Alumni Story: A 37-year Career in Asia Pacific Continues

After 19 years at J.P. Morgan earlier in his career, Cezar "Bong" Consing now leads the oldest bank in Southeast Asia.

As a young banker traveling to China in the 1980s, Filipino-born Cezar “Bong” Consing remembers walking alongside civilians wearing gray Mao suits. A Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Tiananmen Square represented one of the only multinational companies in Beijing at the time.

Emerging Economies and Attracting Talent

During his nearly two-decade career with J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong and Singapore, Consing, who is now President and Chief Executive Officer of Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), had a front row seat to the emergence of China and India as key players in the global economy.

“Sitting in Hong Kong, you could see how China boomed as it adopted a market economy, and the rest of Asia was carried by it,” Consing said. “There was huge growth.”

Consing helped hire J.P. Morgan’s first American-educated mainland Chinese banker and was also among the first to attract talent from business schools in India. Chinese and Indian bankers “helped shape the region and the global economy,” he said, “and now they form a very strong component of the talent pool in Asia.”

Steeped in History

Returning to BPI after his years at J.P. Morgan and a role at The Rohatyn Group, Consing has been in charge of running BPI since 2013. He first joined BPI as a full-time employee in 1980, when he worked in its Corporate Planning and Corporate Banking departments.

“Our goal has always been to maximize shareholder value,” Consing said, “and our metrics are pretty efficient.”

Founded by Queen Isabella of Spain in 1851 when the Philippines was a colony of the Spanish empire, BPI is the oldest bank in Southeast Asia and the second largest bank in the Philippines by market value. For a long period, it was the country’s currency issuing bank and became a regular commercial bank around the turn of the 20th century when the U.S. occupied the Philippines.

Current Focus

Recently, Consing has been busy increasing BPI’s focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as microfinance, to meet growing financial services needs from micro entrepreneurs. The company’s microfinance unit, BanKo, has opened 70 new branches across the country in nine months.

The business “is still small,” Consing said, “but it’s growing so fast that it will quickly change how we’re perceived in this market.”

An Eye on the Future

As a long-time business leader in the region, Consing has his eye on how China’s ever-growing influence on markets, both regionally and globally, will impact Asia. Also top of mind is the long-talked about plan by Southeast Asian nations to form an economic union modeled after the European Union. “That’s proceeding more slowly than people expected and any union is likely several years away,” Consing said.

Building from a foundation

With his focus on the future, Consing still recalls his earlier years at J.P. Morgan as a foundation for strong connections that still exist today.

He joined J.P. Morgan in 1985 from BPI, of which the firm owned a 20% stake.

“I thought it would be a two-year stint,” he said. “It became a 19-year career.” J.P. Morgan wanted to bring a young banker into its growing investment banking operation in Hong Kong.

When his two years were up, the head of Asia at the time asked Consing to stay; he did and focused on loan trading, capital markets, and mergers and acquisitions. In 1991, Consing was the client banker on the firm’s first ever lead managed IPO since Glass-Steagall for Ayala Land in the Philippines. He was responsible for all of J.P. Morgan’s investment banking business in the Philippines, then in Southeast Asia and ultimately, in Asia Pacific. From 1999 to 2004, Consing served as President of J.P. Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd.

Consing also represented the firm on the BPI board for five years, and led the deal team that helped sell J.P. Morgan’s stake in BPI to the Development Bank of Singapore in 2000.

“The most important thing J.P. Morgan taught me was the value of being thoughtful and disciplined and working very hard,” Consing said. “And also, the old saying ‘Do first-class business in a first-class way.’ Those three things really stuck with me.”

Surround Yourself with Great People

Consing also highlighted his colleagues as having a meaningful influence on him while at J.P. Morgan and after. He still counts many as friends and had the opportunity to learn from former colleagues who have gone on to lead top companies and organizations around the world.

“The J.P. Morgan alumni network is very strong,” Consing said. “I look back and realize the great talent I worked with. Those relationships stay with you.”

Working with top talent taught him you have to hire and develop the best people you can afford, he said, because “it’s the people you work with that will produce the results.”

“You surround yourself with great people,” Consing said, “and you can all do great things.”

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