No-pay leave? CIMB Singapore says no, thanks

(Business Times) – Malaysia’s CIMB may be paring costs by offering staff across the group no-pay leave but its Singapore unit isn’t biting.

“We have been expanding all our businesses here,” country head and chief executive Mak Lye Mun told BT yesterday.

“I have increased my banking staff strength by 30 per cent since last year and 10 per cent this first quarter, and I’m looking to recruit more retail bankers as our operations here continue to grow. We need more staff to compensate for the lack of branches here.”

Although it does not have QFB status, CIMB has a full banking licence here and operates two retail outlets.

The fast-growing bank is also in the process of absorbing its investment banking unit, which is currently part of its CIMB Securities unit.

Amid weakness at home in Malaysia, CIMB has asked its employees in eight countries — including Singapore — to consider taking one to six months’ unpaid leave.

But as Mak put it: “Nobody in Singapore is taking up the offer, and I can’t afford to let anyone go.”

CIMB has grown its footprint here rapidly since it took over the securities and investment banking businesses of GK Goh four years ago. It has about 900 staff at its bustling securities and investment banking businesses and about 140 at its retail banking unit.

“There is some redeployment going on in the group here, but that is to meet shortfalls in our banking side,” Mr Mak said.

In less than three years, CIMB Singapore has grown its loan portfolio to more than US$1 billion (RM3.65 billion), while its deposit base is slightly higher, thanks to aggressive savings rates.

Its 1.8 per cent per annum Sing-dollar promotional fixed-deposit savings plan has attracted substantial deposits – so much so that the rate has been cut to 1.7 per cent.

The bank is currently working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore on a scheme to recruit and employ graduates.

And Singapore is the regional headquarters of CIMB’s wholesale banking notes business.

Mr Mak, who took the helm of the group here on Jan 1, after heading the investment banking unit for several years, is committed to — and confident of — growing the business.

“We have seen deposits grow 40 per cent year on year and loan growth has been about 20 per cent,” he said. “We are in a very comfortable place and in a good position to grow further.”