Top Filipino banker says success secret is his wife
Bank of Singapore CEO Renato de Guzman manages $40 billion in assets
Philippine Daily Inquirer
He runs a leading regional private banking institution with about $40 billion in assets out of Singapore and is deemed as one of Southeast Asia’s most influential in his field. And he’s proudly Filipino.
Renato de Guzman, chief executive officer of Bank of Singapore, now oversees an institution as big as some of the world’s leading Western banks. He will be in the annals of Asian banking as the Filipino who nurtured Bank of Singapore into one of the world’s largest private banks—one which in the next four years, aims to double its asset base to $80 billion.
He is a professional manager who has transformed crises into opportunities, carving an exemplary regional banking career in the last three and a half decades.
Late last year, De Guzman was named by Alpha Magazine as one of the 25 “most influential” people in Southeast Asia shaping financial markets in the coming decade, an elite list that also includes the likes of AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes as well as a handful of Filipino movers and shakers like San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang, PLDT chair Manuel Pangilinan, Banco de Oro chair Teresita Sy-Coson, Bank of the Philippine Island executive vice president Alfonso Salcedo and BDO Capital & Investment Corp. president Eduardo Franciso.
In the last few years, Asian private banking has gained not just from rising wealth and an expanding circle of high networth people within the region but also from the influx of Western clients seeking to diversify out of the US and Europe. De Guzman calls it the movement of money “from west to east” in search of a “safe haven.”
The financial muscle of parent bank OCBC—named as “the world’s safest bank” based on an industry survey by Bloomberg Markets—is thus often cited as a big factor behind Bank of Singapore’s rapid growth.
“The biggest challenge is we’ve been growing very fast…how to manage growth properly because as you grow, old systems will not be applicable. You need to focus on more scalability and controls are very important,” De Guzman says.
SundayBiz visited De Guzman at his office near Singapore’s Chinatown district late last year. Apart from a great view of the Singapore skyline, ultra high-tech restrooms and a refreshing mini-sky garden, the Bank of Singapore office has a gallery of about 30 contemporary Asian art pieces especially curated by Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI).
De Guzman’s mandate to STPI was to line up a collection of emerging Asian artists “with good prospects, from an investment view.” The art collection, a reflection of Bank of Singapore’s distinct Asian heritage, gives a pleasant welcome to office visitors, mostly ultra-rich individuals seeking investment opportunities for their personal portfolios.
Although art is not a liquid asset class and quite subjective in terms of valuation, De Guzman says enjoyment is very much part of the equation. But why focus on contemporary art? “It’s always good to help artists, those with a lot of future behind them. It’s good to encourage artists. For me, they are more interesting than those who have passed away or already established artists. Plus we have a lot of international guests so when they come, it’s good for them to see Asian art. When they come here, they’re not here to look at Picassos,” he says.
Bank of Singapore was formerly ING Asia Private Bank (IAPB) that was acquired by OCBC Bank in 2010. Twelve years ago, De Guzman moved to Singapore to build a regional private banking business for Dutch financial giant ING, whose banking franchise in the Philippines he established. As the country was reeling from the impact of the Asian crisis, local business was slow so De Guzman accepted a regional job role at ING.
In Singapore, he set up IAPB by consolidating several ING private banking units into a regional platform. “Selling the whole concept of integrating into one ING Asia Private Bank and why a Filipino guy is the one to do it,” he says, was initially challenging.
“When you do integration and mergers, it’s quite challenging on the people side,” says De Guzman, who has been at the center of two of such major consolidations in his overseas career.
Under his leadership, IAPB achieved 41 percent compounded annual growth in earning assets under management (2002 – 2007) and 39 percent compounded annual growth in revenues in the same period. As such, he received the ING Leadership Award for the successful turnaround of IAPB’s businesses in Asia.
Then, ING put this private banking business on the block when the global financial crisis erupted. “For a private bank, it’s difficult to have that kind of situation,” De Guzman says, adding that the sale to a strong Asian bank like OCBC was thus a “good development.”
His team was very much involved in the sale process, which required finding the right fit and not just picking the buyer based on pricing.
Upon OCBC’s takeover, almost 95 percent of clients and assets were retained, De Guzman notes. Assets have likewise doubled from the OCBC group that took over IAPB and consolidated its private banking interests into Bank of Singapore, seen as phenomenal by private banking standards.
Furthermore, the institution has outperformed the market in terms of return.
Under De Guzman’s leadership, Bank of Singapore has received several industry accolades, including Most Outstanding Private Bank in Asia Pacific by Private Banker International in 2011; Best Private Bank in Singapore by FinanceAsia in 2010 & 2011; Best Private Bank for Relationship Management and Range of Investment Products in Philippines by Euromoney in 2010; and Best Private Wealth Management Bank in Southeast Asia and Singapore by Alpha South East Asia in 2010 & 2011. The bank is also consistently ranked among the Top 3 Overall Private Banks and Best Domestic Private Bank in Singapore by Asiamoney.
What’s a typical day for this Filipino private banker? “I would say I spend a great deal of time meeting clients then, attending internal meetings, answering e-mails and chasing after my staff to get things done,” he says.
As a banker in Manila, De Guzman was a class A tennis player at the Manila Polo Club, but these days, he is more into yoga and golf. “As you get older, it’s harder to run,” he says, with a grin. He does yoga two to three times a week to stay fit.
“Right Place, Right Time”
De Guzman started his banking career at local investment bank Bancom International, then the place for a banker to be. “From there, I got to like banking,” he says. After a year, he moved to French bank BNP for 12 years, becoming the deputy head of the Philippine unit. After this, he set up ING’s representative office in Manila and afterwards headed full banking operations after the Dutch bank bagged one of the 10 foreign licenses up for grabs when the central bank liberalized foreign bank branching in the mid-1990s. He was country manager at ING Manila from 1990 to 2000.
He holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Engineering from Ateneo de Manila University, a Masters in Business Administration (with distinction) from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium and a Masters in Management from McGill University in Canada.
Asked to what he attributes his success as a regional banker, De Guzman expresses gratitude to the woman in his life, Kathy, whom he describes as “supportive wife who understands the demands of the job.”
He adds: “To have a wife who will keep the family together, I think, that’s very important.”
Strategic thinking is also very important, De Guzman says. “I didn’t move around too much, but it gives me time to really develop one business,” noting the CEO role at Bank of Singapore was like an extension of his ING career.
De Guzman also says he has had good breaks in life, noting that when he moved to Singapore during the Asian crisis, he did not have too much expectations. “It’s an exciting opportunity but challenging as I was managing only a small private banking business in the Philippines,” he says. “At that time, Asian private banking was beginning to take off. Of course you had the 2008 (global financial) crisis but the opportunity was that it was acquired by OCBC.”
“I never imagined we’ll double assets in three years. Being in Singapore, being owned by a Singapore bank with a very strong rating, with growth in Asia, we’re positioned in the right place at the right time. It’s always like—beyond my expectations,” he says.
Does he think there’s room out there for more Filipino professionals to make their mark regionally or globally? “Yes, I think we’re known for our creativity, thinking out of the box, finding the right solutions. I think you need a great deal of thinking out of the box, and coupled with hard work, that’s why Filipino professionals are highly respected.”
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