ON APRIL 22, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) will have a changing of the guard. Cezar "Bong" P. Consing will step down as president in favor of Jose Teodoro "TG" Limcaoco, another stalwart of the BPI/Ayala group. Consing will remain as a director and member of the ExCom, as well as director of its subsidiaries.
I first meet Bong in 1983 after Ayala Investment and Development Corporation (AIDC), Ayala's investment banking arm where I was connected, was absorbed by BPI. BPI had just obtained a universal banking license.
Bong joined BPI in 1981 as the youngest management trainee in the corporate planning department. In 1985, Bong joined corporate banking, where he eventually headed the team that covered conglomerate and multinational clients. In April 2013, Bong succeeded Aurelio "Gigi" Montinola III, as president of BPI.
Bong presided during one of the most challenging periods faced not only by BPI but by most other financial institutions. But due to Bong's skillful and prudent management of risks, BPI still managed to come out on top, being named Best Philippine Bank of 2020 by the prestigious finance publication Euromoney. BPI's focus on digitalization, financial inclusion and sustainability indeed paid dividends.
Under Bong's stewardship, BPI commenced its digitalization journey four years ago. Bong correctly anticipated that digitalization will help reduce cost to serve and facilitate banking access and transactions, thereby fostering financial inclusion and sustainability in BPI's operations.
Digitalization really gained traction during the pandemic. During the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), 90 percent of all of the bank's transactions were done outside branch premises, a significant jump from 72 percent pre-ECQ, reflecting an accelerating shift to digital banking.
Online transactions, which in 2019 were up by 50 percent, account for practically all of the growth in the Bank's transaction count. About 40 percent of the Bank's customers are now enrolled in one or more of our digital channels, with 25 percent of all customers being regular digital transactors.
Jose Teodoro "TG" Limcaoco, currently Ayala Corporation's chief financial officer, chief risk officer, and chief sustainability officer, is no stranger to BPI. Asked by a forum moderator why he wore several hats in the Ayala organization, TG replied in jest: "Cost-cutting."
TG has served as executive vice president of BPI, became president of BPI Capital in 2007, president of BPI Family Savings Bank in 2010, and board member of BPI in 2019. TG is also responsible for BPI's insurance businesses, Ayala Life and Ayala Plans, and had oversight over BPI Philam and BPI/MS Insurance Corporation.
TG reminded me of our very first meeting in 1986. I was just newly appointed as OIC Mayor of Muntinlupa and not having said a proper goodbye, I immediately paid a visit to my former colleagues at corporate finance and at treasury at the first opportunity. I just shook the hand of everybody I met along the corridor, and one of them happened to be TG. I would meet TG again much, much later when I was a member of the Monetary Board and he was the President of the Chamber of Thrift Banks.
TG strikes me as very customer-centric and employee-centric. A well-known anecdote is about how TG picked up the phone one day and called a branch employee in Baguio to personally congratulate her. TG earlier learned about how this employee had gone out of her way to assist a bank client. That telephone call became the talk of the town in Baguio for several weeks.
TG fervently believes that customer experience is the key to the success of any business. Knowing our customers' needs will definitely enhance our customers' overall experience.
Thus going forward, TG will continue to build on BPI's two strengths: its digital strength, anchored on trust, plus customer service excellence.
My very first opportunity to visit the United States came in 1981. I was sent by Ayala Investment and Development Corporation (AIDC) to attend a World Bank-sponsored seminar in Washington DC. It was also my first time to experience "discrimination" as an Asian.
With our seminar session done for the day, I was waiting for a cab to bring me back to my hotel. At that moment, a Caucasian panhandler approached me. I pretended not to see him and slightly turned away from him, tightly holding the strap of my camera bag. He just followed and stood in front of me. Again, I turned away from him. He started to hum what sounded to me like "Sakura."
Again, I did not respond. Finally, he stopped humming. He left, but not before cursing: "F...k....g Japanese!"
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