29 DEC 2023

Alain Law Min: Pierre Guy Noel was immensely patriotic and firmly believed in the success of Mauritius...


Alain Law Min ends his career seven years after his appointment as CEO of MCB Ltd and after 28 years of laying the groundwork for the bank’s future. He opens up to us one final time.

Your retirement at the end of 2023 coincides with the passing of your long-time colleague, former MCB Group CEO Pierre Guy Noel. What will you remember him for? 

I am devastated to lose a long-time friend and colleague of nearly 34 years.  In fact, Pierre Guy was the first person with whom I collaborated when I joined De Chazal Du Mée in 1989 after returning from the UK, and we never parted company until his passing. This long-term working relationship and friendship, especially over the last 27 years at MCB, stood the test of time amidst numerous challenges faced by our organisation but, above all, with the celebration of many successes.

I would like to pay tribute to an exceptional individual for his vision towards the development of the group, the banking industry and the country.  In his own discreet manner, Pierre Guy was immensely patriotic and firmly believed in the success of Mauritius as the driver towards the success of our population and of our group. Above all, behind his sharp mind, Pierre Guy was profoundly humane, compassionate, generous, accessible and caring towards all employees, from senior to most junior levels. Pierre Guy’s legacy will live on based on those strong values encapsulated in the group’s vision, “Success beyond numbers”, which defines long-term sustainable success for our organisation, our employees and our country.

Upon retirement, I was looking forward to spending time with Pierre Guy over some of his favourite meals.  Instead, I will cherish the good moments we spent together over more than three decades.

What a lovely tribute. When your former colleagues speak of your work, change seems to be a constant. They highlight, in particular, the vital work in Retail that has changed the look of the branches and MCB’s very notion of customer service. They say you were the driver of Finlease and Factoring, among many other things. It must feel good to be remembered in this way?

It certainly does, although I must admit to feeling pleasantly surprised by some of the things that people still remember. I have been fortunate over the past few months to be reminded of the positive impact that some of the changes have had on colleagues, our organisation and our customers. However, change is not easy, whether you introduce new products and services or bring about the transformation of an existing business. I remember how painful change was for many colleagues at the outset of the Retail transformation, but in the end, once they could see the tangible benefits of the change, they were grateful to have gone through it. I reckon that change will be a recurring theme, it being, as you say, the only constant in our fast-moving world.

As Head of Retail, you said that the different population segments experienced the bank differently and that MCB’s biggest challenge was ensuring that all segments were adequately served. Do you leave with the feeling that this has been accomplished?

The best way to serve our customers is to understand and anticipate their needs.  In addition, it is important to realise that customers do not look for banking products but rather for solutions to their needs.  For example, a lifetime need of an individual customer is the acquisition of a home and for many, a mortgage is only a means to achieve this. Customer segmentation has enabled us to understand our customers’ expectations better and to propose financial solutions to meet such needs.  We have gone a long way in segmenting our client base, both for individuals and corporates. It is an ongoing journey that requires continuous training of our staff and a constant refinement of our service model. However, the ultimate objective must be the segment of one, i.e. the ability to adapt our services to each individual’s needs and ways of life. Technology and data can help to achieve this, but it entails other considerations, like the use of the customer’s data.

Technology has already transformed banking, and as CEO, you were known for your commitment to digitalising banking services. How do you view the industry’s progress locally? Is it going faster than what society is ready for?

Well, I think the figures speak for themselves – 550,000 people use our mobile app, Juice, representing more than half of the country's adult population. Juice has become a household name and is used across segments, from managing one’s accounts to making payments. One of our strategic priorities at MCB is to transform our product and service delivery by creating a world-class customer experience through digitalisation. This has required massive investment in technology platforms and the alignment of our processes to deliver our products and services in a simple, rapid and convenient manner. Unfortunately, digitalisation is at different levels of development across both the private and the public sectors, which indirectly affects adoption by the population.  This dichotomy is mirrored at the country level. On the one hand, you have sectors like the courts of justice where you can only pay cash for your fines, and on the other hand, you have institutions like the Mauritius Revenue Authority, which is very advanced in terms of digitalisation.

