Krishna Subramanyan recently joined Bruc Bond as CEO of the company’s Asia-Pacific hub, Bruc Bond Singapore Pte Ltd. Now that he’s had time to get comfortable in his new role, Krishna found a few minutes to lay out his vision for the company in a chat with Konstantin Bodragin, Brüc + Bond Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief.
KB: Hi Krishna, welcome aboard! Tell me about yourself. What journey brought you to join the team at Bruc Bond?
Krishna Subramanyan: Hello, Konstantin. Thank you.
I am engineer from one of the premier institutes of technology in India. After working for 6 years in customer-facing roles with the Dutch MNC, Philips, I went to the US to get a fulltime MBA in International Finance with a rarely offered full research scholarship. I returned to India to lead GE’s new product development for local and export markets. Those were the days when the engineering, innovation and growth crown-jewel of APAC was India, and not China.
I moved to Australia on a 1-year business acquisition/integration role for GE, before coming home to Singapore to head the APAC Regional Regulatory & Compliance Excellence program for GE Capital that had a giant presence globally. The last 15 years, particularly in financial services regional function head roles, enabled me acquire a strong and unique skill-mix of engaging in and providing senior management level direction, and on some occasions, credible challenge, to complex financial needs across segments such as balance sheet funding, private equity, structured finance, consortium-lending & book-running, real-estate finance, credit card processing/issuing/merchant acquiring, leasing, lending, factoring, mortgage finance, personal lending, investment banking, correspondent banking, trade finance and vanilla checking and savings accounts in retail banking. I have had the chance to hold regional head/director roles in leading industry brands such as GE, Macquarie Bank, Scotiabank, and most recently, Citibank, which brought many opportunities to work with key regional regulatory bodies on risks and controls.
KB: Why Bruc Bond?
Krishna Subramanyan: In Singapore, the government is a keen supporter of financial services. They are willing and wanting to create a regulatory environment that promotes excellence while innovating in financial services. We at Bruc Bond have to grab this space where the big banks are seen as slow to innovate and the rest of the willing applicants are yet to demonstrate significant expertise, infrastructure or dedication to innovate for institutional clients – it will come, but a few years down the line.
At the same time, businesses are now migrating into Singapore, attracted by its stability and supportive environment. This is the window of opportunity, here and now with Bruc Bond.
KB: The product you are offering does not exist in Singapore these days, why do you think your product/service will make it in Singapore?
Krishna Subramanyan: There are “push” and “pull” reasons for why we will succeed.
We are an extremely attractive proposition for clients with complex existing banking relationships and for clients just now entering the Singapore/APAC market as we speak their business language to ensure stable banking relationships that meet our client business needs. We simplify banking for our clients through use of precise banking language translated to a specific business circumstance and provision of a fit-for-purpose, secure and open banking platform.
KB: Every year, more than 50,000 companies are formed in Singapore. Could you tell us about what challenges they are facing? What approach do you take with them?
Krishna Subramanyan: The challenges vary dependent on the type of business, ownership structure, banking needs, etc. Often the complexity of legitimate business needs is not well understood by a single banker. There is strong dependence on his or her own business background and understandably so.
This is where we excel.
KB: There are more than 200 banks operating in Singapore. What sort of challenges such a crowded field presents? Are there many opportunities?
Krishna Subramanyan: Banks here, as indeed in other developed economies, have become acutely aware of their cost vs risk positioning. They are in the midst of re-arranging their portfolios, including exiting certain client segments. This is by no means uniform. Making sense of this requires us to partner with both banks and our regulators in understanding the broad direction. This combination of strengths uniquely enables us to serve the needs of both our client segments and banking partners.
We do not seek to compete with banks but partner them in achieving multiple goals, including theirs.
KB: What does your morning look like?
Krishna Subramanyan: I seek to start my mornings with partners in the banking and payments industry, including bankers, compliance officers, technology providers, financial risk professionals and industry forum office bearers. The conversations are extremely valuable and inform my and my team’s approach and currency of client interactions for the day.
