at ULAB.

Most recently, I have started helping a leading global fintech player named Tala, as their Senior Advisor. This has allowed us to step up our research and programming in the area of Fintech as well, which is going to be critical and very important for the financial services industry in Bangladesh. The day is not far when every leading bank will be seeing the fintech differentiator. 

In Bangladesh, every business school is a cookie-cutter image of the other. At ULAB, we are trying to position ourselves in a different way, by not just growing our expertise in pedagogy and research in finance and marketing and traditional subjects like HR, but in areas such as entrepreneurship and startups. There are at least 30 million people below the university going age, in Bangladesh. It’s a huge market. How will we create jobs for all these people? Hence, we need to create entrepreneurs, who create value, jobs, and growth.  

Ruhul Kader

How large is CES?

Sajid Amit

We are a small team, about 6 full-time people but we have a network of over 200 faculty members, some of whom work with us regularly. We also have multiple teams of field investigators or enumerators We also have access to a research talent pool outside of ULAB who collaborate with us on projects and papers. We act as a hub of many spokes. We hope to have more spokes in the coming years and perhaps even overlapping hubs.

UlAB Center for Enterprise and Society - Mr. Sajid third from left with his collegues at the Center
ULAB Center for Enterprise and Society – Mr. Sajid third from left with his colleagues at the Center

Ruhul Kader 

What are the plans for the center going forward?

Sajid Amit 

Well, we want to scale our impact by maintaining a balance between rigorous objective research and contribution to industry and policy. We want to continue to generate external funds, whether it is through grants or through revenue-generating from capacity development and masterclass training, which we have launched recently.

We want to continue to make an outsized impact on society and the country. With regard to subject-matter focus, we want to grow our activities in the startup and entrepreneurship space.

I am personally quite invested in the startup scene and I want to continue scaling ULAB’s engagement with the startup scene in meaningful ways. In the long run, we would like to have a flourishing incubation center as well that engages industry leaders, students, and startup founders to unlock and create value. 

Ruhul Kader 

What are the challenges for the center?

Sajid Amit 

I think the challenges for the center are the general challenges that the research professionals face. I think we need to glamorize research so that we attract bright students.

We need people to stay in the research profession. For that, we need funding.

We need more donors to consider universities as appropriate destinations for funds and not just NGOs. Universities have the potential for doing much more than offer degrees.

The corporate-university nexus is critical. We are driving and actualizing this nexus in our day-to-day work. 

Ruhul Kader 

What do you think about the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bangladesh? What are the things that could be done to encourage more people to build sustainable companies?

Sajid Amit 

The entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bangladesh has considerable promise. We have the seventh-largest population in the world. We have one of the largest youth populations in the world. In time, we will see very successful startups with sustained growth stories.

Already, startups from Bangladesh have raised funds, from US$1 million to US$15 million. Several startups have raised around $1-2 million from venture capital firms.

I believe this is a start and you will see an inflection point soon. . Entrepreneurs deserve attention from the media and the community which would encourage future entrepreneurs to try out entrepreneurship in a culture where doing business is considered risky. We need to glamorize entrepreneurship and startups and ignore the naysayers. 

A lot of community builders and incubators are making the right sort of noises. I have a lot of respect for Startup Dhaka for example. It’s important to have a second or third-generation businessman with access to large corporates and conglomerates do startups or promote startups or be stakeholders of startup scene because in every country the startup scene does not necessarily thrive parallel to the established corporate scene. There has to be more dialogue between the two. 

We have lived in a country where we don’t have a lot of knowledge about our industrialists. We haven’t heard the stories of the founders of any conglomerates, we don’t have documentaries, we don’t have books. In India, it is different. You have books on all the Birlas and Tatas. People have an appreciation and love and imagination about their country’s largest enterprises and businesses. They can dream of becoming something. We haven’t done a good job of recording successes and generating dreamers. Perhaps we need more historians of business!  

Incubators are doing great work here. I think the ICT ministry is playing a pivotal role. They operate like a private sector entity; fast, efficient, wonderful, welcoming, sophisticated. The a2i program is extremely well-run, efficient, and has excellent leadership. I think there is a lot of substance to the government’s mandate of a Digital Bangladesh. I think we all need to get behind his vision in a more meaningful way. 

In a nutshell, I am positive about the developments. 

Ruhul Kader 

What do you think about the overall education system? There are tons of complaints regarding the quality of our talents. Companies blame schools. Schools blame companies are not investing in their people. While both parties have valid points, the situation is not improving. At the same time, the unemployment rate has been growing consistently. What is your take?

Sajid Amit 

The reason that we have some unemployment is manifold. When investment grows, companies grow, new companies come into the market and it creates employment.

We have good growth rates in investment, but we have to look beyond current growth targets when it comes to investment and think of more difficult goals such as catching up with Vietnam in terms of the absolute size of foreign direct investment and other comparable countries, in foreign portfolio investment. These are big drivers of employment.

Is our FDI increasing? Yes. But we are still far behind Vietnam, whereas we are quite comparable to Vietnam on many levels.

I believe there are several reasons for lower than possible FDI levels, and a cursory look at Doing Business Rankings by World Bank will shed more light on this. But this has to do with enforcing contracts, making property registration easier, making access to electricity easier, and so forth. Enforcing contracts is key. 

On a different note, we need to brand Bangladesh better. The Indian Diaspora is very active in branding India. I feel like our Diaspora can do better but we have to continue to engage them, and this is already happening through private and public sector initiatives.