Speaking of dichotomies, does it also apply to MCB? In Mauritius, MCB is a big fish in a small pond, and in the region which is gaining prominence in the group’s activities, it is a small fish in a big ocean. How do you balance both identities/roles?

I do not think there is a dichotomy, even though it could appear so from the outside. We cannot contest our size in the local pond (laughs….), but in my mind, in the region, we also need to be a big fish in the market or product segments where we operate! Our strategy of extending into Africa was never to be everything to everyone but rather to be relevant in the markets where we have expertise. I go back to the notion of segments – in Africa, we are relevant in the market segments that we serve. For example, in Nigeria, MCB is not known within the universal banking customer base, but in the oil and gas trade finance sector, MCB is top of the mind. It is also the case for our Global International Corporate segment, where MCB is well known among Private Equity funds and Regional and international corporates investing in Africa. We want to specialise in niche areas where we can bring our savoir-faire and expertise and be relevant to those groups of customers.

Throughout your tenure as CEO of MCB Ltd, MCB Group has been recording record profits year after year. Has it ever troubled you, the too-muchness of it?

It does not trouble me as long as we live up to our responsibility of being a good corporate citizen and fully play our role as a strong partner alongside the public sector to ensure the resilience and development of our country and its communities. Strong banks are especially important in small economies like Mauritius, particularly in the face of adversities such as the recent pandemic or climate-related destruction.  We need to be able to withstand shocks and support the local economy in case of need.

Equally important is our role in supporting the country’s development. For instance, we have been a strong supporter of the Government’s initiative to develop the renewable energy sector as part of the ‘building back better’ initiative for Mauritius. As you know, Mauritius has committed to a 60% share of renewable energy in our energy mix by 2030, and bank funding will be essential in achieving such ambitious targets.

In the past, we have been at the forefront of financing the key pillars of our economy, such as textile manufacturing and Tourism. The multiplier impact of those key pillars was spectacular since it raised the living standards of our population, created new opportunities for small and large enterprises and led to the prosperity of our nation.

You and late Group CEO Pierre Guy Noel were the initiators of MCB’s purpose, “Success Beyond Numbers”, focusing on sustainable and local economic development, the protection of cultural and environmental patrimony and individual and collective wellbeing. Has it been a challenge aligning this purpose to the business?

Our success is intimately linked to the success of our country and its people, and we have always felt that it was our responsibility to play a leading role in ensuring the prosperity of our nation.  This guiding belief is encapsulated in our sustainability engagement, and therefore, aligning this purpose to our business seemed obvious.  We are still in the early days of our sustainability journey, although we have made good progress with respect to sustainable finance, gender and the local economy. I am proud of the achievement so far. The challenge is to make our engagement ripple across the whole organisation, particularly among employees not directly involved in the current initiatives, by integrating sustainability into how we operate, serve our clients and design our products.

SBN also has a national reach. Is there any collaboration with the public sector on this question?

The collaboration between the public and private sector is essential if we want to make material progress. MCB was recently part of a delegation led by the Minister of Environment to participate in the COP28 in Dubai. This is very promising as public-private partnership is essential if we want to move the agenda forward on important issues such as energy transition, development of the local economy and climate risk adaptation and mitigation.  

So, what’s next for you as you leave the bank?

When I started my career in Mauritius, my dream was to start a new business and become an entrepreneur. Looking back, I am happy to have been given the opportunity to be an intrapreneur – an entrepreneur within the organisation. This has enabled me to innovate, undertake new projects and transform existing businesses. As I embark on a new chapter in my life, I would like to continue with new ventures.  I recently acquired an agricultural plot of land with a full-grown orchard. I am excited about discovering a new activity and seeing it with a fresh pair of eyes. Who knows where this will lead me? (Laughs…)

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