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CEO out to put Maybank in PH on Asean map

Top Maybank official bullish on banking prospects in the Philippines
By: - Business Features Editor / @tinaarceodumlao
/ 05:35 AM April 22, 2018

Choong Wai Hong

For many Filipino entrepreneurs and corporations, the Philippines is no longer big enough to contain their growth ambitions, thus have set their sights on expanding further afield, starting in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

Economic growth is in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) region, after all.

The region, with a combined population of 630 million and a gross domestic product of $42.4 trillion, is growing at an estimated 5 percent a year and may become the world’s fourth largest economy by 2050, overtaking the European Union and Japan and just behind China, India and the United States.

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Determined to be part of that gripping growth story is Malaysia-based Maybank, Southeast Asia’s fourth largest bank by assets.

And the Philippines will play an important role in fulfilling that vision of becoming a formidable financial institution in the vibrant region, according to Choong Wai Hong, the new president and chief executive of Maybank Philippines Inc.

Wai Hong, who was appointed to his new post in November last year, was thus given the mandate to drive Maybank Philippines to the next level of performance and growth for the unit to become a “meaningful” contributor to the Maybank Group.

The 46-year-old Computer Science graduate of the University of Malaya will focus on driving growth across all key segments, fee income, digital banking as well as strengthening synergy across investment banking and the insurance business in the Philippines, which is considered a key market for the group alongside Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

And despite being just months on the job, Wai Hong is confident that the team has adopted the right strategies to fulfill that growth mandate—and the foundation was set as early as 2010 when the group sat down to craft a long term strategy for growth across the region.

One strategy is to drive home the message and the fact that Maybank knows the region well, with its longstanding and deep presence in 20 countries via a combined network of 2,200 offices. It can thus offer clients in the Philippines an accurate picture of the opportunities as well as threats that can come with their expansion to the region.

At the same time, it can point in the Philippines’ direction foreign companies that may want to take advantage of the country’s large, young population and steady growth.

“We look at our customers as potential regional players. That is one of our differentiating factors,” says Wai Hong. “We want to introduce them to the Asean growth story.”

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Wai Hong, who became CEO the first time in the Philippines after more than three years as head of the community financial services in Maybank Singapore, says he also wants to introduce those abroad to the Philippines growth story, which is envied by the others in the region.

At a growth rate of over 6 percent in 2017, it is among the fastest in the region, even compared to that of manufacturing powerhouse China.

And there is much room for growth in the domestic market, too, says Wai Hong.

Even with the presence of large local banks, Wai Hong believes that there is ample space for other players, especially a regional player like Maybank. To this end, Maybank has focused on improving the consumer loan segment, which was admittedly not given as much focus over the past 20 years of Maybank’s presence in the country as compared to corporate banking.

The group has committed to invest in increased capital, people and technology to grow the local market.

Maybank, for example, is solidifying its presence in key markets in the Philippines through 74 branches—30 in Metro Manila alone—offering both corporate and consumer loans.

The Maybank Philippines team believes there is more than ample room for growth in the banking sector.

The branch network has been realigned to ensure that the bank can further elevate its profitability and productivity by matching presence with an area’s market potential.

“The focus before was corporate banking. Right now, we have to pick up on the retail. We have to look across the different needs of the customers,” he says.

The momentum is there as evidenced by Maybank’s net profit in the first half of 2017, which almost quadrupled to P830.9 million from P213.7 million in the same period the previous year.

These results were attributed to sustained growth in its core business, which was also complemented by better cost and asset quality management.

In a separate statement, Wai Hong said the strong operating results in the first half were “beyond expectations.”

“I am optimistic that [Maybank Philippines’] trajectory will continue despite some potential risks and challenges looming in the horizon, which can be addressed as long as the bank remains vigilant and proactive,” he said.

The growth strategy for the bank also involves expanding aggressively into wealth management, an area he knows well, and the area that got him into Maybank about eight years ago, primarily in the high net worth and affluent banking segment.

This is an exciting sector, he says, as the consistent strong growth over the past decade has created a more affluent sector looking to make their money work for them. He says Maybank, with its investment and banking capabilities, can provide them that: A one-stop shop for all their financial needs in the Philippines and even the region.

It is indeed an exciting time to be in the Philippines, says Wai Hong, and he is bullish about the growth prospects in the first market he oversees as CEO.

“The growth is here, the population is here. There is room for a lot more upside,” he says.

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TAGS: Choong Wai Hong, Filipino entrepreneurs, Maybank
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