Building the regional retail business – StanChart

Small talk from a business lunch conversation

The question was asked as to the differences between the changes taking place in StanChart and Citigroup’s retail businesses in the Asia Pacific region.

I thought that the skill sets that StanChart was deploying at the regional level today comes mostly from senior managers from the different local markets (particularly HK-ers, Malaysians and Singaporeans) who had previously excelled in their respective local markets (HK, Malaysia, Spore).

The fact that these senior managers excelled locally previously does not necessarily prepare them to excel regionally, especially in new markets like China and Korea.

On the other hand, Citi has always taken a top down approach, deploying senior people as expatriates in every market from day one, so they seem to take on a different personality than the StanChart folks who are being redeployed after having demonstrated their skills as locals in their home markets.

StanChart is learning that the skills to be a regional person is so different from trying to scale up local heros. Citi’s regional people are not necessarily heros. They are often so disconnected from any one market (spending more time relocating and finding school for the kids), one wonders how much time they spend on actual work. There must be a lot there in the processes.

StanChart had such a successful domestic retail process in each of these local markets that in the one instance they placed an expatriate in place of a local, he really did not have a feel of the local team.

The HSBC folks, still mostly UK expatriates (colonialism’s long shadow) are sort of wriggling out of a past cocooned existence. Credit should be given to their efforts in the past three years in building regional retail capabilities, and they have started to realise some of the goodwill they have in their traditional markets. Theirs is more like an “SWAT” team approach, still treating retail banking as a regional “project” rather than a career.

Not that any one of the models are right or wrong. Just an observation. Beat me if I am wrong.


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