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Biz buzz: Bad feng shui?

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Biz buzz: Bad feng shui?

/ 12:10 AM January 11, 2017

Like the many people who watched in horror as their favorite artists passed away in 2016, last year was also an “annus horribilis” for Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Of course, that’s because of the $81-million in stolen Bangladesh Bank funds that were funneled into the local financial system through the Yuchengco-controlled firm—the single-biggest case of money laundering ever to happen on Philippine shores.

But 2016 didn’t end without leaving a bit of relief for the troubled bank. Last Dec. 30—just a day before the year was set to end—Reuters published a story from Dhaka quoting a Bangladeshi investigator who pointed to the possible culpability of some insiders within the central bank of the impoverished South Asian country. In short, it’s possible (though far from being established as fact) that the heist was an inside job and not simply the work of foreign hackers.

This development is welcome news for RCBC, which had always claimed innocence in the heist even as it paid a record P1-billion penalty to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in the wake of the scandal.

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More importantly, RCBC was also placed by regulators under a special status reserved for banks that fall significantly short of central bank requirements for the safe and efficient conduct of banking. Called “PCA”—which stands for “prompt corrective action”—the regulatory jargon means exactly what it sounds like: “Correct these shortcomings immediately, or else…”

One banking source told Biz Buzz that the BSP required banks to comply with a number of anti-money laundering benchmarks (like prevention, proper reporting, remedial measures etc.), and all banks are reviewed periodically by regulators and graded from 4 to 1. Think of the Ateneo or La Salle grading scheme where 4 means perfect and 1 represents a failure.

In the case of RCBC, our source said the BSP gave the bank a grade of 1— failing—on all four money-laundering issues they were faced with. “You put the ruler on top of the report card, and write a single straight line with your pen down all the subjects,” goes the old college joke about students getting straight 1’s on their report cards.

“Basically, it was a problem of culture in the bank,” the official said. “That’s what [the central bank is] trying to change with all these sanctions in the PCA program.”

But is it really the culture that’s causing RCBC its string of controversies that has gone as far back as the Peace Bonds issue, the problems with the Yuchengco-family owned Pacific Plans, the RCBC Securities fraud scandal a few years ago, and even the issues of a businessman against RCBC Forex Brokers Corp. for mistakenly dragging him into a separate money-laundering issue?

“RCBC’s main problem is bad feng shui,” one businessman told Biz Buzz recently. “And its feng shui is bad because they have a tank in their lobby.”

A tank? Yes. The businessman is referring to the depiction of an armored personnel carrier (APC) surrounded by protesters adorning the courtyard of RCBC’s building at the corner of Ayala and Sen. Gil Puyat Avenues in Makati City. It is, in fact, a piece of art called “The Spirit of Edsa” made by the late sculptor Eduardo Castrillo.

“Especially for a bank, what you need are depictions of harmony, not war or strife that’s represented by a tank,” the businessman explained, adding that he had relayed this observation to bank officials in the past to no avail. (And given how successful his own business is, maybe he has a point.)

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But tank or no tank, 2017 looks like an interesting year for RCBC. *fingers crossed* —DAXIM L. LUCAS

Speaking of the central bank…

The Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has appointed Cyd Amador as the new deputy governor of the regulatory agency to replace Deputy Governor Vicente Aquino who will retire on Jan. 22, 2017.

Amador holds a Doctorate in Economics from the Australian National University and she previously served the BSP for 32 years—including a stint with the International Monetary Fund in Washington—before taking an early retirement to join her family in Australia.

In her new role as deputy governor, Amador will be in charge of, among others, the vast resources of the central bank, including its mint and currency printing facilities.

More importantly, she will be working hand in hand with the new central bank governor come July 5, 2017, when Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. ends his second and final term. Good luck! —DAXIM L. LUCAS

Pleasant distraction

Filipinos are about to get a “major, major” distraction soon, with the 65th Miss Universe pageant coming to Manila in a little over a week.

It should be a big hit, if social media and our well-documented love for beauty pageants of any sort were a barometer. Businesses, too, are getting in on the act.

Last week, Philippine Airlines (PAL) said it would be the official airline partner for the upcoming Ms Universe event. That task included flying 85 of the world’s most beautiful ladies, and their staff, to various locations around the country.

Media partnerships were also a big-ticket item. We heard the PLDT Group, which includes TV5, would announce this week an agreement of its own with the Solar Group—one of the pageant’s local partners.

We expect more deals to be signed in the coming days or weeks. Political division in the country might be at an all-time high. Later this month, Filipinos can come together, united, in one of our favorite pastimes. —MIGUEL R. CAMUS

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TAGS: bangladesh, Business, economy, News, RCBC
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