Interview with Adrian Tay, Finance Director of ERS Energy Sdn Bhd

Risk Management and the Financial Journey

As Finance Director of ERS Energy Sdn Bhd, Adrian Tay can look back on almost three decades of experience in banking and finance, to find a solution to practically any challenge he faces today. Having graduated in Business Organisation with Finance from Heriot-Watt University in the early 1990s, he found he still had a little money saved to part-fund his ACCA studies locally and went for it. With the ACCA qualification, he confidently applied for a position in one of the (then) Big 6 – and was soundly rejected. But there were no hard feelings. “Until today, I still think it was very nice of them to write back to me on it,” he said.

It was the prod he needed not to rest on his educational laurels; he took the next opening he could find – a banking officer’s position at Arab-Malaysian Merchant Bank. He did not know it then, but it was the start of a 15-year career that would take him through corporate banking, corporate finance and debt capital markets. He counts himself extremely lucky to have experienced both the debt and equity worlds in an investment bank, as he was ideally positioned to move to a senior spot when Danajamin Nasional was set up. “AmInvestment Bank supported Danajamin with client roadshows nationwide,” he said. “I joined shortly after, and in the blink of an eye, 12 years had passed!”

He started in the CEO’s Office first, and then moved to head Corporate Strategy before taking the helm at Risk Management and Compliance. It was here that he decided to get professionally certified, and signed up with the IERP®. “In my final year with Danajamin, I had two roles in two separate companies – Danajamin and Bank Pembangunan Malaysia,” he explained. “In Bank Pembangunan, I was the Head of Group Compliance.” He held the position of Director, ERM & Compliance with Danajamin until he left in December 2022. Admitting that he used to see risk as something negative that needed to be avoided, he said that this view evolved when he headed the Risk Management function.

“The ERM Professional Certification journey with the IERP® helped immensely,” he said. “It approached risk logically and focused on the practical aspects from the risk practitioner’s perspective. It was especially insightful to have engagement and sharing of experiences between fellow certification classmates, and the curriculum presenters.” After almost 30 years through the corporate treadmill, Adrian decided to take a break to focus on the home front and pursue personal interests but the siren call of industry proved too beguiling, and barely six months into what he thought would at least be a 12-month break, the ERS Energy opportunity appeared.

“I took the opportunity to work directly with visionary, energetic entrepreneurs,” he said, adding that he found them fascinating, even in his investment banking days. That ERS Energy is a renewable energy company in a sustainable industry, was an added attraction. A change of industry notwithstanding, he has found his past experiences in corporate banking, corporate finance, and risk management, integral to his role as the company’s Finance Director. He is quick to add, however, that as a newly minted Finance Director, he still hasmuch to learn. His role involves oversight of the company’s financial activities, including analysis, planning and managing budgets, among other things.

“All these are undertaken to provide strategic financial guidance for stakeholders so that the company’s financial requirements and objectives are achieved,” he said. “These are all risk management activities.” His professional risk management background was very useful when it came to ‘sizing up’ risk properly. “It has allowed me to prioritise the allocation of attention and resources to manage the trickier risks first,” he said. “Without considering the impact and probability of risk, I think sizing up risk would be rather subjective and abstract. I fine-tuned the principles of a risk framework, and used it to overlay existing activities required in my current role.”

Looking back on his storied career, he finds many instances where the greatest challenge of risk management lay in managing people. “When people do not understand risk management, they regard it as unnecessary or a bother,” he said. “It’s challenging to deal with this, and it gets exponentially trickier when their supervisors in leadership positions do not understand risk management either. When leaders are close-minded about learning risk management, subordinates similarly shut their minds. This is a negative ‘tone from the top.’ Managing people like these daily can be quite draining.”

Not one to give up, however, he intensified engagement with first-line leaders whom he found to be relatively more conversant with risk management and were open-minded. Over time, they came to view and appreciate risk issues the same way he and his team did, and it became easier to move the organisational risk culture forward. “We never stopped engaging with other as well,” he said. “We embedded risk management champions in the first-line but for this to be effective, Board support was critical.” Now that he is on the ‘other side of the fence’ so to speak, he works with his Managing Director and his team to set the tone on risk management but stresses that continuous engagement and keeping the faith were imperative, regardless of sides.

As a Finance Director with almost 30 years of experience, Adrian has some sage advice: the formal study of risk and risk management is very useful. “Invest in a certification programme,” he said. “Or attend key modules of a certification programme. It will be very rewarding.” Urging risk professionals to learn through mistakes – their own, and that of others – he said real-life issues, especially, help to effectively contextualise the theory part of risk management. The right soft skills and attitude are equally important. “We need to be honest and sincere to build trust to succeed,” he said. “There is a lot of engagement that comes with it. Admit mistakes, and learn from them.”

Professionals should also invest in themselves, he stressed. This can be done by linking up with credible certification institutions. Besides the IERP®’s professional ERM certification, he is a Fellow of the ACCA, a Chartered Banker with the Chartered Banker Institute, UK, and a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional with the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE), USA. A firm believer in professional certification and formal studies, he sees the knowledge gleaned from these as personal and exclusive to the individual. “That knowledge is yours and yours alone,” he said. “You will also expand a network of friends and fellow professionals who will support you.”

Amid the torrent of advice, he advises caution in certain areas, given the extent of human engagement necessary when it comes to risk management. “Have the humility and awareness to know that whatever we have achieved, it was not done alone,” he said. “We had the support and encouragement of many. Look after the feelings of others while being truthful. Be human. It goes a long way.”

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