Conversation with Mike DeNoma, CEO, Chinatrust Commercial Bank, on – finding a work-life balance – how his pastime has influenced his work – how previous bosses have impacted his work attitude.
Here is the transcript of the video.
1. Importance of objective and direction
Emmanuel Daniel (ED): We are very pleased to be able to speak with Mike DeNoma, one of the world’s most experienced retailers who then eventually became a banker and had a distinguished career in Standard Chartered Bank, where many professionals owe their allegiance and their careers to you, where you made a lot of careers work. And today, chairman of Chinatrust Commercial Bank.
Mike DeNoma (MD): It’s great to be here, and I particularly appreciate that on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 that you’re here in the audience. But I also am quite happy to be here because if there’s any group of bankers that I’d prefer to be with, it would be Asian bankers, because the world has changed, and I think that over the next decade, certainly, at a minimum, it will be Asian bankers that really drive the world banking industry.
ED: When we spoke about this session just a few days, and that was only a few days after that long run that you had from Kaohsiung to Taipei, 400 kilometres, 60 kilometres a day, how is your body doing today?
MD: It’s good that it’s two weeks later, because otherwise I probably would have had to crawl up to this stage. The race itself was to really help promote awareness and raise funding for anti-child pornography laws. Currently, in the world today, there are 196 countries; of those 196 countries, 89 of them have no legislation at all against child pornography. And it’s a very serious issue. Maybe I’ll talk about it a bit later, but that was the impetus for me doing it. I had trained up to do 160 kilometres for this cause in New Zealand on March 26, but it was a single race of 160 kilometres, and the opportunity came up to actually run from Kaohsiung to Taipei, that’s 400 kilometres.
So I have a coach. I called him up, I said “I have this chance to actually run the length of Taiwan. I think it will help raise awareness more. What do you think?” He said “well, you trained for 160 kilometres, This is 400.” I said “yeah, yeah. It’s a little longer”. He goes “yeah, it’s a lot longer.” He said “I don’t know, good luck. I’m not sure what will happen after day four”. So it’s 400 kilometres. Only three people did it.
(To cut) a long story short, we got into Taipei, and we ran through the finish line together. There’s all kind of movie stars and media, nothing to do with me, all to do with this other guy. But what you find is in getting through a race like that – it’s a bit like life, and it’s a bit like business – is that many times, it’s not the ultimate goal that’s the objective, it’s the direction you’re going.
And as long as you can get satisfaction out of moving in that direction and recommitting at each point, then you can get through things like this because at the end of the race, there is no big party or goal. And child pornography for me is quite emotional. I think in the world of black and white, this is evil. It’s just evil. I became aware that a number of years ago, my sister called me and she said you won’t believe how terrible this is. And I went to Washington, DC, and I looked at some of the facts on it. Child pornography used to be in basements with people trading pictures.
It was quite small, mainly with the paedophiles. And because the internet now is out there, this is the dark side of the internet, and the deviance has become validated. As part of that is that the kids have become younger and younger and the images more violent. 30% of the child pornography images on the internet now are of children under three years old. And there are even infants being raped on video. So a cause like that, it’s worth fighting for. And once you know about something like that, can you stand back? Can you have an attitude of well, I don’t care? So that’s what I did it for.
And what we’re going to do is if any of the bankers here or any of the suppliers, we will be forming an Asian Pacific sort of financial coalition to help get some of these laws changed. So that’s the gist of it.
ED: Did they miss you at the office while you were away?
MD: Interestingly, for me it matters where I work. Chinatrust, when I was looking for alternatives, I had a number of alternatives around the world. Some much larger institutions, but Chinatrust for the last 25 years has been supporting orphanages around Taiwan. They do tremendous efforts on behalf of children. So this is right up their alley.
2. Working with a Chinese institution
ED: You left Standard Chartered as an executive director in 2008.
ED: Then it took a year before you found this position.
MD: Well, I mean, Standard Chartered was a very good run for me. I didn’t get the overall CEO twice in a row, so I figured out I probably wasn’t going to get it. But it was a great run. It’s a great company. There was a year of gardening leave the way these things work, and I’m not the type to interview for a job when I’ve sort of got one.
Greater China is the play, and there will be an expectation of global Chinese banks. But in a G2 world, there will be global Chinese banks.
