‘It’s time to give back’
Veteran banker Lynette Ortiz—a self-confessed adrenaline junkie who gets a thrill out of arranging complex deals—was running the country’s oldest foreign bank when she was asked to head state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines.
As the first Filipino country chief of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) Philippines, she had steered the foreign bank to a banner year in the capital markets business even during the pandemic. But after 30 years of holding senior roles in risk management, treasury, corporate finance and capital markets, it’s time to heed the call of public service.
Unlike her past employers, Landbank is a chartered institution with unique mandate and priorities. It has to think about small farmers and fisherfolk, agrarian reform beneficiaries, local government units and government-owned and controlled corporations and not just delivering profits.
Will she last long in this challenging role?
“I’d like to. I think the mark of a good leader is endurance, as well—not just mental but physical and emotional endurance and resiliency,” says this petite woman who is as disciplined in her workout routine as in her banking duties.
If and when plans to merge with Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) push through, she may even end up running the country’s largest bank. However, she says this wasn’t part of her consideration when she took on this new role.
“I was really at that point when I was prepared to serve and to give back in any capacity, and the fact that I was given this opportunity to be here in this post, I really consider it a blessing and an opportunity to really see how I can in any way, small or big, really contribute and parlay all of these banking skills I’ve learned,” she says in an interview with Inquirer.
3 decades of banking
As the eldest among four siblings, Ortiz had high expectations to meet from the start. Her father, a lawyer and her mother, a music teacher, expected her to set the path for the other kids. After getting her degree in economics (cum laude) at the age of 19, she briefly worked in retail banking at Citibank Philippines, before heading to New York to pursue her Master of Business Administration degree (major in finance and investments) at the City University of New York Baruch College.
After grad school, she was hired by Citibank New York to scrutinize the risk exposure of treasuries in Latin America where the bank had a branch. This was where she really cut her teeth in banking, she reckons.
“You need to have the constitution for that because you can’t be thin-skinned when you’re there and you’re dealing with many demands on your time, and you’re female, and you’re Asian,” she says.
This stint in New York, in the early days of risk management, was very memorable.
“It’s when you’re looking at various countries in different stages of their economic development and you’re trying to calibrate: What’s the market risk? What’s the liquidity risk? How’s the balance sheet doing? How are they gonna manage liquidity, contingency issues?”
“That was very exciting for me. You’re in your 20s to early 30s and you’re dealing with all of these—that’s almost like an exponential type of learning.”
But when she started a family, she realized the challenges of raising a child in New York. Her son was always the last kid to be picked up from daycare. As soon as she got home, she had to cook, babysit and do all the household chores. When her son turned 3, she decided it was time to move back to the Philippines, joining what was then Citicorp global asset management.
After Citi, she had also worked at Bank of the Philippine Islands, Banco Santander PH (acquired by BDO Private Bank) and HSBC before joining SCB, where she served as Philippine CEO for more than six years.
During her tenure at SCB, she spearheaded several landmark capital market transactions, including the maiden sustainability bond offerings of Landbank and the DBP. She helped the national government raise funds through global and domestic bond issues.
“Every deal you put out and you go to the market, you never really know if it will [fly]. You know in a way that you have a good gauge in terms of the pulse of what investors are looking for and what they need, and so you marry what clients need with what investors need.”
“So in that sense, I sometimes joke to myself [that] I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Really, every deal for me is so exciting—to win it and execute it properly and have happy clients in the end,” she says.
Ortiz is also a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion. She was named United Nations 2021 Philippine Women’s Empowerment Principles Awards Champion for Leadership Commitment for “setting strong corporate commitments and inclusive leadership.”
“The way I would look at it is really that you need to also uplift other other women, other minorities in an organization. It’s almost like you’re in an elevator; you let them come in so you [too] can move up.”
Oiling the economy
Asked what best global practices she intends to bring to Landbank, Ortiz says, “We need to make sure that our capital is robust, that we are client-centric, that we meet our client requirements, and that we respond to them in an efficient and effective, timely manner.”
She wants to see a suite of competitive product offerings, so that Landbank “can stand shoulder to shoulder with private banks.”
“We’ve been talking a lot about it: how can we be more responsive? How can we make it easier for clients who deal with us, such a large institution with 600 plus branches, many touch points? So these best practices of being innovative, being responsive, being very client-focused—it’s not that we’re not, but I think that we can improve on the way we do things.”
She shrugs off criticisms that Landbank has diverted from its mandate. She notes that the bank has P713.8 billion in outstanding loans directed to agriculture and rural development as of end-June, representing 69 percent of its total loan portfolio of P1.04 trillion and close to three times the 25-percent requirement for local banks to allocate financing for agriculture, fisheries and rural development under the new law.
With more than P700 billion already extended to this agri value chain, she says Landbank is “clearly already meeting or exceeding what is expected.”
Moving forward, Ortiz says Landbank will intensify funding for infrastructure, roads, hospitals, support for local government units and cooperatives while pushing for sustainable financing.
When Landbank talks about its “beyond banking” mandate, she says it’s really about making more efficient the delivery of all other services in partnership with various government agencies, whether in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s disbursement of conditional cash transfers or funding micro, small and medium enterprises.
Thus, she reckons that the challenge is to deliver good returns “to be able to take on risks that, admittedly, maybe other private banks would not be willing to take on.”
Yet Ortiz says she’s “very comfortable” with the way Landbank has managed its balance sheet, adding that key indicators of asset quality aren’t too far from peers.
As a leader, Ortiz values feedback and fresh ideas. But while she is collaborative and willing to listen, she is decisive when necessary.
“Also I hold people to standards. I expect excellence in the way people deliver their work,” she says.
A micromanager, she isn’t. She gives her people the latitude they need. “But if it does not work, then I will not hesitate to swoop in and make changes,” she says.
Every day of her life, Ortiz says, is devoted to learning, and banking is a profession that satiates such craving. She likes the rigor, the discipline and how the industry enables business activities.
“In a large sense, you’re at the center of it all, and at the center of being able to extend and actually see the impact of the activities that you do as a banker, particularly in the field that I’ve devoted much of my life to—capital markets and financial markets. And then you bring it all together through client coverage, where you’re really trying to help clients and trying to find solutions to their challenges, to their requirements. And that for me, is very satisfying, working with good teams to deliver solutions for clients. That for me, I think, is the big motivator why I’m still doing what I’m doing.” INQ