Scott Engle, Group Treasurer at AIA, shares with Treasury Insights what made him join the treasury profession and how he has sought to add value to Asia’s largest life insurer.
What do you believe is the role of the modern treasury professional?
I believe that it is the job of treasury to provide the Group with cost-effective financial flexibility. This means making sure AIA has the appropriate financial resources to take advantage of opportunities as they come along, allowing the business to meet its ambitious growth objectives.
Please talk us through your career. Why treasury?
After graduating from Columbia University, I began working on the corporate lending desk with Bank of America in New York, before receiving the opportunity to move to Tokyo to support the bank’s growing franchise in Japan.
After several very happy years in Japan I decided to move back to New York and joined Citi, heading up the bank’s Insurance client coverage business. It was then that I decided to think about shifting over to the corporate side to experience what it was like being on the other side of the table.
The opportunity arose shortly after and I became Treasurer at AIG Consumer Finance Group. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next, however, when the crisis hit. The company was hit hard by the financial crisis and as a key crisis team member, I was tasked with maintaining and allocating scarce liquidity across all international bank subsidiaries.
I joined AIA in Hong Kong in 2010 after the spinoff from AIG and haven’t looked back. I was given a blank canvas to work with and a long to-do list and have worked hard to build an efficient and best in class treasury department that can support the business’ growth efforts across the region.
Can you provide some examples of this work?
Of course. A lot of the focus has been building out AIA’s external and internal financial capacity. I have also worked to position treasury as a strategic department working closely with the business to deliver solutions that support AIA’s on-the-ground operations.
For example, in China – a country that demographically has all the attributes that make it a perfect growth market for a life insurance company – we have been supporting the business’ digitisation efforts. Most notable is our work around collections and disbursements.
This means building seamless digital integration with our banks to drive straight through processing and enabling collection and payments to be made using popular platforms like WeChat Pay and Alipay. These are crucial elements when it comes to creating a first-rate user experience for our customers.
What excites you most about the future of Asia and the future of treasury in the region?
I am a close observer of the developments in Asia’s economic and financial infrastructure. One area of particular interest is the advances in payment systems and the proliferation of instant payment methods because, as a business that collects and pays to consumers, AIA stands to benefit from these developments.
The region’s capital markets are also of interest as I see some game-changing developments happening. The dollar has been dominant in the region for some time and because of this, local currency capital markets have not developed as robustly as elsewhere. However, the importance of the dollar is starting to be balanced by other currencies, notably the RMB. This, tied with increased wealth creation across the region, will lead to the expansion of local capital markets, which will prove incredibly important moving forward from an investing and resource access perspective.