May 24, 2019
“Treasury and private banking are like different car models with the same chassis. For Treasury, you’re dealing with the banks’ money. For private banking, you’re dealing with your clients’ money. It really is all about the people
Manuel Go Ahyong Jr. has made a name for himself in wealth management and private banking. Now at the helm of Bank of Singapore (BOS)-Philippine Representative Office as its chief representative and managing director, Ahyong credits his determination and his marketing mindset as the main tools in his arsenal, ensuring that his clients are given the best care.
The Cebuano-born executive says: “I believe that to succeed in life, brains would help you a lot. But that’s not where it ends. The end ingredient is your determination, how bad you want it and how hard you work for it. I’m living proof of someone who’s probably an above-average student, but got to where he is now because he worked hard for it.”
“I was told to apply for another program. I guess my exam results didn’t make the cut. But I wanted to get into this program, so I wrote an appeal. Thinking back, if I settled for what they told me initially, I would have forever regretted it.”
Shaped by setbacks
“I realize now that it shaped the way I looked at setbacks. Over the years, I always thought that if I wanted it bad enough, there was no harm in working hard for it. If I fail, I should try until I exhausted all possibilities,” he recalls.
It ended up being the right move for the young Ahyong. In a batch of originally 150 students, he was one of the 50 who graduated. As the eldest son of a traditional Filipino-Chinese family, he was expected to go back to Cebu and help run the family business. But he wanted to explore the shiny new world of corporations that was now open to him.
The usual path for management engineering graduates was to go into the fast-moving consumer goods industry, and Ahyong originally wanted in. “I like to do marketing work, interacting with people and developing new products. I like to use my imagination to see how I could put through a product or idea from start to end,” he explains.
But fate had other plans. He started working instead at Sycip-Gorres-Velayo (SGV) Management Services, where he conducted organizational studies for different companies, including the government. His days in the Ateneo de Manila dormitories stuck to him, however, prompting him to get a master’s degree after two years of working.
“It might seem strange, but being in banking has challenged me to think more creatively than I ever have in my life. I’m learning. If I’m not learning or imparting something, what’s the point?
“My roommates had all these plans to be somebody someday, and the road to that was getting a master’s degree. I got influenced so I said if they wanted to do that, why couldn’t I?”
He took his master’s in business management at the Asian Institute of Management, where he admits he found his calling. But with the economy being so bad at the time, he was close to giving up and going home to Cebu to mind the family business. That’s when the banking industry came calling.
ABCs of banking
To be precise, it was Citibank’s Treasury department that beckoned.
Ahyong recalls that he applied without knowing much about the treasury business. But immediately upon entering the program, he knew that he had just stepped into a gold mine of opportunity.
“It dawned on me that people were dying to get into treasury — the heart and soul of banking. And there I was, given the chance to learn from industry giants: Treasury guru Victor Valdepeñas and foreign exchange guru Roy Lacsamana. That’s where I learned my ABCs of banking,” he says.
He went on to spend five years in Citibank’s Treasury department before he was set on another path in the banking industry when he started with American Express. He credits this change as the start of his career in private banking.
“I initially joined their Treasury department. But I was invited to join private banking after a couple of years because they saw that I was Chinese and could speak the language. Since I wanted to deal with people, it was an ideal change for me,” Ahyong says.
From there, he went on to join other foreign private banking institutions such as Banque Indosuez, Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale to establish or to grow their Manila offices. In his own words, his banking career has always been about treasury and private banking.
“Treasury and private banking are really just like different car models that have the same chassis. For treasury, you’re dealing with the banks’ money. For private banking, you’re dealing with your clients’ money. At the end of the day, it really is all about the people,” he says.
In 2006, Ahyong embarked on his first foray into the local banking industry when he joined the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., heading its Wealth Management group. “It’s the only local bank I have worked with. I’m glad I did because it gave me a good perspective of working for both local and foreign banks.”
In 2015, he returned to the milieu of foreign banks to assume the reins of the BOS-Philippine representative office.. In his mind, this was the perfect time for the transition, with the country beginning to prove its mettle as an emerging player in the international arena. He says: “As more and more wealth is created here in the Philippines, it is important for Bank of Singapore to reach out to these prospects and showcase its services and capabilities in the offshore private banking sphere. Gone are the days when we were known as a bond house.”
This was foremost in his mind when he dealt with the biggest challenge in his banking life: the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He describes this experience as the defining moment of his career as a banker.