ED: How long did it take you to become comfortable with Chinatrust as an institution with the people, culture?
MD: Well, interestingly, when I first went to the bank… what I like to do at any institution is I like to try and listen for the heartbeat. What’s the essence of the place, because you can’t put your own vision in. You need to respond to what an institution feels. So I went to each of the branches, and I went to different departments, and I said, “What is the culture of the place? How does this operate?” Branch after branch, department after department, people said “we believe in two things: we believe we should be leaders, and not just in market share but in serving the customer, and we believe in teamwork.
I said “fantastic!”, because you can’t put that in after the fact. So on those two things I was sold.
ED: The fact was also that Chinatrust was already the leading retail bank in Taiwan. And it had a good run in credit cards and all of the core retail products. So when you went into the bank, what did you see yourself adding value to or trying to take it to the next level?
MD: Well, it’s a domestic champion, but it really didn’t have the confidence, the ambition, or the management and business model to expand outside. There were 10 countries. We’ve got 11 countries in total.
ED: And you had that role in crafting that?
MD: Yes I did, so we put in a new mission, vision, values, and goals; ten years. The vision is to be the first truly international Chinese bank in history. The mission, which I think is very important, is a mission of a company I think needs to answer the question what good are you going to do and for whom in society? You can’t have a mission to be big or profitable, I think. The values, just three. It’s easy to remember three.
ED: One of the things that people who knew about you but did not really get to interact with you when you were at Standard Chartered, one of the questions they would have asked was how much time do you spend actually working, and how much time do you spend running?
MD: Until 2005, I had never did any of this stuff, and it’s a story I’ve told before. But I used to promote the Standard Chartered marathons, put all those together.
ED: When you were in your 40’s, who were your role models? Who were the men or women that you looked up to?
MD: Well, I’ve had some great bosses through the years. I had a boss at Hutches and Whampoa, a guy called Simon Murray. He was a fantastic boss. He was French Foreign Legion and just a terrific guy.He took you seriously, but he didn’t take himself seriously, which I think is important in life. I’ve had some good bosses through the years. A good boss allows you to make mistakes because that’s how you get experience. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t get experience. So I’ve had some good bosses. I had a great boss when I was at Proctor & Gamble where I started my career, and then I went to Pepsi. I remember my Pepsi boss called me in for my first review, and he said “Mike, I’m not dissatisfied with your performance, but I’m unsatisfied with your performance”. I said “what the hell does that mean?”
But it was good. He was a pretty knowledgeable guy. I’ll tell you one more anecdote about him, because it was funny. One day he calls me, and he goes “okay, Mike, who is the jerk, this is on video, if you can think of a more colourful word than jerk, it begins with an A. Who is the jerk on the floor that everybody hates?” I said so and so. And he goes, “absolutely right”. Then he goes “one thing to remember in life, if you don’t know who the jerk is, it’s probably you”.
But it was quite funny because he goes “that’s why you should never try to get rid of the jerk on the floor or in your department, because every department or floor needs a jerk”. I always thought of him as a very wise professional.
ED: Part of the reason we are having this conversation is that I think that in the banking profession when you tie it all down in terms of the skills there are in the profession, in terms of the reward there is in the profession, and what motivates a professional, you are out of the charts in terms of what gives you the kick. At the same time, we need to try and figure out what should be the value system. Take out the regulators, take out Basel III, take out governance and so on, and when we come to the individuals and the way in which we spar each other and peer each other, who are your peers today? It’s a bit of a complex question when it comes to you because you have that whole cost for living dimension to you.
Then you have the professional dimension. I asked my staff to pull out the data on Chinatrust, and the numbers are looking good. So it’s not as if you’re not pulling the franchise together and making it work. So there is work being done in that sense. So how do you create the human dimension that is outside the rules, the laws, the regulations, the nuances, but its people dependent in terms of –
MD: Yeah. A couple of things; one is people just don’t work for salary. I don’t think anybody does in life. A lot of executives forget that. Life is short, and life doesn’t have meaning. You have to bring meaning to it as an individual. That’s why it’s important where you work. So one of the things I think is important, certainly, for any type of company, is that there has to be more than just your salary that you’re going for.
