These have been invaluable during the many challenges thrown at us: from the Asian Financial Crisis via the Tech Wreck, the GFC, SARS, bird flu, the 2010 Bangkok protests up to the current ‘Bangkok Shutdown’. One of the protesters’ sites during the Shutdown was so close we couldn’t avoid hearing the constant music and speeches.
In all these instances we’ve ensured our team remained safe, our businesses kept functioning, our systems backed up offsite and our clients constantly informed. Whilst this makes demands on time, short-cuts would be extremely dangerous.
Commitment is a common thread running through all successful businesses. In any competitive endeavour, success rarely comes easily; although the many hours of hard work and sacrifice it takes to get to the top may go unnoticed at the time. I’ve been lucky to be in business with partners whose commitment has matched and sometimes exceeded my own but who all have different strategic skillsets, allowing each of us to focus on just one of the main areas of commitment we identified in the early days of setting up MBMG Group and to which we’ve tried to remain faithful ever since.
Clients come first
The primary commitment is to our clients. Co-founder of MBMG, Graham MacDonald, looks at everything we do from the client experience perspective. Everyone is an individual; therefore the client experience has to be tailored around different needs.
Graham believes that each day brings a fresh opportunity to communicate with every client. He evaluates how well we do this in several ways:
- Quantitatively – looking at statistics like client longevity (targeting a 99% annual client retention rate).
- Engagement (what percentage of invitations or communications each client responds to).
- Qualitatively, by asking clients for meaningful feedback; one client suggested an alert-generating ‘app’ linked to our valuations data.
We’re now trialling client reactions to this. Some of our biggest clients use the services of more than one adviser, enabling us to get valuable market intelligence on any client relationship developments that other institutions are introducing.
Faces that fit
An equally vital commitment is to our team. From the earliest days of a simple business model with just a dozen of us, we’re now approaching 100 people in four offices in Thailand, Singapore and Mauritius and a wide complexity of offerings and services.
Stability is absolutely vital to maintaining the group’s culture and as the business grows this becomes ever more challenging. A couple of years ago, I recruited a wholesale team of experienced corporate finance specialists. This turned out to be a mistake as they came with a business culture that simply didn’t fit. Consequently Todd Guest, who joined us from Barclays around six years ago, constantly focuses greatly on recruiting and building the right team.
Only the best
It’s vital to identify the right team members in the recruitment process and then motivate and reward them in a challenging and satisfying environment. Todd sets quantitative targets in terms of statistical performance and staff retention, as well as qualitative targets such as the regular staff feedback days.
Our third key commitment is to excellence: Jan Sumanus, group chairwoman, who also helped found MBMG, uses her legal and analytical background to identify and implement best practice across all the group’s business divisions and across every aspect from technology to personal development. Instrumental in identifying CFA as the relevant ‘gold standard’ qualification for our advisory team, she’s responsible for reviewing the suitability of our relationships with business partners. We recently resisted the courting of a major global professional services network because, despite many attractions of the arrangement, we perceived there to be a mismatch in outlook and philosophy.
Equally important is compliance. In Thailand a number of unlicensed businesses seemingly operate in the financial advisory space, in many cases with disastrous consequences. Usa Suwanchatree, group CEO, uses her audit and accounting background honed at Ernst & Young to demonstrate MBMG’s clear commitment to operating in a wholly transparent and compliant way in all territories and business divisions.
We also have major commitments to sustainability, our communities, the countries in which we’re based and the development of our professions. Each of these commitments is also headed by a senior team member.
So what do I do? My specific obligations are to continuity. Like my partners, I have to fulfil my commitments, even if that involves a great deal of hard work or sacrifice. We all realize that ultimately it’s worth it.