Maybank Group's Chief Risk Officer Dr. John Lee on his plans for the year ahead and beyond

FY Teng

To grow our business beyond the Southeast Asia, we follow the trade flows from and to ASEAN markets. Outside of ASEAN, Greater China is an important region for us. Another is the Middle East. And to some extent, the South Asian market-India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka-is important for us too.

We also have presence in New York and London, which we have to maintain obviously because not only are they global financial centers, we need to be able to serve and support our customers' who transact with entities over there.

Please tell us a little more about your personal experience starting and leading your early initiatives at Maybank.
With all risk functions or risk departments in any bank, historically, the perception is that it is a compliance function, where the role is that of a gatekeeper. But we all know that the financial institution is essentially a risk-taking business. Of course, we need to manage our risks, we need to make sure regulatory standards are met and so on. What we wanted to do at Maybank was to transform our risk. Going away from being a gatekeeper to being what I would call a business partner.

Typically, the risk management role played here previously tended to be more of a reactive one. And we wanted to be more proactive, to get the business to look at risk more strategically, and to make sure that risk is seen as a competitive advantage. Ultimately, I wanted risk to be seen as something that would help us uplift our performance.

Talk about the credit quality improvement initiative you led.
The main objective of that project was to improve our overall credit quality in terms of the credits that we are taking.

Among the different areas we needed to enhance under this initiative, one is around our credit policies. We needed to make sure that they are streamlined, group-centric, clearly expressed and communicated, and standardised across the group. We also looked at how decisions are made, and sought ways to improve the quality of the decisions made, so that in the longer term we reduce our credit defaults. We believe we can make faster decisions without necessarily compromising the risk we take. We wanted to make certain that the process is consistently efficient, and at the same time have effective controls in place to ensure the risk is managed well.

Then we moved on to looking at how well we are monitoring those credits. That's about improving our portfolio management, improving our reporting and improving our proactiveness in managing the borrowers we have.

Essentially, the initiative is an end-to-end critical examination of the processes involved in our credit underwriting-looking at them from policy to origination to monitoring and reporting. We wanted to make sure we had and could provide a holistic review of our overall credit process, basically.

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