3. Making multi-level working relationships succeed
ED: Well, now that the economy’s coming back, we’re all about money all over again, and the rewards structure hasn’t been fixed just now.
MD: I think what’s happened is – let’s call them the three sisters – the three sister banks. I worked at two of the three sisters as a hint. But let’s just take the three sisters. The three sisters are getting a bit old. The financial crisis has had an effect on them in some ways.
ED: In the organizations where you have worked, including your current organization, how are you viewed by board members? When you walk into the room, do they look at you from the side, or do they envy you being a larger-than-life personality?
MD: I was on the Standard Chartered board for a decade. They had a nice going away party for me, and one of the older directors that has since retired, he said, “Mike, I tell you what we all appreciated from you more than anything is you would absolutely give us the straight message that what is going on; what’s good; what’s bad; what is absolutely the straight message.” I deal completely straight with boards. The way I talk up is the way I talk down. It’s the way I talk to you; it’s straight.
ED: Does that always work? Because sometimes you need to get things done.
MD: Well, I would say on the political savvy gamesmanship scoring, I don’t do very well, historically.
ED: Would that be a reason why you didn’t make the Standard Chartered CEO slot?
MD: It’s either that, or I’m not British, I think. The way I look at that is the candidates that did get the jobs were good candidates. I’m not a toys in the corner; no hard feelings. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted to move to that particular place, and I probably would have closed it down and moved everything out here. But it’s fine. They were good guys. It’s a good bank. Life is short, and buses come along every ten minutes. You get on with it.
It was a good run. I had a wonderful experience there. It was great to be able to redo the brand and be a big part of the values, and just build the franchise. There was a dramatic increase in the franchise.
1. Managing the management model
Emmanuel Daniel (ED): Given the sense of your technical skills in banking: risk management, marketing, I think is very obvious, and just basically operational skill in the sense that as a leader, how do you go in there and mobilize an entire team to give you the numbers that you have?
Mike DeNoma (MD): Well one is in both places – in Chinatrust you change the management model.
ED: You didn’t attempt to change people. You didn’t bring your own –
MD: I usually don’t. I don’t arrive with an entourage. My view is if, as an individual or as an executive manager, you cannot arrive in a company and build the trust and confidence of the people that work for you, then you shouldn’t be doing the job. It’s just a personal opinion I have. If I would bring in all my one-downs or people that I know and trust because it’s been through history, then they’ll have that same decision. Do they earn the trust of the people below them or are they going to have to bring in their own crowd?
ED: Well, a number of people in this audience now belong to organizations where entire teams get changed.
MD: My view is pretty simple. I’m going in. I’m going to listen for the heartbeat of the place, and I’m going to build the trust with the organization. If they want to bring in other people, they can do it, but I’m not going to. When I arrived at Standard Chartered, I didn’t arrive with an entourage and neither at Chinatrust. I think it’s a great insult to the institution.
ED: Do you see yourself staying long at Chinatrust?
MD: Chinatrust – we put in a ten-year vision and plan and part of these races and all that, they’re metaphors for that, which is what I’ve told people. We did road shows last year, and we’ll do road shows this year. Very interestingly, last year we rolled out the values: caring, professional and trustworthy. We did an all-employee survey, an external party did it. We got a 98-response rate, so we had 10,000 responses. On the statement, “I believe in support in the three values,” we have 98% top box.
ED: That’s Chinese?
MD: No, it’s not. It’s the highest of any norm in the world. Not Chinese at all. Chinese are quite sophisticated with the scale. The point is that it’s what they felt they were in that respect. So if you can harness what people feel intrinsically is correct – so when I went into Standard Chartered do I come in with a might package of stuff we’re going to do? No. You find out what Standard Chartered’s about. When I go into Chinatrust do I come in with some package that I brought along? No, I listen for what the organization needs.
We changed the management model. We went from six profit-accountable general managers to 65. So when I moved in there, there was me and the six guys lying awake at night trying to figure out how to double value for customers and shareholders. Now, there are 65 lying awake at night, so I feel a lot better. The decision-making is very, very fast.
ED: Your relationship with the chairman, who essentially is a very Chinese businessman, basically and the chemistry – do you guys gel?
