CEO forged in the fire of financial crisis | Inquirer Business

CEO forged in the fire of financial crisis

By: - Business News Editor / @daxinq
/ 12:20 AM March 29, 2015


When it comes to gender equality and women’s rights, the Philippines stands tall in the global arena, with Filipinos occupying the highest levels of local organizations and playing significant leadership roles in various sectors of the country.

Such is not the case, however, for the world of banking, where the top echelons of the industry remain, for the most part, a man’s world.


But Consuelo D. Garcia apparently didn’t get that particular memo.

You see, this feisty banker—who had cut her teeth as a trader during what could be the best and worst of times for regional financial markets—is the head of the local unit of Dutch giant ING Bank N.V.


She is the only female CEO among the presidents of the country’s top-tier banking institutions.

According to her, being female can be both an asset and a liability in the world of banking. Looking at her career and listening to her story, however, one would be excused for thinking that she’s being modest about the “asset and liability” statement. For “Zondy,” being a woman in a man’s world has been almost exclusively an asset.

First of all, let’s get her nickname out of the way? How did a “Consuelo” come to be called “Zondy” by her friends? It’s because her maiden surname is “Dizon.” And shifting the syllables around resulted in “Zondy.” Simple.

But her path to the pinnacle of ING Bank Manila was anything but simple, since her career was forged in the fire of the 1997 East Asian financial crisis. She joined the bank in 1991 as head of its financial markets, responsible for treasury operations and capital markets. She was in charge of these two sectors when the crippling liquidity crunch swept across the region a few years later, and Garcia says the experience prepared her for other crises that would hit years later.

“When you look back at the 2008 global financial crisis, you’ll realize that the 1997 situation was a lot scarier for us on the ground locally,” she tells the Inquirer.

She explains that, as someone in charge of the bank’s trading desk in the late 1990s, the crisis that started in Thailand and reached Philippine shores a few days later was unlike anything she had ever seen.

“All prices were heading south regardless of asset class,” she says. “That was scary.”


In contrast, the 2008 global financial crisis, while bigger in financial magnitude, was something experienced by local traders only through the news, for the most part.

However, in a world where everything is interconnected, it would not take long for the crisis-hit portfolio of the Dutch financial giant to have an effect on the operations of its faraway Philippine unit.

As fate would have it, Garcia was chosen to head ING Bank Manila just a few months before the global financial crisis exploded. According to her, it took a while for her to accept the job, but found herself in the proverbial hot seat just soon after warming it.

“It took me a while to accept [the top post] because I wasn’t really attracted to the power,” Garcia said. “I was enjoying what I was doing. But everything happens for a reason.”

As part of the condition for accepting a multibillion-euro financial assistance package from the Dutch government, ING Bank had to pledge to trim its fat. This meant selling off so-called noncore units (even if some were profitable and doing well) to concentrate on its core business of banking.

“I felt that perhaps the reason why it fell on me was because, going through a time of strategic change puts totally different demands on a CEO,” Garcia explains. “You have very profitable big businesses—we were number one in private banking; we were number on asset management; and we were also number one in some of the select businesses we did in commercial banking—but to tell our people that we would give up these businesses was a challenge.”

The ING Manila CEO recalled having to speak to her people, many of whom were her friends, having known them and worked with them for a long time.

“They were more than friends. They were family,” she said.

Carving out their units and selling them off was difficult, she admits. But being a woman helped her make sure that they would find buyers—basically, new corporate homes—that would value them, take care of them, and invest in them.

“In that sense, being a woman helped,” she says, adding that she executed the bank’s transformation plan with more gentleness than the usual gentleman CEO would have.

Going forward, however, she realizes that the local banking scene has become a lot more competitive in the wake of the global financial crisis. Where corporate borrowers used to come to banks hat in hand, the roles have been reversed, with banks now lining up before corporations hoping to get a piece of their financial requirements.

“Being a woman helps in this sense because they will always listen to me,” she says of the male CEOs she deals with. “At the same time, they won’t give their business to me just because I’m a woman or because we’re friends. We have to work for it.”

And work for it is what the ING Manila CEO intends to do, with the banking business becoming increasingly commoditized.

“Innovation is key,” she says, with a sincerity that gives the impression that she’s not just using it a buzzword. “We have to offer clients value-added services which they will not get from other banks.”

Having made a successful career as a trader out of delivering on her promises, you get the sense that Zondy the CEO will deliver on this, as well.

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TAGS: Banking, Consuelo D. Garcia, executive, ING Bank, ING Bank N.V.
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