First Filipino CEO of HSBC wanted to be in advertising
His first love was advertising but his destiny turned out to be banking. And it seemed written in the stars for him to become not just any banker but to be “the rainmaker” who makes history as the first Filipino to head the Philippine operations of HSBC, some 137 years after the British banking giant set up shop in this archipelago.
Jose Arnulfo “Wick” Veloso is the last person you will expect to have a career path shaped up by chances but his rise is an offshoot of a series of unplanned events, but probably none of which he regrets.
Lady luck is oftentimes his ally but it’s just a small part of the equation, as he’s one who has gone through the rigors of the dealing room—the financial world’s equivalent of sweatshop. Over the years, we’ve seen him as the go-getter kind of guy, one who creates and not just seizes opportunities. As they say, the harder you work, the luckier you get. That extraordinary drive, combined with his sales/marketing talent and trading acumen, is likely how Veloso has thrived.
He logs in long hours of work, perhaps too long that he’s too shy to share his count. As a newbie trader, he didn’t mind staying up late as it gave him the chance to study markets in other time zones. Even now, trading screens can’t be faraway from his desk as he would not want to miss anything in this real-time world.
“For me, one is only as good as his last deal, and every day is a challenge, so I’m continuously striving to do and be better every time. However, how we overcome these challenges is how we leave a significant mark in our chosen fields,” Veloso tells SundayBiz.
Prior to his appointment as country CEO last December, Veloso accomplished a “mission impossible”—selling P80 billion worth of San Miguel Corp. preferred shares in a single tranche. So in the same year that he made history in HSBC, his team pulled off the single largest capital market deal seen by the local market. It was a deal that marked a new era in SMC, which used the proceeds to buy out the government’s stake in the conglomerate.
“In my 19 years with HSBC, I have encountered various challenges, big and small, but what matters is that these challenges were overcome, and that these challenges have taught us to become better in what we do,” Veloso says.
Veloso, who recently turned 47, has thus assumed this CEO post armed with 27 years of capital market experience.
“Having a Filipino CEO simply underlines HSBC’s commitment to the Philippines. It not only promotes good local leadership, but also affirms on-the-ground connection and engagement with our valued clients and partners,” he says.
‘All by chance’
As a fresh college graduate with a degree in Marketing Management from De La Salle University, Veloso had initially planned to pursue a career in advertising. “However, fate brought me to banking instead, because I couldn’t wait for the response of the advertising company I applied in, and I needed a job, I grabbed at the opportunity in Treasury that a local bank offered me,” Veloso recalls.
Getting into Treasury after college was also “all by chance,” as it was the only job opening after his Management Training program in a local bank. But he was initially in the marketing rather than the trading side of the treasury business.
“What I like about Treasury is the challenge of consummating trade. When I started in Treasury sales, I immediately enjoyed hurdling sales targets, meeting people and pitching various financial products. It’s very inspiring to help businesses realize their goals and aspirations by way of providing financial solutions that suit customers’ needs,” he says.
The shift from marketing to the trading side of Treasury likewise came by chance. When he was working in another foreign bank, the person in charge of trading was going on leave and since the bank had a tight headcount, his familiarity with the fixed income market was a natural shoo-in for him to sit in and cover for his colleague. At that time, the market was moving and he was able to take a position which allowed the bank to make money.
“After closely watching a market over a period of time, you’ll be very familiar when the entry or exit points should be. I leveraged on the opportunity and that made me discover my talent in trade markets,” he says.
Like many Treasury folks of his generation, Veloso considers Victor Valdepenas (now president of Union Bank of the Philippines) as one of his early mentors. “He taught me the discipline of ensuring that market views are supported by numbers,” says Veloso, reminiscing the time that he was a trader under the auspices of Valdepenas at Citibank.
Prior to joining HSBC, Veloso had likewise worked for several local institutions, including Urban Development Bank, Asiatrust Development Bank, Citibank in the Philippines, PCIB Capital and PCI Bank. He first joined HSBC in late 1994 as head of interest rate trading in the Philippines, before transferring to the group’s Asian headquarters in Hong Kong to take on dual roles—as head of Asian local currency debt trading and at the same time, as head of credit derivatives for Asia Pacific. Before coming back to the Philippines in 2004 to head the Philippines’ treasury and global markets business, he had also undertaken a number of overseas attachments in London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Korea and Pakistan.
HSBC Group CEO Stuart Gulliver, whom Veloso had the privilege of working with when he was in Hong Kong, is also one of his role models. “He was even just a seat away from my work station,” he says. At that time, Stuart Gulliver was the head of HSBC global markets for Asia Pacific.
“Stuart Gulliver has strongly instilled in me the HSBC values of being open, dependable and connected. From him I have learned about the importance of doing the right thing, standing firm for what is right—regardless of pressure to act differently. Our values and principles provide a framework to help us make the right commercial decisions and mitigate the risk of doing the wrong thing, in order to drive long-term, sustainable gains for our organization,” he says.