MD: He’s a very kind guy. He had a great vision, and he built a fantastic bank. My job is just to take it to the next level. We get along great. He’s a very strong banker. He’s very numerate, which I am. And I’m also – unfortunately for my folks, I have extraordinary memory, so if they ever presented to me they should remember they presented to me because otherwise they’ll get called on it. We get along quite well.
2. New dimensions in retail banking
ED: What other organizations worldwide – maybe in financial services, maybe industries that are proxy to financial services – that you enjoyed the institutions; watching the institutions, and do you think are they institutions of the future that we need to pay attention to, and you like the leadership and so on. I mean, there would be a time when you would think about Wells Fargo and banks like that, but today, I think there’s a new dimension coming on stream, so what’s catching your attention?
MD: I think smartphones will change banking, fundamentally. What’s happened in banking is ATMs came, phone banking came, and internet banking came. All of these things came, and everyone thought it’s going to change it. I think smartphones probably have a very good chance of doing that: changing the dynamics. Mainly because the instrument itself, you can download the programming and improve the programming overnight. I think that is going to be a fundamental shift.
Currently there are five billion people in the world, only a billion have bank accounts, and three billion have – two and a half to three billion have mobile phone. Now, mobile phones are fantastic in that there’s an intensive mechanism around the world to turn cash into digital money. In almost every country in the world, you can buy minutes, which then could become a currency. I think it’s a small step now where because of that gap and the under-banked, it will be efficient to bank those extra billions. So I think mobile is going to be a big area.
ED: What do you avoid doing in the banking industry? You probably don’t avoid going to the office in the morning, but you probably avoid certain cocktails. You probably avoid regulators?
MD: No, I love regulators. This is an advantage of coming from other industries than banking. I think regulators are fantastic. They actually have exactly the same interest you do. Now, I know a lot of bankers get sniffy about regulators. They’re fantastic. They’re like free auditors. What you have to realize if the regulator that’s regulating your bank, if your bank goes down, they’re in more shit than you are almost because they let it go – I think regulators are terrific. It’s free audit. They have the best interest of the system. I think regulators are – they’ve got tough jobs. Regulators are great.
ED: Do you hobnob in the Taiwan corporate crowd; visit clients?
MD: Yes, I do visit clients. That’s okay
ED: Top of mind, what is, in your view, the biggest challenge for the banking industry going forward, and where do you think the next risks might come from?
MD: If you take Portugal and Ireland together, you’re talking close to $200 billion in outstandings. The UK banking industry issue is in the $70 billion range. These are orders of magnitude higher and with no real solution, I think.
So you’ve got the sovereign debt issue and you also have the issue with inflation. You’ve got all the dollar-based Asian currencies. They’re tied to the U.S. dollar. Inflation is certainly above U.S. inflation rates, but because you’re pegged to the U.S. dollar, you’re pegged to the U.S. inflation rates. So you’ve got massive asset bubbles growing out here, and it’s very difficult for the central banks. Those are two major stresses and pressures on the world banking system.
ED: Coming back to the anti-child pornography theme that you’re very passionate about. Actually, when I look at your projects in anti-child pornography, what I’m detecting is the point at which you become comfortable in an institution before you sell that idea internally. In other words, that’s what you were pushing in Standard Chartered, and then when you’re comfortable enough in Chinatrust, you’ve made that one of the pet projects in Chinatrust.
MD: It’s not actually a Chinatrust pet project, and it never was at Standard Chartered. The difficulty is that it’s a very sensitive topic. Frankly, if you really want to create a downer at a party, you can bring it up. But that’s part of the problem: nobody wants to talk about it. I think the bank employees at Standard Chartered were certainly very supportive of it, and some of the employees at Chinatrust are very supportive of it. I draw the line in having the bank need to make that decision.
Many banks and financial institutions are helping fight it, but I think it’s more of a CSR thing – I think they’re supportive, but it’s not a passion. What we do at the bank, though, is – there’s eight orphanages throughout Taiwan – we’ve built counselling centres in each of them, and we pay for the psychiatrist to counsel children that have been abused and family violence. Those are the type of things that we try to do.
3. Answering questions from the floor
MD: Are there any questions?
Female Speaker: Thank you. My name is Chi. I’m from Bank of Communications, which is headquartered in Shanghai.
As you know, the first batch of mainland commercial banks have got the license to set up their offices in Taiwan in the second half of last year. What’s your view on the competition from the new competitors and the more waiting outside the door from mainland China?