KB: What makes working in Singapore different from the rest of the world?
Krishna Subramanyan: You will be hard-pressed to find another location where Innovation is Govt-enabled in a high-energy, cross-cultural, stable, colourful and fast-paced environment whose sky-line changes every 2 years. In Singapore, we appear to have taken Bill Gates seriously at the right time on his prophesy that “we need banking, but not banks!”
Our regulator acts as a key enabler for industry while ensuring a well-regarded supervisory regime through a combination of clear guidelines, responsive and informed presence, and keenly leading through enabling technologies in the regulatory space.
Our Fintech festivals are quite a show attracting the world’s leading talent, regulators, providers, educators, and want-to-be-players for a week-long sharing of knowledge, technology, ideas and progress in an open for all and easily accessible space.
KB: How do you decide which people to hire? What kind of people are you looking for?
Krishna Subramanyan: I look for industry-specific certifications and ability to communicate using relevant examples. Communication, as can be imagined in our circumstance, has to be tailored to the business context in front of us. So, experience in diverse businesses is a very helpful skill-mix. It starts at the very top in Bruc Bond. Our founders have a rich background of running multiple businesses, including successful on-line educational platforms that, by design, bring together expertise and precise communication.
Diversity of cultural backgrounds for our staff cannot be overstated. We speak to business leaders operating across the globe with intent to partner with them and proving them solutions. In one sentence, a diverse cultural background, with the ability to combine financial and business knowledge into practical and tangible outcomes/advice will remain key success factors for our people.
KB: Adaptability is critical as a company scales. How adaptable is Bruc Bond as a company?
Krishna Subramanyan: As we say internally, we are essentially in the communication business – touch-able, feel-able communication. For us, adaptability is not generational – it is an hourly, daily activity. We therefore turn on a dime to meet this goal on a daily basis, including hiring the skills we need to adapt better, faster.
KB: How should Fintech companies think about customer relationships and influence in 2020?
Krishna Subramanyan: Increasingly there is understanding that Fintechs are not fungible. Even the idea that technology is the centre-piece of every business solution would be a mistake in priorities.
To have successful customer relationships, influence and longevity, companies must do the hard yards to understand the nuanced needs of their customer’s business first and develop a shared view of how it will evolve in the medium term. Fintechs must have the skill-mix and demonstrate to their customers that they share their vision and have the plan to keep up.
KB What advice do you give to SMEs or larger companies regarding their payments and banking set-ups?
Krishna Subramanyan: SMEs have demonstrated significant adoption rates for new payment methods and banking relationships, partly driven by the “push” reasons we spoke about earlier. Adoption rates are likely to increase even more in APAC. In the EU, SMEs are the biggest employers in most jurisdictions and the scope of adoption of Fintech is expected to ramp up considerably to keep pace with consumer/employee trends. It makes sense for SMEs to consolidate their payments and banking through a single window and focus on what they do best in their core business, rather than attempt to maintain multiple points of financial engagement. Fintechs are, meanwhile, focused on addressing the evolving needs in this space. There is considerable momentum here. SMEs in the US are yet to join the play.
Larger companies are late to the party for their day-today payment needs. We must concede that their banking needs tend to be more broad-based that a single Fintech will be hard-pressed to support at this time. These larger companies will soon begin to segregate their “routine” vs “core” financial functions. The idea is to identify “Corporate” and “BU” [Business Unit – Ed.] finance teams to decide on “Shared” vs “Managed” services depending on the organization’s assessment of risk vs control requirements.
We should see the space crystalise in the next 2 years and therein lies the Fintech opportunity in BU functions covering multiple subsidiaries that can be moved to a shared model with adequate oversight controls. Regulated Fintechs with the required skills and speed-to-market, such as Bruc Bond, will have evolved to be uniquely placed in addressing this need.
KB: Very good. Well, Krishna, we wish you luck and quick success in your plans for Bruc Bond Singapore. Again, thank you for making the time for this chat.
Krishna Subramanyan: Great, Konstantin. It’s my pleasure.