Following the recent lacklustre performance of its Bangkok branch RHB Bank has chosen one of its former troops to revive the office's fortunes. The two-year search for a country head finally came to an end with the appointment of Chong Yih Tai, who started his career with United Malayan Banking, the forerunner to RHB, in Kuala Lumpur 20 years ago.
Tai will become the first country head in the 44-year history of RHB's Thai presence. To date the business has been run by the branch manager, but the erosion of the bank's profitability in recent years prompted management in Malaysia to search for a suitable candidate to take overall responsibility for the operation. Tai seemed a natural choice. He spent three years working at the bank's head office in Kuala Lumpur, followed by another six years in the Bangkok office.
After leaving in 1993 Tai continued to cover the Thai market in various positions at Sumitomo Trust & Banking, Cathay Trust and London Forfaiting, where he was chief country representative for Thailand, before setting up on his own in 2001 to trade distressed debt. And now he's back at RHB again. "It's like returning home."
Although the branch has a full banking licence it has struggled in recent years to put its Bt2 billion capital fund to good use. Tai plans to change that. "We need to bring the bank's name to the forefront of the Thai business community once again," he says. "Our loans-to-deposit ratio is very low so we will be looking to expand on the loans and advances side."
Tai hopes to do this by shifting the bank's focus away from small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) and to grow the customer base into new, more profitable, areas. "Subject to head office consent I intend to embark on a new direction for lending to the corporate sector instead of the SMEs," says Tai.