Tuesday, 27 June 2017

An interview with Ayala Corporation's Victoria Tan

She urged Ayala Corporation’s 49,000 staff to embrace risk culture. Now Victoria Tan faces fresh challenges as the face of Parima in the Philippines

Risk management in the Philippines, like many other Asian countries, is still a relatively new concept. But one so ly spoken risk professional – Ayala Corporation’s group head of risk management and sustainability, Victoria Tan – is on a mission to change that.

Born and bred in the Philippines, Tan entered risk management in the same way many of her peers did: by chance.

She began her career in accounting and internal audit roles, which saw her quickly climb the corporate ladder at corporations such as the United States Agency for International Development and telecommunications giant Smart Communications.

Then in 2013, she caught the eye of a headhunter for Ayala Corporation who asked if she might be interested in a risk management role.

Tan weighed up her options.

“I realised that in audit, you are doing a post review. But being in risk management, you are at the forefront and you are really helping the company to understand the risk and how are they going to achieve their objectives,” she says.

“I also realised I could contribute more if I am part of the team that will see things first – rather than at the back end and telling them, ‘This could have been better if you had done these things.’”

Another drawcard was Ayala Corporation’s reputation. It is well known as one of the best employers in the Philippines, and it has scale.

It’s the holding company for several different businesses – from real estate to telecommunications, utilities, logistics and financial services – with more than 49,000 employees across the conglomerate and a $10.5bn market cap, as of January 2017.

In fact, Ayala Corporation is so big that its chief executive and chairman, Jaime Augusto Zóbel de Ayala, was one of a handful of tycoons to attend a private dinner with the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, in January. More on that later.

Suffice to say that Tan seized on this prestigious company’s challenge. She says she hasn’t looked back. Her role today is to co-ordinate and align each of the businesses when it comes to their risk, insurance and sustainability strategies.

Naturally, the risks facing the various business units under the group umbrella – from Globe Telecom to Manila Water Company – are vastly di erent. But thankfully, when she arrived, the risk management systems across the group were already well established.

Initially, Tan believed she could make the most difference in the process improvements.

“My first objective was to increase risk awareness across the corporation,” she says. “Therefore we’re strengthening the risk culture.”

UNDERSTAND, CONSOLIDATE AND REPORT

The ‘black swan workshops’ are crucial.

“In those workshops, we have taken out the silo mentality and we look at risk on a holistic level,” she says. “It provides a collaboration platform for everyone to discuss risks and the mitigation plans, [and raises] awareness of mitigation consequences to the next person or the other teams within the corporation.”

Tan was also quick to establish an enterprise risk management (ERM) council, which encompasses all the risk practitioners across the group. One of its first projects was the development of a common risk language to make risk easier to understand, consolidate and report. “So, when you say ‘talent risk’,” Tan says, by way of explanation, “are you referring only to the recruitment risk or are you referring to the whole holistic process within HR?”

The combination of this common risk language and the ongoing introduction of a new risk management tool, developed by so ware vendor Ventiv Technology, has gone a long way to clarify the group’s consolidated risk register, which Tan compiles every quarter for the board and other senior management groups.

“I can now present to the group management committee, or to the CEOs, and say, ‘When we speak of regulatory risk, this is the definition,’ so they share the definition and have a common understanding.”

Regulatory risk is an interesting one for Ayala Corporation, and indeed for all companies operating in the Philippines.

The January meeting between the president and several business leaders, for example, was set up so that Duterte could lay out his plans to grow the economy and defeat illegal drug rings.

But it came just days after the controversial president had threatened to reintroduce martial law if efforts to clamp down on the country’s narcotics trade proved ineffective.

Tan wouldn’t speculate on what martial law might mean for Ayala Corporation, but she did say that the last time it was tried (under the Ferdinand Marcos administration, from 1972-81), the private sector suffered adverse effects.

It should come as no surprise, given this backdrop, that regulatory risk – and compliance to regulation – tops Ayala Corporation’s risk register.

“[With a] change of administration, you don’t know what will be the focus, so how do you move towards that?” Tan says.

“Of course, when the national government is changed, the local government also changes, because we have only one day that we elect local and national officials, so there’s a lot of new relationships that you need to interact with.”

Competition risk, disruptive technological risk and talent risk complete the combined group’s top five risks.

ON THE ROAD

Aside from risk management, Tan is also responsible for handling the group’s insurance optimisation strategy, in partnership with broker Aon.

Together they conducted a risk maturity index assessment of the company, which highlighted where it was above and below par with its peers.

This prompted the group to look at its risk transfer strategy and the quantification of risk, specifically looking at the benefits of a centralised insurance approach versus a consolidated one.

Tan reports that she’s doing a roadshow to each of the business’s units. Its purpose is to help them understand the results of the research, gather their feedback and enable them to move forward this year.

