An avid footballer, martial artist, and competitive arm-wrestler, Simon Calasanz is very aware that 95% of Fortune 500 CEOs played college sports. “Playing is fun, but I play to win. That competitive team spirit translates to the business world. I might not be the best player or the fastest runner, but my teammates look to me for leadership and encouragement,” he says.

Throughout his career in South East Asia’s dynamic financial services industry, Simon has used the skills he learned on the field to get ahead in business. In fact, it only took him 14 years to get to the top of the industry.

Now as President and CEO of credit card provider RCBC Bankard Service Corporation (RCBC Bankard), the 38-year-old is still focused on personal and professional development in and outside the boardroom. “Leaders must be good communicators and equally good listeners. They need to articulate their vision so teams understand the organisation’s direction,” he says.

Simon Calasanz, President and CEO of RCBC Bankard
Simon Calasanz, President and CEO of RCBC Bankard

Formed from Bankard, a pioneer in the Philippine credit card industry, and banking industry giant Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), RCBC Bankard now carries the widest range of credit cards in the Philippines. “The first thing I did in 2015 was to check the financial health of the portfolio. With around 500,000 cards, it was a medium-sized portfolio generating a decent return on capital – I was happy I had inherited a good egg.

“To take it to the next level, we mapped a three-pronged strategy focused on new accounts growth, portfolio management to maximise profit, and optimising digital technology to increase operational efficiency. At that time, our technology was almost 10 years behind industry standards, so it was crucial to bring us up to speed,” explains Simon. In the two years following, RCBC Bankard grew its portfolio by a massive 60%, went from PHP10 billion to PHP17 billion in receivables, and doubled its profits.

“As well as representing a strong quarter of RCBC’s core income, we were the fastest growing credit card company of scale in the industry in 2016, and one of the top three in 2017,” says Simon. “As a medium-sized card issuer, 60% of our new accounts come from external channels such as direct sales agencies, and RCBC Bankard is now one of the preferred products they sell.”

To complement this offering, Simon will continue diversifying the firm’s sales and acquisition channels. “The Philippines is home to 100 million people, but only 4% have credit cards. Nevertheless, studies have shown that around 20 million are creditworthy, so there is great potential for market penetration.”

“We were the fastest growing credit card company in the industry in 2016, and in the top three in 2017.”

Last year, Simon helped drive the company’s rebranding in line with its new promise, ‘We believe in you’. “It shows our unwavering support and trust in the indomitable Filipino spirit, encouraging people to turn their passions into reality – whether it’s travelling to a dream destination, building a new business, or purchasing a new home or car.”

The message also resonates with a wider and more diverse audience, particularly millennials, who are now a third of Philippine’s population and about 25% of ASEAN’s. “This tech-savvy generation is also financially knowledgeable and expects individually tailored banking products and services, which RCBC is poised to deliver.

Fast facts:

In 2017, RCBC Bankard received five prestigious awards including ‘Best Loyalty and Rewards Program’ at The Mastercard Innovation Forum Awards; and ‘Best Loan Offering’ and ‘Highly Commended-Best Card Offering’ at the Retail Banker International Asia Trailblazer Awards.

With this new branding, we want to offer an easier, more accessible and rewarding banking experience for present and future clients.

If we don’t change and adapt, we’ll be extinct before we know it.” Following a hugely successful 2017, Simon says 2018 has already presented a major hurdle with the new IFRS 9 Financial Accounting Standards.

“Across the industry, credit provisions are viewed to increase. To combat this escalation in provisions, we’ve been working hard to grow our portfolio, maintain a low delinquency rate and boost our profitability,” he says.

“My vision for the next 10 to 20 years is to hit five million credit card customers, or around a 25% market share of creditworthy Filipinos. To achieve that, we will have to utilise the new technologies and credit scoring tools that are being tested for a rollout in 2019.”

Just as in football where teamwork is essential, Simon makes a point to form a strong bond with his staff and key stakeholders, such as regulators. “As an industry leader and a key partner of government, we must continue to promote financial inclusion to contribute to nation-building in the Philippines,” he adds. “The goals we’ve put forward are challenging, but if we all work together and live by our company values, it will make the journey a lot easier.”

If we all work together and live by our company values, it will make the journey a lot easier.