Trading and sales for Veloso are like peas in the same pod. “Both involve buying and selling, staying connected with customers and knowing where demand and supply are—and these are what I like the most. I enjoy getting all these data while staying actively engaged with customers, understanding their flows and the fundamentals that make the markets move up or down.”
He has seen how markets have evolved—and adapted to tightening of regulations. There were products and practices common in the past but are now no longer allowed by regulators— such as undocumented repos (repurchase agreements), fixing of yields by trust departments and selling of asset participation.
“I’ve also noticed some improvements in regulation. Since the 1997 crisis, regulators have improved to make sure the country withstands the crisis, with very little impact on the rest of Asia. Today there are credible and effective monetary policies that have ensured price stability through its proactive stance and independent approach to policy implementation. We do have a reform-minded administration with a growing track record of good governance, prudent fiscal and budgetary management and sustained support from the Filipino people,” he says.
These days, Veloso isn’t the typical banker who hangs out a lot in the golf course for networking and/or deal-making. But back in college, he was once an avid golfer. “The moment I graduated, my father told me to start paying for my own golf fees and everything related to it—driving range, food, etc.—and I realized it’s a very expensive game, so I stopped playing,” he says.
Veloso was raised by parents who were both professionals and public servants. His father, Manuel Veloso, was a lawyer whom he describes as a “disciplined, principled person.”
He says he will never forget how much his father, a self-made man who supported himself through school, had worked and sacrificed for the family. “One thing I got from him was waking up early. Just like my father, I’m already up at around 4 to 4:30 a.m.,” he says.
He has one sibling, a sister, Dobi who has likewise made her mark in theater arts.
What does he do to unwind? “Travel is a luxury, and something I don’t have these days is the luxury of time. For me, a quiet night with my loved ones is one of the best ways to relax and unwind. I also used to play a lot of badminton but I got injured a lot and limping around is not the best way to accomplish your day to day challenges.”
Apart from his role in HSBC, Veloso is actively involved in a number of industry associations promoting capital markets development in the Philippines. He is a pillar of the open market committee of the Bankers Association of the Philippines and was a past president of the Money Market Association of the Philippines. He also currently sits on the Market Governance Board of the Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corp., and has been a long-time member of ACI (Assosacion Cambiste Internationale) Philippines.
As a manager, Veloso asks a lot of questions and provide a lot of elbow room for his team. He is now responsible for an organization with a headcount of 1,254 employees, plus over 5,000 in the business process outsourcing with two hubs—Quezon City and Alabang.
“I always leave room for my managers to think things through, consider all possible scenarios, weigh pros and cons. I give them autonomy and ensure they have a lot of leeway to manage their business. However, like I said, I constantly ask questions. I personally review the numbers. I expect my managers to be creative, responsible, results-oriented, and adherent to global standards.”
How does he resolve conflicts? “I always get the two sides of the story. I ask questions, and I expect them to be honest and candid to me. I believe that when you continue to ask the right questions, people will eventually realize his or her own mistakes, oversight, or it was right for such reaction in the first place. It’s always best to get the facts first, before you judge. There is no point in jumping into conclusions, making drastic decisions, without assessing all sides first.”
While Veloso has become the country CEO just when the Philippines is in a sweet spot, the flip side is that it’s a challenging period for HSBC, which had been penalized by US authorities in relation to alleged money laundering in Mexico and Iran. Veloso has utmost confidence in this institution, which he says adheres to the highest global standards.
“We have acknowledged our past shortcomings and are committed to fixing what went wrong. We have already taken concrete steps to address issues in the agreements, as well as additional actions to further improve our ability to manage financial crime risk. HSBC has simplified its control structure, allowing the group to better manage risks worldwide, spent over $290 on remedial measures, elevated the role of group compliance and given it direct oversight over every compliance officer globally, and revamped the know-your-customer program, to name a few,” he says.
At the end of the day, Veloso says the biggest challenge for him as CEO is to provide the bottomline and ensure that HSBC Philippines becomes a major contributor to the overall country growth, given extreme regulatory requirements and stiff competition in the banking industry.
“My personal goal as CEO is to put HSBC Philippines at the forefront in the areas of wealth management, payments and cash management, and trade—which are all our key strengths. Because of our international connectivity, we’re strong in foreign exchange, interest rates and all hedging advisory. We’re also strong in debt capital market, custody and clearing. I would like to be able to significantly contribute in bringing our clients to where the opportunities are.”
“HSBC has always been where the growth is, and has always existed to connect its customers to growth and opportunity, enabling businesses to thrive and economies to prosper. Today is no different, and our future will be determined by how well we provide this connectivity.”