She also has responsibility for promoting and reporting on sustainability. It’s a marriage of roles that makes sense, she says.

“For us to be a sustainable and resilient organisation, we have to look into the three areas of sustainability: the environment, the society and the economy. And in looking at these areas we look at the different risks that they present,” she says.

“So our risk assessment processes and systems guide us when we look and assess these areas. We are always asking the question: what could go wrong? What are the risks that these things are presenting to us and how are we going to mitigate it?”

To consolidate the group’s sustainability strategy, Tan took the same approach she did with risk management and established a sustainability council with representatives from each of the business units.

Together, the group discusses all of the material issues related to the ‘triple bottom line’ of planet, profit and people. Right now, its key focus is mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re excited about this one, because this is the first group-wide project on sustainability, and we are targeting to reforest and protect 13,000 hectares of land,” Tan says.

She counts herself lucky to have strong support from management. “The tone from the top is very clear. We want to be a sustainable and resilient organisation and they are expecting that risk management will create value for the organisation.”

THE TIDE IS TURNING

Like many risk professionals, she says her number-one challenge is getting buy-in from employees on the value of risk management.

“They’re all busy, so how do you make sure that they give priority to risk management?” she asks. “Not just because it’s a KRA (key result area), but because it will help them.”

The tide has started to turn, though, if the group’s risk culture surveys are anything to go by. “The most improved part of risk culture is that they now have a person to talk to when it comes to risk management, and they know I’ll give them the time.”

The survey also highlighted where the group wasn’t 

doing as well. Chiefly, there was no formal incentive for employees to embrace the risk culture, and gaps were apparent in risk training.

To tackle the first issue, Tan worked with the group human resources and strategy teams to introduce

risk management into employees’ key result areas.

She addressed the second by introducing a new ‘risk management 101’ programme as part of the company’s induction processes, as well as a series of new events and training programmes for existing sta .

VAST POTENTIAL

Outside of Ayala Corporation, Tan has other professional commitments. In December 2014, she was invited to join the Pan-Asian Risk and Insurance Management Association (Parima) as board representative for the Philippines.

She admits she was surprised to be approached. In her quest for professional development, she had only recently discovered the association.

“I was really looking for an organisation where I could first of all learn, because I was new to the profession,” she explains. “So when Franck [Baron, Parima’s chairman] asked me whether I wanted to represent the Philippines, I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want me to be part of this?’” She laughs at the memory, in typically self-deprecating style.

Baron’s persuasive nature prevailed.

“He told me that it’s not only good for the company, it is also good for the country, and on that note I agreed,” she says.

“To elevate the [risk management] profession, not only in Ayala but across the Philippines, is really helping the Philippines to become a better economy. If you have more risk managers out there, then all of you are working towards mitigating risks and making each of these companies more profitable, more sustainable, and more resilient, and that’s good for the country, for the government and the economy.”

It seems that Baron’s instincts were right. Since launching in the Philippines with just 25 members, Parima membership has almost tripled under Tan’s stewardship. And she’s not stopping there.

As far as Tan is concerned, the potential to continue growing Parima’s membership in the Philippines is vast. To help in her efforts, the association appointed Susan Valdez, chief corporate services officer at Aboitiz Equity Ventures, as the country’s second board representative last November.

Together, the two women are busy preparing for the first major Parima conference of the year, and the first to be held in the Philippines. It takes place in Manila on 28 March (see box, below).

More than 150 risk professionals are expected to attend the event, and it’s this collective power of risk management that Tan is most passionate about.

She truly believes in the profession’s ability to help business and government leaders mitigate the challenges facing society.

“We can mitigate risk together,” she says, “not only as a corporation, but as a country.”

 

TYCOONS BOOST MANILA’S PARIMA CONFERENCE

The Pan-Asia Risk and Insurance Management Association (Parima) will hold its rst conference for 2017 in the Philippines’ capital.

Focusing on the theme of a “sustainable, resilient and intelligent future”, the event will be held on 28 March at the Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila.

About 150 delegates and 30 speakers are expected to attend.

Parima said the event would provide educational sessions and panel discussions to drive home the conference theme.

Ayala Corporation head of group risk management and Parima Philippines board member Victoria Tan told StrategicRISK that a highlight of the conference would be a session featuring the chief executives of two Filipino conglomerates: Jaime Augusto Zóbel de Ayala of Ayala Corporation and Erramon Aboitiz of Aboitiz Equity Ventures.

“We hope to have a CEO panel right after their speeches,” said Tan.

“We will also have educational sessions similar to previous conferences and will tackle issues related to human capital, political environment, business interruptions, innovations in risk management, cyber, reputation, among others.”

Tan said Zóbel de Ayala and Aboitiz will share their views on risk management and their expectations of their risk management teams.

 

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