Pursuing computer programming in addition to business studies allowed Noor Menai to get his finance career started at some of the biggest banks in the world. It also sent him circling the globe before landing in Los Angeles.
Noor Menai, 50
Title: Chief Executive of CTBC Bank Corp.
Bank: CTBC Bank
Rank, Local Deposit Market Share*: 30, 0.24 percent
Residence: Rolling Hills Estates
Family: Wife, Sadya Siddiqui, and children, Nabinoor, Vali, Ameer and Meschal.
Activities: Reading, music, family activities.
Years in L.A. area: 5
*As of Oct. 30, 2015
Born and raised in Pakistan, Menai came to the United States in 1986 for undergraduate study at the University of Rochester in New York. He also earned his M.B.A. there in 1990 with a specialization in finance, computers and information systems.
Menai got a job at Manufacturers Hanover in New York (now part of JPMorgan Chase & Co.) in operations, running the IT division that handled reporting. Drawing on his background in artificial intelligence, Menai said he designed the bank’s first sales management system, which would crunch customer analytics in order to suggest appropriate products and services to sell to a client.
In 1997, he joined Citibank, where Menai said he developed a patented program that synthesized credit card data to generate more timely reports on economic indicators such as retail sales and consumer confidence.
Implementing the system was a coming of age for Menai as his colleagues walked him through the litany of regulatory hurdles he’d have to overcome to make his program a reality and develop it as a product.
He became a managing director and earned a move to London, where he was tasked with refining the sales and marketing processes for the emerging markets division of Citibank’s corporate investment bank.
Unlike the process-driven world of consumer finance, Menai describes investment banking as more akin to elephant hunting, where it’s all about the big prize.
He left in 2006 to become chief executive of Charles Schwab’s new San Francisco bank – part of the brokerage’s effort to broaden its small profit pool. However, he chose to continue living in London and commute to the Bay Area.
But Menai said it became clear that Charles Schwab wasn’t ready to give him the autonomy he needed, so he left a year later to co-found Fajr Capital, a sovereign wealth fund-backed investment vehicle based in Dubai, London and Malaysia. The plan was to acquire and consolidate thousands of tiny banks in the Middle East to help bolster the region’s economy.
Menai later got involved in a similar situation in Asia when he joined CTBC’s Taiwan-based parent company, then called Chinatrust Commercial Bank, in 2011. Menai said his friend Mike DeNoma had become chairman of Chinatrust in 2009, when the view was that Chinese banks had plenty of capital but were lacking expertise. DeNoma invited him to lead global governance for North America, Hong Kong, India and Japan, among other markets.
Menai was put in charge of North American operations the following year and by the end of 2012, he became chief executive of Chinatrust Bank (USA), now CTBC, and moved to Los Angeles.
Question: How have your bank’s clients and their needs changed since the bank was founded?
Answer: Demographically, they’re the same (Asian emigrants and investors). What drives them is the same. What’s different is their wallet, their balance sheets, their pocket books and their ambitions. And a lot of them have moved here permanently. They have families here, so we’re now dealing with the second and third generation of people we did business with 15 years ago.
Are there any new business lines you’ve established in the last few years to serve the evolving needs of your clients?
This phenomenon we are experiencing right now, all this overseas investment from China, a huge amount of investment money is coming from ownership. A lot of Asians want to own houses in the U.S. That’s not a very easy product to get into if you’re new to the country because you don’t have a credit history. We can do that underwriting based on our understanding of a borrower’s job there, so when he says he works for XYZ Services, I know them because my branch tells me, “I can see them from my window, it’s a great company.”
These people are not looking for a loan, they’re looking to build their financial identities in the U.S. and we help them do that.
How does this compare to other finance jobs you’ve had?
When you’re in large banks, you think, “Oh, I could do this in my sleep. I’m the master of the universe. I’ve done these deals. I could go run a community bank.” Take it from me, this is the most interesting and the most strenuous job I’ve ever had.
What do you think is unique about your background compared to other bank leaders?
My uniqueness I think is because of the multiculturalism – having grown up in a different country and then having lived on three different continents, and having received a super-concentrated, cutting-edge, Western, technical kind of education in banking and finance. When you combine those things together, you see that that’s really what’s needed if you want to be an international banker.
How does that influence your management style?
It makes me very, very humble in the sense that you realize there are things that are appropriate for community banks. You cannot reach for the stars. You aspire to serve the people you can see out of the window.
What’s unique about how your bank handles its clients?
If you’re ethnically Asian, there is a way of showing your respect. You can’t put your feet up in front of a Chinese client. If an older person walks in, they automatically get respect in Chinese culture. It has nothing to do with how much money you have. They’re called ancestors. Ancestors aren’t dead, ancestors are living. Ancestors are my grandparents. If my grandparents are alive, I give them more respect than I give to my parents. So when an older person walks into a branch, you don’t say, “What is it? What do you want?” You are nice to them. They don’t get that when they’re going into any other place. It’s like, Take a number. Our branches have this nice mixture of people who understand ethnic banking and people who understand process. You also have to be able to cut through a lot of noise and you can’t do that unless you’ve lived there.
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