Royce Ngiam was well on his way to a successful career in banking when a colleague told him about credit unions a few decades back.
“She said for all intents and purposes the way you run a bank and the way you run a credit union are the same,” recalls Ngiam, who had recently earned his MBA. “The difference was in how you made your decisions. Because most banks are publicly traded, they made decisions based on stock price and profits. At credit unions, all decisions are around the member and the community.”
Today, Ngiam serves as vice president of marketing and business development for $2.5 billion asset Partners Federal Credit Union in Burbank, Calif., where he oversees integrated marketing programs with The Walt Disney Company, the credit union's sponsor company, as well as other educational and development programs.
He also serves as second vice chair of the CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council.
Ngiam says credit unions’ collaborative nature is a competitive strength. It’s also one he enjoys and feels compelled to take part in.
“I want to share and give back so we can all strengthen our game,” he says. “You just don’t see that in other industries.”
Ngiam’s family moved to Los Angeles from Singapore in 1978 when Royce was two years old. His father received an opportunity to move to the U.S. through Lockheed Martin, which assisted with citizenship and global relocation.
Ngiam says the U.S. provided his family with opportunities that Singapore couldn’t. His father became a manager at Lockheed Martin. His mother dreamed of working as a flight attendant, but in Singapore such opportunities were limited and “she didn’t fit the mold according to their standards—not the right age or size,” says Ngiam.
In the U.S., she realized that dream, flying more than 30 years for two different airlines. “She’s still realizing her dream of flying to this day,” he says.
While the past year has been challenging from a cultural viewpoint for America, it has also been transformative and progressive. “We’ve shown we’re capable of having some very difficult conversations, and that is a big lesson in itself,” Ngiam says.
Self-reflection is the next step, he says. “Now we have to be courageous enough to ask ourselves if we’re willing to look at things from a different perspective, and what are we going to do differently to make an impact?”
When that happens, Ngiam says, change will occur more naturally. “If you don’t include other cultures and values in your process, you’re going to exclude them by default. That’s where systemic racism begins.”
He cites his marketing team at Partners Federal as a great example of inclusion. “We have cast members from all different backgrounds and all different stages of their lives and careers. When we think about the products and services we design and the stories we build around them, they’re inclusive not simply because we designed them that way but because our team has built them that way. It happens organically.”
Ngiam’s Asian American heritage and being a first-generation immigrant, albeit a young one, shaped his views on inclusion.
“Since I came here so young, I was brought up in American culture and entertainment, not realizing the power of film, television, and music,” he says. “I ride a motorcycle because Maverick rode one in 'Top Gun,' and who doesn’t want a light-cycle from Tron?
“But we also spent weekends shopping in Asian communities where my parents would rent VHS tapes, and that’s where I learned the Chinese stories, culture, and history—through film,” Ngiam continues. “We also had close family friends who were from other Asian countries, and we would get together and play mahjong.”
He says things he took for granted growing up would serve as a foundation for an expanded world view in his adult years.
Growing up a part of two distinct cultures presented challenges, he admits. “I think that’s why Disney’s 'The Little Mermaid' is my favorite movie. It’s proverbially and literally a fish-out-of-water story with a curious and courageous mermaid chasing her dreams because she didn’t feel like she belonged.”
Ngiam reflects that when he was growing up, he did sometimes feel embarrassed about his culture and would try to distance himself from his heritage.
“It showed up in small ways, like I just wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my school lunch, not Chinese food leftovers,” he says. “I just wanted to fit in and not do anything that would make me stick out.”
He overcame this insecurity when he met his wife more than 20 years ago and began advancing in his professional career.
“I started to better learn who I was and realize the importance of our cultural heritage,” Ngiam says. “Today, although grown, our kids still love to hear stories from my parents of their early life, history, and challenges. To truly understand who they are, they are genuinely curious about where they came from and what has shaped their family history.”
That goes for both sides of the family. “On my wife’s side, they have a strong Irish and German heritage, and my wife grew up in a blended Catholic and Jewish household,” he says.
His children have marched in Irish festival parades, taken German as their foreign language choice in high school, and observed Jewish holidays.
“My children have an amazingly rich and diverse family history and culture to stand upon, and it’s so important for them to learn and hear the stories from their relatives as they continue to define themselves and their place in the world.”