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Euromoney, February 19 2019

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Euromoney spent a day in Jakarta in February with Bank Mandiri executives past and present as they approach their 20thyear of existence. In our own 50thanniversary year, it was a useful reminder of just how much things can change in a relatively short space of time.

It is easy to forget just how drastic the Asian financial crisis was in Indonesia. History has it that the crisis started in Thailand, which is true, but Indonesia took the hardest hit, the sharpest devaluation. In mid-1997 a dollar bought 2,600 rupiah; there were days in the subsequent months the rate hit 14,000. By May 2008 there were riots in the streets of Jakarta. Suharto, the ultimate strongman, fell after 31 years as president.

It was in the midst of this carnage that the newly-minted Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency, IBRA, hit upon the idea of wedging four troubled state-owned banks together to create a new one. It was the most miserable genesis of a bank imaginable. All four were in trouble for one reason or another; they had little obvious synergy in combination; and the bank was launched into the teeth of a gale, with corporate balance sheets wrecked, the economy in pieces, exchange rates pinballing around from one day to the next and the whole country undergoing the most significant political change in its history.

It didn’t work straight away, and mis-steps as well as successes have followed, but last month Mandiri announced a 21% increase in its 2018 net profit to Rp25 trillion (US$1.78 billion), at the same time that NPLs dropped to 2.75% from 3.46%: the holy grail of growth and improving asset quality at the same time.

What’s really striking in speaking to executives, though, is the way that the crisis forced innovation upon the bank. Nobody had ever really attempted anything as preposterous as the formation of a bank in such circumstances, so from the outset they had to try new things, and that continues today, with launches into new niches, digital innovations, and now the prospect of taking on retail competitors in Vietnam and the Philippines.

We can learn something from this. The industry faces exacting challenges from the macro to the micro level, from an unpredictable US president to the minutiae of regulation. But the best ideas are squeezed out of difficult circumstances when there’s just no alternative to ripping the whole thing up starting again.


Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Chris is a journalist specialising in business and financial journalism across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is Asia editor for Euromoney magazine and has written for publications including the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, Forbes, Asiamoney, the Australian Financial Review, Discovery Channel Magazine, Qantas: The Australian Way and BRW. He is the author of No More Worlds to Conquer, published by HarperCollins.

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