Datuk Abdul Farid Alias - President and CEO of Malayan Banking Bhd

FARID ascended to the top job at Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) under intriguing circumstances.

His promotion in August was quickly followed by the departures of two key Maybank executives, namely veteran investment banker Tengku Datuk Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz and Datuk Khairussaleh Ramli.

Five candidates had vied for the position, including Farid, Tengku Zafrul, and Khairussaleh, while externally Datuk Tajuddin Atan of Bursa Malaysia Bhd and UEM Land Holdings Bhd’s Datuk Izzaddin Idris were considered.

Given the leadership shake-up in Maybank, Farid’s immediate task will not only be filling the holes, but also finding capable replacements. 

And the competition is clearly heating up, what with Tengku Zafrul and Khairussaleh having assumed top positions at competing banks.

On a personal level, Farid will also have to overcome some level of obscurity, both within and outside the bank.

Until he was announced as Maybank’s new boss, few had heard of the low-profile 45-year-old, who is a two-decade veteran in finance.

The Harvard Business School alumni has also yet to make himself a familiar face among banking analysts.

But don’t write him off, industry observers say. Farid’s track record in helming the global wholesale banking division, which now contributes to 40% of Maybank’s earnings, was no lucky shot.

He also had stints at JP Morgan and was a director of investments at Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

Farid has given some guidance on his thinking. He told the media in November that Maybank “could have done a lot of things better over the last 2½ years”, noting that the bank had not taken on opportunities in “derivatives investments for clients”.

“Simple interest rate swaps, simple cross-currency swaps, these were left on the table,” Farid had said.

There is also a plan to enhance collaboration among the various regional banks under the group. For this task, insiders say Farid will tap Datuk Lim Hong Tat, a long-serving Maybank executive.

Meanwhile, analysts expect 2014 to be a tough year for Malaysian lenders with operations in Indonesia amid rising competition.

For Thailand, where Maybank has long eyed its own commercial bank, Farid appears less keen on M&As to grow the contribution of its overseas earnings to 40% by 2015, a target set under its five-year business plan. 

In 2014, the market is bound to learn more about what Farid has in store for Maybank.  

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