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Her story has become a modern-day legend often told to inspire young people freshly graduating from the Bank of the Philippine Islands’ management training programs.

A living testament that Southeast Asia’s oldest bank has a place for new and promising talents, Maria Theresa Marcial-Javier is the youngest member of BPI’s senior management team, having made it to the rank of senior vice president even before turning 40.

Javier—who has the enviable combination of good looks, congeniality and a knack for wealth management—heads BPI’s asset management and trust group which is responsible for managing over P700 billion in assets.

‘’I have been lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Leading the asset management and trust business of the country’s most venerable banking institution is a significant career achievement not only for myself but also the leaders of this business before my time,” she tells SundayBiz.

Years of experience

Javier has 19 years of experience in investment research, portfolio management, trading and investment firm operations and business strategy.

Joining BPI after graduate school in 1995 initially as a bond trader, she enlisted in the bank’s six-month management program and has never left the bank since then.

Now 42, as the chief investment officer and chair of BPI asset allocation committee, her daily tasks include overseeing the investment process for domestic and foreign currency fixed income and equities mandates for various institutional and individual portfolios, unit trusts and mutual funds.

Youngest in team

She feels greatly honored to be the youngest in BPI’s senior management team. “But I must say that BPI’s senior executive team is getting younger. The most important thing indeed is we have the privilege of learning from the wisdom and the strong culture of professionalism and excellence of our senior leaders today and even those who have retired from the bank. I guess that is the biggest benefit of my long tenure in BPI,” she says.

Javier has made it this far with BPI, the most valuable bank in the country, primarily because she believes and takes pride in this institution. Our business embodies BPI’s tradition of innovative and trailblazing spirit by introducing several firsts in the Philippines such as index-tracker funds, Internet access to portfolio reports, investment funds online, and technology-enabled wealth planning,” she says. “But to stay differentiated, we should sustain this innovative culture at all levels of the organization.”

Background, mentors

Prior to joining BPI, Javier started out as an economic policy researcher at the National Economic Development Authority.

She graduated cum laude with a B.S. Economics Degree from the University of the Philippines Los Baños in 1990 and finished her Masters Degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines in Diliman in 1995. She also attended the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program in Spring of 2010 in Boston and before that, completed the CFA Institute Investment Management Workshop also at Harvard Business School in 2006.

Asked whom she would consider as her mentors and what she learned from them, she cites three key people. From BPI president Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III, she learned “many leadership insights and thinking strategically.”

From her predecessor Tito Legasto, she learned ‘’being courageous and relentless about pursuing business and investment strategies” she believes in.

Emil De Quiros, who headed BPI’s insurance business before joining the state-owned pension fund Social Security System, she got “playing cool under pressure and appreciation of spiritual dimension as a source of energy at work.”

Travel and R&R

Javier, who is married to a fellow banker, Reuel Javier with whom she has a daughter, Annika Isabelle, likes traveling with her family and friends to unwind.

“It enriches the self, strengthens relationships and widens our view of the world. Seeing places, near or far, in style or out of style, is a great learning experience, aside of course from getting the break for rest and relaxation when you most need it,” she says.

Stress, for Javier is but a state of mind. In every workplace, she says there are many forms of challenges—pressure, problems or the negatives.

“That same workplace is a source of happiness, fulfilment, wealth—call it the positives. If the negatives outweigh the positives, it’s time to move on and do something else. A friend always reminds me, life is short,” she says.

For now, however, Javier is on a continuing mission. Asked what she would like to be as her legacy, she says: “to be an enabler of what I call wealth, wellness and happiness for every Filipino.”

Industry leader

“I have also been fortunate to be given the opportunity to serve the investment industry as president of the Fund Managers Association of the Philippines (FMAP) for two years, together with a highly engaged and passionate board who are just as eager to bring the fund management profession to a level of recognition that befits its place in the financial sector. I have seen it grow and I’m convinced we are just in the early stages and we expect better things to come,” Javier says.

JAVIER loves to travel but only has one child

More recently, Javier also became president of the Trust Officers Association of the Philippines. She says this has given her a broader perspective of the trust business.

“And together with my colleagues in the board, we have taken small but meaningful steps to strengthen governance of the industry as we collaborated with our regulators to pursue reforms and capital market development initiatives,” she says.

Having been in the wealth management business for many years, Javier says she has seen “major transformations” in many aspects of the business—from the size and depth of Philippines capital markets, the size and scale of the trust and investment management industry as well as the level of customer understanding of investment funds and trust products and solutions.

“Where we are today is significantly more advanced than the financial market landscape when I joined the industry,” she says.

“This is a very interesting time to be in the trust and investment management industry. The range of investment solutions and wealth management products that are being offered in the market is constantly expanding. With growing client sophistication and the search for returns from an ever-expanding investment universe, the role of asset managers has become more and more important and relevant. Over the years, clients have increasingly sought investment advisory and portfolio management services from professional asset managers,” she says.

BPI’s over P700 billion in clients assets stood 40 times larger than when Javier first joined the business. The industry has likewise grown by 6.5 times to P3 trillion since she joined BPI in 1995, she says. Over the same time frame, she notes that bond market capitalization has surged to over P4.5 trillion from only P1 trillion and stock market capitalization to about P5.5 trillion from just over P970 billion.

“The Philippines sits right on a sweet spot in its economic history at an unprecedented time filled with opportunities. Despite the many threats and challenges in the Western world; in this country we are seeing strong economic growth, low inflation, low interest rates, healthy external position, improving country governance and favorable demographics, and right here, we have a domestic capital market that is developing and it can only get better,” she says.

What important advice will she give to budding Filipino investors, especially the young people? “Investment is a long term commitment. Have the discipline to invest regularly and consistently. Everyone who earns money must have the propensity to invest part of that money and there is no reason to say one does not have enough. The Philippines offers many opportunities so the time to invest is now,” she says. (Doris C. Dumlao, Philippine Daily Inquirer)



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