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Mr. Nigel Romano – Sector Head Financial Services, ANSA McAL Group of Companies
ANSA McAL’s Nigel Romano: Sound Corporate Governance to keep Financial Sector steady
After many years with global financial institutions like Citibank, RBTT (now RBC Royal Bank) and major accounting firms like KPMG and Ernst & Young, in Trinidad, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, ANSA McAL’s new financial services sector head, Nigel Romano, brings a wealth of experience and a broad knowledge base to the Group.
Romano, who has been in this position for less than six months, feels at home in the largest conglomerate in the Caribbean, the management of which he believes is an example of good corporate governance.
“Why the ANSA McAL Group? I believe that it is well-managed judging by its growth and results over the years and is the largest conglomerate in the English-speaking Caribbean, if not the entire Caribbean, with sixty companies and over 6,000 employees. When you add to that the opportunity to work with Norman Sabga, Group Chairman, and Dr. Anthony Sabga, Chairman Emeritus; it was an offer I could not refuse” he said.
A confident and upbeat Romano told the Business Guardian this two Tuesdays ago in an interview at his office at ANSA Centre, 11c, Maraval Road, Port-of-Spain.
The Group’s financial sector includes ANSA Merchant Bank, Tatil and Tatil Life in Trinidad; Consolidated Finance Company and Bryden’s Insurance Inc. in Barbados.
Romano, who has spent most of his career in banking, said that the insurance side of the business would be a new “challenge” for him. “I have never worked in the insurance industry, I have worked in public accounting, banking and finance. It’s a challenge because it is a very interesting time in the industry. We will focus on growing the Tatil Life and Tatil General businesses to realize the promise of our logo ‘ … where people are people.’ Based on what I have observed TATIL has two major strengths embodied in that mantra: the loyalty of its employees and the loyalty of its customers.”
He remarked that “the financial sector has done very well despite being impacted by the turmoil in the international financial markets because we have a diversified portfolio lead by a strong asset finance business, where we primarily finance the cars and heavy equipment sold by our automotive sector in Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados.” He also assured shareholders and customers that the ANSA McAL Group is prudently managed and invests in businesses that we know and understand.
“Our portfolio also includes the asset/wealth management business, where customers, attracted by the strength and integrity of the group, invest in our mutual funds. Our promise here is again sound management and we work to ensure that clients earn a reasonable return on their investments without putting their principal at risk.”
The core merchant banking advisory business has also grown over the last few years and is a respected participant and advisor to financial institutions, governments and corporations in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean.
He is confident that ANSA McAL’s financial services sector will weather the storm, locally and internationally. “We can expect a period of muddling through, both locally and internationally. The investing landscape will need to be negotiated very carefully as the Europeans work out their debt problems and the US grinds through another presidential election process. However, he is optimistic and does not expect a repeat of what happened in 2008/2009. Corporate balance sheets are stronger than ever and the private sector is performing well. Therefore, there are good investment opportunities but the counsel of experienced and qualified investment advisors will be critical. We are poised to capitalize on investing opportunities when the local and international economies take off. Success will require discipline, hard work and sacrifice. The Asians continue to show us the way. We also have many local examples from our fellow Trinidadians and Tobagonians – those who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. I know we can do it,” he said.
Romano remains optimistic about the sector for 2012. “The focus will be on new product development in Tatil Life and partnering with TATIL General’s agents and brokers to enhance our customer service and streamline our claims process across all lines of business. In the Merchant Bank, we will be focused on our wealth management business, launching new investment products, and working with corporates to ensure that they have the most efficient balance sheet structures for their operations” he said.
MORE POWERS FOR REGULATORS
Romano described this period as an “exciting time.”
“I think the international capital markets and the equity markets in particular will have a good year in 2012. The local capital markets should also do well lead by the forecasted 1.7 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the T&T economy.”
Speaking about the insurance industry in 2012 he said new legislation would be important particularly the changes to the Insurance Act, the effectiveness of which will depend on execution. It will give regulators more powers to intervene. That should help. The important thing is that the oversight has to be ongoing and a lot more frequent. “You do not want to wait until end of year to find out that something is going wrong. Some areas will need to be continuously monitored. The quality of reporting will be critical. And the regulators must be competent and committed professionals.”
Romano said new trends internationally will also affect the way the banking and insurance industries operate. “There are changes that are coming internationally, including the move toward a risk-based capital model for insurance, especially life insurance, and the changes to accounting for insurance proposed by the International Accounting Standards Board, which should encourage even more synergies between insurance and banking.”
Romano also spoke about the importance of establishing T&T as the financial centre of the region.
