CIMB Group is keen to use its recent acquisition of some Asian assets from Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to help it expand rapidly outside its home market, focusing on Southeast Asia and China.
Nazir Razak, chief executive of CIMB, the second-largest bank in Malaysia, told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview he wanted to make better use of those RBS assets than Nomura did when it acquired Lehman Brothers' assets in Asia and Europe during the 2008 global financial crisis.
Nazir, who became chief executive of the group in 1999, said the Nomura-Lehman deal "didn't quite succeed" owing partly to difficulties with integration, which he tried to avoid in the CIMB-RBS deal.
Keeping local management and making different corporate cultures work together are two things that are key to making an acquisition succeed, he said.
"Today, [clients are] our investment banking customers; tomorrow, they may be CIMB's branch customers for transaction banking services," Nazir said during a business trip to meet some of the bank's most important clients in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the mainland.
CIMB agreed to pay US$140 million in April for some Asian assets of loss-making RBS, which was bailed out by the British government during the financial crisis. These include its cash equities businesses in Australia, Hong Kong and the mainland, India and Taiwan, as well as two equities distribution divisions in New York and London.
CIMB surprised the financial industry with the acquisition, beating bidders including BOC International, the investment banking arm of Bank of China.
Nazir said the deal "happened earlier" than he expected, but he had long considered such an expansion strategy, as he believed the "Asian century" could become the century of Asian banks.
"The Asian century has to come with Asia's own platforms, otherwise the Asian century could be just a Western-profit game," said Nazir, who has a master's degree from Cambridge University.
Before the CIMB-RBS deal was done, the Malaysian bank experienced difficulty building its business outside its home market fast enough because it had to go to each major Asian city, including Mumbai, Taipei and Seoul, to "do things one by one", he said.
"The investment banking business is still very small for CIMB … and we are not here [after the acquisition of RBS' assets] to be like anybody else," he said. CIMB's investment banking business now accounts for only 5 per cent of the group's annual profits, he said.
Nazir said the bank wanted to stay focused on its Southeast Asia-related business - such as helping clients to undertake mergers and acquisitions in Indonesia or get their companies listed in Singapore.
It did not harbour any ambitions of turning itself into a big global investment bank.