My second question is “What’s the most difficult thing in front of you after you took charge of Chinatrust and most different thing that you brought to Chinatrust?”
MD: So the first question is what about the competition now between Taiwanese banks going into China, and then you’ve got the Chinese banks coming into Taiwan. Taiwan is the most competitive banking market in the world right now in terms of NIM. It’s got the smallest NIM of any country in the world. It is very, very tough. China, a lot of the NIMs are regulated in some ways, so is the spread; the spread’s regular. I don’t think it will matter if a couple more banks come into Taiwan. Taiwan has way too many banks as it is. I think it would be a bit tough.
The banking industry in Taiwan has to consolidate at some point. It has way too many banks for the size. So I think it will be good for the Chinese banks to come in. And I think it would be good for the Taiwanese banks to go across. But it’s a very competitive market. It’s easier to go some other places than Taiwan first, frankly.
ED: Don’t come our way.
MD: Go to Singapore big fat margins. Big, big banks. Second question is: toughest thing entering the new Chinatrust. I think the toughest thing is to build the trust with the employees. It’s been a family-run bank for 45 years. To bring in a westerner, it’s a –
ED: For the first time, right?
MD: First time ever of any institution in Taiwan, so I’m sort of the great experiment. It’s quite interesting. The toughest thing is building the trust. A lot of the employees have figured out I’ve got no great aim other than to make it a better bank. I’m not Chinese, obviously, so they figured out I’m probably not going to live there forever. I think most of them figured out the guy’s okay. He wants to make us a better bank, and that’s a good thing.
What did I bring? I’ve given them the confidence to raise their level of ambition. They’re much more ambitious now, and they’re starting to believe it. It’s interesting, when you set an aggressive goal, what’s the hardest point? The hardest point isn’t when you set the goal. The hardest point after you’re about a year or two into it, you say okay, we’re going to be the leading international bank by whatever. You can even set a personal goal. After you set the goal, and you start in it, then you realize how hard it. That’s the tougher problem.
ED: I guess a question following from that is: What advice would you give a Chinese bank that needs to hire a foreigner to be a CEO?
MD: That’s a good question. Be careful. I think it’s possible. I just think that the multicultural sense of the individual’s important. So you just need to be sensitive that the person is more of a human being than a particular culture, in a sense. Some people would probably fit; some may not.
ED: What are some of the wrong decisions you’ve seen happen?
MD: A lot of times, you’ll get an executive to go into a place, and if you can’t create the trust of the organization then it just doesn’t work. This could be painful.
Mark: Thank you. My name is Mark and I’m from Australia. A long time ago, I was the chief risk officer of ANZ, and as a consultant, I’ve actually worked with your head of risk and credit a few years ago.
The financial crisis revealed that a lot of major banks took risk unconsciously, took risks that they didn’t know they had and didn’t even really intend to have, right? So one of the big hot issues now both for the industry and for supervisors is this so-called risk appetite, defining in advance how much of each kind of risk in total you’re willing to take. I’m just wondering have you done any work on that at Chinatrust, thinking about defining your risk appetite, linking it to your strategy, and then driving it down into the businesses, and if so, would you just be willing to talk about that for a minute or do?
MD: First of all, I think that at Chinatrust, we use economic profit. We underwrite – every corporate loan is on EL, economic loss, so it’s quite unique. So every loan is priced, we go in an AP model. That makes us relatively expensive in the Taiwan market, and it makes it quite difficult because if your competitors aren’t using it, then it’s quite tough. We’re moving on to the risk appetite side now very aggressively, and we think it’s very important I think to move that way. We’ve applied for advanced IRB years ago. We continue to apply, but the regulator, I’m not quite sure where they are on that, but they still haven’t approved anyone.
So everyone is backed up. So in terms of risk management, at Chinatrust we’ve moved very aggressively to be at the forefront of that including at the board level. So it’s a major topic of discussion currently.
ED: A quick point. You are a big proponent of economic capital. Is it something that you would apply to an institution the moment you arrived as CEO or chairman?
MD: It’s just difficult. Standard Chartered, I put it in after 18 months into the retail bank, and then it spread across the entire bank. At Chinatrust, they already had the initial parts of it. And I’ve just built on top of that. But Chinatrust had enough vision upfront to go on to economic profit early on. So the entire bonus structure, the entire bank is on EP. On marginal EP, so it’s quite advanced in that sense, quite sophisticated.