Frankly, I believe that our current government has done way better than others in branding Bangladesh. I recently saw a Straits Times article on closer ties that Singapore is seeking with South Asian countries, and there was a picture of Indian PM Narendra Modi and our PM, Sheikh Hasina, side-by-side, on the second page. I felt proud. Bangladesh is no longer the bottomless basket of Churchill or the nation of floods and natural disasters. We have dramatically improved our branding in the comity of nations but this must intensify and continue.

And then there is the supply side.  We need to tool our youth with the right skills. There are theories that supply can drive demand, so we need not worry that we will have more talented people than jobs because talented people will create their own opportunities.  We need education to reach more people. And we also need a more motivated and skilled middle-class. English learning is also more important. 

Currently, there is a disconnect between employers and universities. Consequently, academia does not know what corporate Bangladesh wants, and corporates don’t know what is being taught at universities. We need more collaboration between industry and academia. We need to find ways to expose our students to the real world, more frequently. 

Mr. Sajid speaking at an event in Dhaka

Ruhul Kader 

What’s your take on fintech space in Bangladesh? How do you think the rise of fintech will affect our financial industry and banking sector?

Sajid Amit 

Fintech is going to be huge in a country where there are many more mobile phones than latrines. We have had viral growth in the adoption of mobile communications, internet, and I believe mobile payments as well. So fintech already has established a presence here.

In the future, I don’t think banks will start creating brick and mortar branches all over the country. Because real estate will continue to be expensive. Your mobile phone will be your bank, and you will get loan approvals digitally and money will be transferred to your mobile wallet. You may head over to an agent banking kiosk to get some personalized service or financial literacy session, but many will never have to set foot in a bank branch.  

Education and tooling of people are important. We need more awareness among the youth on prospects of fintech. We need brave leaders in financial services who can invest in fintech. We need regulators who are keeping up. I have to say that Bangladesh Bank has been quite impressive in building the capacity of its officers in modern technologies such as fintech.

I think we will see fintech everywhere, and not just in banking. It may cross-cut into sectors such as ride-sharing, where you may have an Uber or Pathao wallet, or your e-commerce provider may provide you digital credit you can use through multiple channel partners.

I think the possibility and entirety of the fintech opportunity need to be properly understood. It will be incredible for our country. 

At ULAB, we have had successive conferences, seminars, and even Executive MBA coursework on fintech, digital financial services, mobile money, financial inclusion and a whole host of other cutting-edge and crucially important topics. More universities need to do the same to tool their youth. 

Ruhul Kader 

What do you think about management? What is your management philosophy?

Sajid Amit 

Many principles come into mind. First would be, when you take care of your people, your people will take care of your business. That is not an easy task. It calls for empathy because people are different and everyone has different needs. So in order to take care of your people, you have to spend a good amount of time in understanding them. 

Second, we all are human. Sometimes efficient managers do not come across as humans. Managers sometimes tend to overlook the humane side of people while giving too much importance to performance. But to manage and lead successfully, one should understand a human being and put enough importance on addressing the human needs of individuals. 

Third, it’s important to keep challenging your colleagues so that they grow and keep on doing their best. At the same time, you need to understand their human limitations. It’s tough but as long as you try it’s good enough.

Ruhul Kader 

Three pieces of advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Sajid Amit 

I used to work way too hard. Day and night. And often burned myself out. I used to work hard at the office, read when I was not working, and frankly, was not the best at taking care of my emotional life and wellness. But I have learned to be more balanced.

I travel frequently now, which greatly helps me relax and fuel my motivation when I am back at work.

I make sure I get to sleep at night.

I meditate, enjoy art, fashion, and going to the gym. And last but not certainly not least, I spend a lot of time with my family.

So the advice I would give to my younger self, if I could travel back in time, would be to take more deep breaths and get more sleep! 

Ruhul Kader 

A couple of books that you have enjoyed reading and you would like to recommend to our readers?

Sajid Amit 

I would highly recommend Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” if you are looking to get into wellness. I love books that portray meta-narratives such as  Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” and Tim Marshall’s “Prisoners of Geography.” I also like too many books on capital markets, international development, and on the spiritual side, Eckhart Tolle’s works.

Ruhul Kader 

Do you have any regrets about not trying something in the past? Anything you would do differently? 

Sajid Amit 

Well, I wish I valued my emotional health and emotional life as much as I try to do now. I have made mistakes that stemmed from fear, worry, and stress, but I don’t want to encourage regret in myself or anyone else. I don’t think it’s a useful or productive thing to feel. I like to see my mistakes as my teachers, and perhaps, some of the best ones. 

Ruhul Kader 

What advice would you give to people who are just getting started with businesses or startups? 

Sajid Amit

Try to solve a social problem, work hard, live a balanced life, and delegate to the right persons, and take care of those persons. Also, learn continuously!

Ruhul

How do you navigate the sufferings and challenges of everyday life?

Sajid Amit 

I think if we work on how we perceive our challenges and frustrations, our reality shifts. First the shift is the shift in perception, but soon after, the shift is material. Some would argue that perception is as material as anything else that’s material, but haha, I don’t want to sound esoteric. To be more simple, I think all these problems, challenges, frustrations, take care of themselves if you put in some work to overcome them while trying to be present.

Presence is far more rewarding than regretting your past or worrying about the future. It is easier to live in today than living in tomorrow or yesterday. Today is all we have. We can’t change our past or control our future. But we can influence our future with our actions today.

It is not easy to live in the moment. We, humans, are designed to worry and regret. Our headspace is always running and thinking. Practice mindfulness. Pay attention to this very moment. Life is happening now, at this very moment, seize it. 

Last updated on Nov 9, 2019, with new information regarding the state of employment in Bangladesh.

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