“It was a painful experience to see what investors and businesses had to go through since they did not hedge their exposure. It had a profound impact on me in terms of viewing risk and diversification. We need to constantly help clients look at investments by considering what is the worst scenario that can happen and how prepared they are to absorb its effects,” he counsels.
Since BOS acquired ING Asia Private Banking in 2009, it has grown in size and stature to the extent that it now offers a full suite of investment products and ideas,” Ahyong says.
Throughout his career in banking, he has been establishing and growing new businesses left and right. This allows him to satisfy the creative marketing soul resting in his core as a banker. “It might seem strange but being in banking has challenged me to think more creatively than I ever have in my life. I have been the new kid on the block for so many times and I’m glad to be since I’m learning as well. If I’m not learning or imparting something, then what’s the point?”
While he credits treasury as where his foundation in banking was formed, Ahyong admits that he found his love for banking in the realm of private banking. On one hand, his marketing persona delights in finding new ways to help clients find solutions to their needs both current and future.
“I’m always dreaming or thinking of ways on how to do things better for our clients. I always ask myself how I can help solve their investment problems. I tell my colleagues we cannot just do nothing. There is always something we can do for our clients,” he declares.
“Bank of Singapore is an Asian private bank with a global perspective. Nobody understands Asian clients better than an Asian bank. Here in the Philippines, we have an excellent team of professionals that understands our clients and has established meaningful relationships with them over the years. It’s not uncommon for us to advise across generations in one family. We’re dealing, not just this client, but his family as well.”
Ahyong notes that banking has evolved a lot under his watch. He points out the tighter regulatory controls on anti-money laundering compliance, risk and data privacy the financial regulators have imposed compared with what was present at the start of his career in the mid-1980s. “The financial regulators are very much like doting parents in that aspect. They want to ensure that you are properly equipped to handle the changes happening in the financial world, that you are ready, equipped and capable to adapt to new requirements, guidelines and policies to ensure transparency and integrity at all times.”
Another change, he notes, is the advent of financial technology companies as major competitors of banks.
“Banks are undergoing massive transformation in their own systems, platforms using artificial intelligence, tools for data analytics and allowing clients to have ease of managing their accounts through various channels and mediums,” he says.
While Ahyong has taken a path different from that of his entrepreneur parents, Manuel Sr. and Mary Ahyong, he credits the work ethic they instilled to be responsible for his success. His father was an immigrant from China who crossed over to the Philippines to work for his father-in-law. To complement this, his mother was very modest and frugal.
“Whatever my father has acquired now was because of his hard work. He knew he had to work hard to put food on the table. He led by example. My mother taught us to spend only on things we needed. She always told us to do everything in moderation,” he says.
Ahyong believes that his parents’ simplicity was what guides him in life, both as a banker and as a family man. This is also what he hopes to impart to his five children. While it can be difficult to find time to enjoy as a family, he says they are lucky to travel once or twice a year to simply slow down and enjoy some unimpeded time together.
On weekends, Ahyong indulges two hobbies: golf and visiting the supermarket. The former he does on Sundays, the latter he does mostly to sharpen his mind. “I go to see what new products there are and how they’re marketed. I look at the packaging and try to see what works or what doesn’t. I also ask myself if the new products I see are something that people will buy.”
At the core of it all, Ahyong proudly professes his devotion to the Lord. He actively volunteers his time to serve in various church groups. He also dedicates a part of his day to pray and considers this a vital part of keeping his head in the banking game. “I owe it all to the Lord — my job, my family and my continued enjoyment of these. Why should I not find the time to continuously thank Him?”
He wishes to be remembered as a servant leader, who actively listens to his team and works as hard as they do for their clients. He is the first one to point out that he is the boss merely because of his years of experience and willingly listens to members of his team regardless of their position or age.
“I want to be known as a fair guy and one who walks the talk. It’s hard to pretend to be someone you’re not. So, I try my hardest to show my team and my family that I listen to what they say, I work with them to achieve their goals, and that I treat their success as my success.”
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WHAT made this man
Manuel Go Ahyong Jr. took a different path from his entrepreneur-parents, but it was still their work ethic that guided him to become the success he is today. He shares his bedrocks.
• My immigrant father led by example. Whatever he acquired was because of his hard work.
• My mother taught us to spend only on things we needed. Do everything in moderation, she told us.
• I dedicate a part of my day to praying. I consider this a vital part of helping me to keep my head in the banking game.
• I owe it all to the Lord — my job, my family and my continued enjoyment of all of these. I actively volunteer my time to serve in various church groups. Why should I not find the time to continuously thank Him.?
PHOTOS BY HERMES SINGSON
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