“A key to sustained job creation would be to make T&T the financial hub of the Caribbean; if you will, the London, New York or Hong Kong of the Caribbean. There is very little preventing us – we have the legislative framework, an open economy, the best climate (hurricane free), the biggest economy and we have managed our fiscal affairs very soundly. These are the important strengths. We now have to get the crime situation under control, improve the electronic infrastructure and demonstrate to our people the benefits to be reaped from discipline and hard work. Get the regulation right. Get the transparency right. Get the work ethic right. And we will be able to attract quality investors.”
GOOD GOVERNANCE AND CLICO
Romano asserted that the leaders of the ANSA McAL Group have not let down their shareholders because they uphold and value the highest principles of corporate governance.
“For me, financial services is about trust and trust is about character and competence. Do the people who you do business with treat their customers and shareholders fairly and with integrity? If you look at the history of the ANSA McAL Group, there is no doubt that you are dealing with serious businessmen and people of integrity. You have the Group’s founder and architect, Dr. Anthony Sabga, an astute entrepreneur, who still works a full day, is as sharp as a tack, and imparts his knowledge and experience as the Chairman of the financial sector companies to the team. We have Norman Sabga, the Group Chairman, our demanding leader, a man steeped in the business who knows and understands each sector intimately, ably assisted by a team of dedicated professionals who have kept and continue to keep their promises to customers and shareholders.”
Given the results of excess and poor governance across the globe as evidenced by failures of financial institutions, including our own ‘Clico’ debacle, Romano said the principles he referred to are now more important than ever.
“As a result of the Clico situation a lot of people lost money because the institution did not live up to its promises to its customers and the investing public. A similar lack of good governance, in this case imprudent fiscal management, is the root cause of the European crisis with developed countries, the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), defaulting or threatening to default on their sovereign debt.
He boasts that ANSA McAL’s leaders have kept their “promises” over the years.
“There is a lot of concern by depositors and investors about the current investment environment and the need to find companies in which to invest that will live up to their promises. That’s why I joined this group. This is an institution that is financially sound, well managed that I believe will continue to deliver its promises to its shareholders – a bastion of stability in this crazy environment we now live in.”
He also spoke about the initiative outlined by the Government in the budget to have small and medium enterprises (SMEs) listed on the local stock exchange and how a conglomerate like ANSA McAL serves as an example. “We believe that the recent incentives to small and medium sized enterprises in the 2012 budget will provide opportunities for these enterprises to professionalize their operations and access the more efficient funding mechanisms available in the financial markets and ANSA Merchant Bank is ready to assist.”
“We will look at helping SMEs in their financial planning and balance sheet structuring activities. I think there is great opportunity with the new legislation where we can help the family type companies follow the ‘ANSA McAL model’ where Dr. Sabga and his family took on the challenge of going public. Going public requires discipline and the willingness to be transparent to the investing public supported by a foundation of good management. The ANSA McAL Group took on that challenge and delivered on their promise to their shareholders, who have benefited as a result.”
He said ANSA Merchant Bank, through its Investment Banking arm, would use its expertise to assist SMEs. “We have the expertise in our merchant bank to guide them to the debt and equity capital markets.” He called this initiative by the Government an “excellent” one. “Entrepreneurs will have to professionalize their operations; to subject themselves to the oversight of regulators and that means they must have proper management, proper accounting, proper disclosure and of course, they must pay their taxes like everyone else. A lot of these people will be looking for professionals to help them run their ‘family’ businesses. It is a way to unlock the value of the family business and put something aside for future generations. Generations who may not want to get into the business. That, for me, is a significant opportunity.”
NIGEL ROMANO’S BIO
Romano joined the ANSA McAL Group on July 1, 2011, and was appointed sector head on August 5, 2011. “I’m an accountant by profession and member of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of T&T. I have been a banker by occupation since 1988.”
“My career started with KPMG in 1977, then one of the big eight accounting firms, now one of the big four accounting firms. I spent nine years with them. I then joined Citibank as its Chief Financial Officer (CFO) here in T&T where I worked for six years before joining Ernst & Young, another big four accounting firm, in 1994 as the tax and corporate finance partner.” Romano’s next move was to seek out new horizons abroad.
“I then left T&T to rejoin Citibank in Indonesia as the Country CFO in 1996. It was an interesting experience – while there I witnessed the Asian financial crisis first-hand, saw what happened when people lose confidence in a currency and had a ringside seat at the end of the Suharto era. I then moved to Hong Kong where I assumed responsibility, as Regional Quality Director, for Citi’s corporate bank’s quality initiatives in 19 countries before returning to the finance function as Citi’s Corporate Bank Deputy CFO for the Asia Pacific region. After a short stint as the Regional Controller of Citi’s Consumer Bank in Asia, based in Singapore, I returned home and joined RBTT as chief operating officer in 2005. After 18 months I returned to Asia to run Citi’s Asia Pacific Shared Services business based in Manila. Five years later we returned home. I am married to an ex-Citibanker and have three children. I enjoy reading, running and hiking.”
December 22, 2011