ED: It looks like the questions are coming on strong now. There is one after the other, and we started by trying to find the groove for this man, and I think you’ve actually got that. We’ll take maybe two more questions, and then we’ll end the session.
Gary: I’m Gary Villanueva from Retail Commercial Bank in the Philippines. What skill sets did you take with you when you were coming from the consumer product sector that proved to be very beneficial for you when you moved to the banking growth?
MD: One is a customer focus. Banks talk about customer focus, but frankly they’re still a bit far away in some ways. The problem with the banking industry generally is that if any bank that you work for today, if everyone was fired, all offices were closed, everyone was sent home, revenue next year would be 80% of what it is this year. Even if everyone went home, and you had no employees. What banks forget is that they got this massive annuity to the income stream, right, and they take advantage of that. Other industries, you’ve got to resell those boxes every month, and there are a lot of industries that are deflationary.
So not only do you have to sell them, you have to sell them at a lower cost of goods. So you come from that sort of discipline, it’s quite good for banking. So from a cost discipline, from a management discipline, from a planning discipline, marketing skills, marketing, and banking is still a little bit lame generally. The quantitative skills, I think the marketing skills, the voice of the customer skills, the process skills of managing process, re-engineering, modelling all of that, become a much more sophisticated, design to cost. Banks don’t think of design to cost.
Banks just think costs go up. So design to cost within the support groups is quite an important concept that I think you’ll see much more of in the next five years. There are two value dimensions, or there are two dimensions at which a company is managed. There is value creation dimension. There is a resource management dimension. The value creation is usually horizontal, creating value for the customers. The resource dimension is how budgets are given annually. If you don’t design to cost that resource dimension, costs in banking can get significantly out of control.
Having bought lots of banks in my career, what you’ll find is the cost structure by function is much more related to the influence of the head of that function over time than it is to anything else. So if you’ve got a head of HR who is very strong, he will have a much larger budget than a comparable bank or the head of risk or the head of audit or the head of IT. So those are the sort of skills. But I think also you just need to bring maybe management and leadership skills as well.
ED: So just applying what you just said, what’s very interesting is a number of institutions in this audience are actually going regional now. Going regional for some of them means hiring thousands of IT programmers to build seamless technology infrastructure. In fact, going regional also means going into specific business lines like transaction banking where instead of buying technology, they are white labelling it from the global banks. There are a number of banks that are investing a lot in their own infrastructure. So the cost side gets added up.
MD: What I’ll say is other than in banking there is no other industry on earth that manages costs with one line item. It’s amazing. It’s like cost income ratio. It is the silliest thing. It’s almost infantile that banking managers cost on one line item. So just a suggestion, if your bank is going regional, figure out on a design to cost basis how many basis points you’re willing to have the functions account for. I can tell you it probably can’t be more than 50. Then you design within those basis points, otherwise your costs will mushroom and grow.
So just say your minimum is 300 basis points, you want a cost income ratio of 50, you got 150. How much are you willing to put against the resource dimension versus the value creation dimension? Because what will happen is if you let the allocation to the resource dimension grow out too aggressively, that then gets allocated to the value creation dimension, and the only way that the value creation dimension can deliver its profit is to cut front line costs or customer costs. Then banks get upside down.
ED: What can we expect from Chinatrust Commercial Bank in the next year?
MD: Two years ago, we were the least profitable bank in Taiwan. Last year, we were the most profitable bank in Taiwan. Profits increased four times. This year looks good, pretty good. We’ll see. There are pretty stiff headwinds around the region now on NIMS, but we look in pretty good shape. The bank now is working on 2012. We’re working on ’12 and ’13. So I would say five to ten years, I would expect to see Chinatrust would be the leading international Chinese bank.
ED: Acquisitions in China?
MD: We just bought Met Life Insurance. We bid twice for Nan Shan. Met Life is a good acquisition, small one. We turned around the United States. The United States now is in very good shape. So I like the United States. It’s a very attractive banking market now. So what we want is a dual track organic growth and inorganic. So you’ll probably be seeing inorganic moves other than what you’ve seen now in early ’12.