Bank chiefs eye growth areas to bank on amid volatility

 (Clockwise from top left): Mr Piyush Gupta, Mr Samuel Tsien, Ms Judy Hsu and Mr Wee Ee Cheong.
(Clockwise from top left): Mr Piyush Gupta, Mr Samuel Tsien, Ms Judy Hsu and Mr Wee Ee Cheong.PHOTO: ST FILE, UOB, CHANGI BUSINESS PARK

The year 2016 may go down as one that caught many off guard - from Brexit and Mr Trump's US presidential election win to the onslaught on global oil prices. Upheaval in the oil and gas sector was seen as a key stress point for banks here, which have exposure to the marine and offshore services. In the first of a two-part series on CEOs and their outlook for 2017, bank chiefs tell Wong Siew Ying that risk management, digital technology and being prepared for market volatility will continue to top the agenda this year.

DBS BANK CHIEF EXECUTIVE PIYUSH GUPTA

KEY LESSONS IN 2016

"The world will have to grapple with massive consequences behind technological disruption on jobs displacement, both for blue-collar and white-collar workers. My own bet is that you will find a lot more entrepreneurship, or what people call the gig economy. It is likely that there will be a new wave of redistributive economics. Governments may prove inadequate to do this entirely under their own steam, and the private sector will have to play a meaningful role."

TOP BUSINESS PRIORITIES IN 2017

"Be prepared for volatility as markets will continue to be choppy. An increase in US dollar rates could also create negative impact.

Step up the pace on transformation of the bank - that is re-imagine banking, and be a 22,000-person start-up.

The third priority is to continue our steady business expansion."

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES THIS YEAR

"China, India and Indonesia are crucial to our long-term success. With China going through a transition, we are somewhat more circumspect about our opportunities there in the short term.

So India and Indonesia will be our big areas of focus in 2017.

We also remain focused on building leading regional cash management, foreign exchange, debt markets and wealth management franchises. Over the past six years, the size of our wealth management business has quadrupled, and now accounts for about 13 or 14 per cent of group revenues. Over the next five years, we think it could get up to 20 per cent...

Uncertainty over Mr Trump's policies will be a headache for Asian strategists and could result in heightened market volatility in the short term. At the same time, global growth is expected to remain subdued.

To navigate these uncertain times, we need to remain watchful and vigilant, as well as disciplined about costs and the risks we take."

OCBC BANK CHIEF EXECUTIVE SAMUEL TSIEN

KEY LESSONS IN 2016

"The world is fast changing and we can no longer extrapolate the future from the present.

I expect more uncertainties in the first half of 2017, as we try to make sense of the events in 2016. How will United States-China relations develop? What are the implications of Mr Trump's policies? There is no way to forecast - we can manage the risks only as they unfold."

TOP BUSINESS PRIORITIES IN 2017

"The next phase is to keep growing our business in the Pearl River Delta region, where the government just announced plans... for an integrated zone including nine provinces, Hong Kong and Macau.

Another exciting area for us is wealth management. We now have a much larger platform after the acquisition of Barclays' wealth and investment management business in Singapore and Hong Kong.

We have invested in a new systems platform and now have the capacity to take on more customers.

As for technology, we will continue to study its application."

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES THIS YEAR

"If global connectivity is reduced, this impacts trade, cross-border investments and cross-border flow of people.

In Singapore's case, it would be particularly impactful because we are a hub economy. We coordinate flows among different countries.

If such a thing happens, the flip side to this is that Asia will become more inclusive. As Asian businesses look for new revenue and investment opportunities, they will turn to the region as this is where they have a better understanding."

UNITED OVERSEAS BANK CHIEF EXECUTIVE WEE EE CHEONG

KEY LESSONS IN 2016 

"The world today is increasingly volatile and complex, with the global economy struggling for growth amid shifting geopolitical dynamics. The rise of nationalistic sentiment is at odds with the larger trend of globalisation, even as we become more connected globally, be it physically or digitally. This is why we need to be more mindful and sensitive in interacting across borders and cultures.

The progress of globalisation and digital technology has also led to intensifying competition from foreign and new players. Against this backdrop, we will continue to build on our capabilities and make astute investments for the long term."

TOP BUSINESS PRIORITIES IN 2017

"With increasing regional connectivity and the progress of multilateral efforts like the Asean Economic Community and the One Belt, One Road initiative, more opportunities will open up for businesses.

Our role would be to help them identify these opportunities.

To meet the funding needs of regional start-ups and businesses across all growth stages, we will also strengthen our strategic alliances with alternative financing providers such as OurCrowd and InnoVen Capital to offer equity crowdfunding and venture debt."

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES THIS YEAR

"We continue to grow selectively and to sharpen our regional capabilities in target areas as we invest for the future.

An example is wealth management, where we continue to focus on serving our customers across the full wealth spectrum.

As today's millennials become the largest segment of the local workforce and form the backbone of the future economy, UOB is also focused on extending our footprint in this segment."

STANDARD CHARTERED BANK SINGAPORE CHIEF EXECUTIVE JUDY HSU

KEY LESSONS IN 2016

"Banking is at an inflection point. It is being reshaped by regulations and new entrants such as fintech. For the financial sector to continue to be a growth driver of the economy, banks need to be future-ready and stay relevant to our customers.

To achieve this, we have to build a culture that encourages innovation, and change our people's mindset and behaviour.

When change is constant and volatility is the new normal, the best way to safeguard our clients, the community and the bank is to be vigilant in risk management. We must have the strongest defence mechanism in place by ensuring that all our employees fully understand the importance of their role in helping the organisation mitigate risk."

TOP BUSINESS PRIORITIES IN 2017

"In Singapore, we will continue to invest in our technology, people and growth segments. We will continue to leverage Singapore as a wealth hub and regional treasury centre to grow our private bank and wealth management business, build on cash, treasury solutions and FX (foreign exchange) opportunities to support our corporate clients' internationalisation."

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES THIS YEAR

"With the growing interdependency among these regions (Asia, Middle East and Africa) as the West rethinks trade policies, we are well positioned to support our corporate and institutional banking as well as commercial banking clients to expand their cross-border operations and investments across our footprint. We also see great growth potential in our retail banking, private banking and wealth management and will scale up investments in these businesses to enhance our reach to customers.

Our main concern is the subdued growth of the Singapore economy.

Externally, weak global trade, Brexit developments and concerns over trade protectionism present some challenges.

Domestically, a slower labour market and cooling property market are likely to dampen growth.

Higher Singdollar interest rates due to a rise in US dollar rates will affect funding costs, and real wage growth may moderate due to higher inflation. These will lead to softer consumption and private sector investments."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Bank chiefs eye growth areas to bank on amid volatility'. Print Edition | Subscribe