APEX in Profile: Sereen Teoh
Chief Financial Officer
AirAsia BIG Loyalty, owned by Biglife Sdn Bhd
Sereen was born and raised in a small fishing village in Penang, Malaysia, where she dreamed of becoming an accountant. She achieved that dream, and now, as CFO of AirAsia BIG Loyalty, brings with her more than 20 years of extensive experience from startups to global multibillion-dollar organizations, including the two largest banks in Malaysia. Her training as an accountant has helped her stretch her money while traveling.
Now Listening to: “Savage Love” by Jason Derulo
Favorite Airport: EWR to see the Big Apple’s skyline
Favorite Aircraft: 787 Dreamliner
Favorite Social Network: Instagram
Since entering the workforce, you’ve been fast-tracked up the career ladder. What’s your secret to success?
I worked extremely hard during the initial part of my career, which sometimes meant extra-long working hours. But I was determined, and I made every hour count – both in terms of helping the company and my personal career growth. I also think, in today’s world, that it’s important to become an expert at something, thereby becoming a valuable resource to others. To do so, you should always build skills that fall outside those needed for your job. That way, you’ll open yourself to more opportunities and advancement. That’s exactly what I did when I became the points expert! And now Biggie, AirAsia BIG Loyalty’s new mascot, is based on me.
How has the prospect of traveler loyalty been tested by COVID-19? How is AirAsia getting around this?
COVID-19 has impacted travel segments everywhere since March 2020, and we are still not sure when international border restrictions will be completely lifted. Fortunately, BIG Loyalty started venturing into lifestyle in 2018, which has helped minimize the impact of COVID-19 for AirAsia. We started to observe a return on our lifestyle investment during the lockdown period from March 2020 onward. BIG members started to redeem lifestyle products (e.g., e-commerce vouchers) rather than travel-related products like flights and hotel stays.
We have also taken this downturn period to revamp our BIG Loyalty app and launch BIG Deals, a variety of lifestyle vouchers, to capture the boom in e-commerce and also to ensure business sustainability.
Biggie is inspired by your reputation for being a savvy bargain hunter. What is one of the craftiest ways you’ve accumulated or used points in the past?
In the past, I used to use my AirAsia credit card to top up my BigPay card with MYR 10,000 on a monthly basis, and then I would use my BigPay card to pay my housing and car loans and buy household items and groceries, all through our BIG e-store. Doing so, I would consistently earn 3,333 to 5,000 BIG Points every month. With 5,000 BIG Points, my family of four could fly for free, including taxes and fees, from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket and back, for me to attend a monthly sales call on the first Monday of the month.
You previously worked in banking. What lessons did you bring with you into the world of aviation?
Being in the highly regulated banking industry for eight years allowed me to bring in good corporate governance and implement proper change management to balance the cowboy-style entrepreneurial work environment at AirAsia. That included setting up a proper quarterly board meeting, a procurement steering committee to evaluate the vendor awarding process and spending budgets.
You are a strong believer in digitization. What emerging technology excites you most right now?
I am a strong believer in driving growth by adding technology instead of headcount and overhead costs. For instance, I have put forth the idea of setting up a B2B self-service marketplace portal for merchants to do everything from onboarding to taking care of administrative matters such as invoices and payments themselves. The system is powered by robotic process automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Other than the above, the emerging technology that most excites me is blockchain, as I believe it could help turn BIG Points into a borderless digital currency across ASEAN, without any gain/loss in foreign-currency exchange. This would mean creating a secure universal exchange hub that could convert undesired currency for spending abroad while traveling. What if you could convert Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles into BIG Points and then into Rakuten points that could be used to buy a cup of coffee while on holiday in Japan?
If you could sit next to anyone on a plane, who would it be? Why?
My six-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. The higher you climb the career ladder, the blurrier the line between work and personal time becomes. But we love traveling, and whenever we have time that’s what we like to do to truly bond as a family.
APEX in Profile: Sereen Teoh” was originally published in the 10.4 November/December issue of APEX Experience magazine.