The Banker’s Storyteller
“Sitting next to the coffee machine wearing a green shirt,” is the text I am just about to send Sheeza Ahmed, Head of Marketing & Corporate Communications/SVP, HabibMetro, when I feel a light tap on my shoulder. I turn to see Sheeza Ahmed, a petite young woman in black tracks. “Zeenat?” she asks.
As I stand to greet her, I see a mischievous-looking little girl a few steps behind Ahmed. “Sorry, we have an extra guest today. This is my daughter, Misha.”
Four-year-old Misha hides behind her mum (she looks more like her older sister). Ahmed clarifies that no one was available at home to look after Misha. Assuring her this is not a problem, the three of us sit at one of the relatively quieter tables (we have met at a coffee shop on Zamzama in Karachi) and order a latté for Ahmed, a brownie for Misha and an orange juice for myself.
After some initial small talk, Ahmed figures out how to occupy Misha (there is a bookshelf next to us, so reading time it is). She says she’s glad we are meeting while she is on leave. Work has been “crazy busy” – and for the past 11 years she has been at HabibMetro, she adds.
Before 2012, when Ahmed joined the bank, HabibMetro was not into marketing. In fact, she was recruited with the mandate to set up a marketing and communications department. “At the time, HabibMetro did not advertise in a big way; at the most, there were one-off ads in newspapers sometimes. 2016 onwards, the bank’s marketing and communications activities evolved greatly… with a presence on TV and social media, the bank started to reach out to a wider audience, penetrating new locations across the country.”
As a result, Ahmed and her team developed HabibMetro’s first 360-degree ad campaign, a “proper” thematic campaign, in 2016, highlighting the brand’s “rich legacy and multi-generational clients.” She adds that HabibMetro has also released “thought-provoking campaigns for Pakistan’s Independence Day for the last three years” whereby the latest one, ‘75 Years of Pakistan and Habib Banking Legacy’ (2022), reportedly crossed 10 million views within a month of its rollout.
When asked why she has been at HabibMetro for so long, she shrugs and says, “I don’t know where these 11 years have gone!” As to identifying the highlight of her career so far, she cites a 2020 campaign called ‘Badlo Bartao’. It was a CSR effort to remind audiences that we are azaad (free) as a nation to do plenty of important things, including “free to conserve water” and “free to plant trees. We wanted to highlight that freedom and patriotism should not be limited to just one day. We have the independence we need all year round so how can we best use it?”
Initially, the ad involved paid talent, but then Ahmed thought about involving children from the various causes that HabibMetro supports – including differently abled children – to ask the questions. At first, there was some resistance, given the challenges of working with children who had never appeared on screen before, but in the end, it worked out, and the children not only had a great time, but “they were stars.”
Misha has now finished reading and wants to go inspect a small Christmas tree. Mom gives her the go-ahead and Misha runs off, and the conversation resumes.
I ask her whether as Head of Marketing and Communications, she is still actively involved with the day-to-day routine, especially conceptualising ideas. It turns out she is passionate about her role and the brand. She tells me about the ‘Quaid Ke Habib’ campaign she devised. The purpose was to inform audiences about the brand’s 400-year history.
“We wanted to tell audiences about the amazing story of how after partition, the owner’s grandfather came to the Quaid’s assistance by giving him a blank cheque for the country. The brand has a rich legacy – which is a dream for any marketer!”
As part of the campaign, HabibMetro developed a print ad using a digital illustration of the cheque being given to the Quaid, and ever since the bank has built upon the idea in subsequent campaigns. Ahmed attributes her passion for HabibMetro to her CEO, Mohsin Ali Nathani, who shares it. “He ensures there’s no lack of inspiration.”
Misha is back and bored, so Ahmed asks the waiter for paper and a pen. Misha is now engrossed in her artwork.
Ahmed has also driven a diversity agenda in the organisation, including creating female-only managing committees, pushing for longer maternity leave, women-only town halls with the CEO, and making HabibMetro’s female employees special and heard.
Her involvement with banking started at Bank Alfalah in 2009. She got the job through a career fair while doing her BBA at IBA and joined as a management trainee in the financial institutions division, working closely with the then-CEO, Sirajuddin Aziz. When he moved to HabibMetro, he reached out, asking whether she would like to set up and lead marketing and communications at HabibMetro and she has… “been here since!”
She laughs, adding that the fact that she is in banking is ironic, because while at the IBA, she was doing a project that took her to I.I. Chundrigar Road and which made her think “how do people work here day in and out? And then lo and behold, I have spent 14 years in banking and that too on I.I. Chundrigar Road.”
I ask her what she was like as a student. She takes a second to think and says that as a student, she was both nerdy (getting great grades in primary and secondary school at Saint Joseph’s) and naughty (“blowing patakhas and corrupting other kids”).
She had a 3.0 GPA at the IBA, and that too without putting in much effort. “I didn’t study a lot but had some really good friends who lent me their notes and taught me the important stuff right before an exam.” As a child, she would become fixated on things; “I was a one-track kid – the type who would become obsessed with something and live life around it for months at a time… I went through a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) phase and only wore Ninja Turtles-themed clothes and had a TMNT pencil case and other accessories. Another time, I was obsessed with my bicycle to the extent I would park it next to my bed at night.”
As we wrap up, Misha presents me with the drawing she had been working on; of “Zeenat,” “Misha” and “Mom.” I ask her to tell me something about her mom, to which she says, “Mom wears glasses. And umm, she helps me every day.”
We end our conversation with Sheeza Ahmed, who is clearly a driven individual, saying she wishes she had more time to read, travel and watch TV, but as a working mom, “it’s a constant struggle” to do so.
What Misha puts in is the final word. The most important thing to know about her mom is that “her favourite colour is red.”