Paul Poh

Head of Risk Management and Quantitative Analysis, CIMB Bank, Singapore, Singaporean, 36

Could you tell us about your background?

Equipped with a Bachelor’s in Accountancy from Nanyang Technological University and a CPA qualification, I started my career with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country’s central bank and financial markets regulator, as a risk manager. My role was to examine the financial risk of the authority itself, which arises from both positions that it manages directly and funds outsourced to external fund managers. I stayed at MAS for four and a half years and while there, did a Master’s in Financial Engineering from the National University of Singapore as well as the CFA and PRM programmes.

My next job was at United Overseas Bank, a leading bank in Singapore, where I oversaw market risk for a year, analysing the Value at Risk and the sensitivity of the trading positions. After that, I worked for the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), one of the country’s sovereign funds, for over a year. I was part of the enterprise-wide risk management team, overseeing the company’s fund management operations and analysing the risks and returns of GIC’s portfolios. After which, I worked for a year or so at CIC, a French Bank, doing middle office work such as marking to market structured product positions and performing profit and loss attribution.

I have been in my current job for five and a half years. I work for CIMB Bank, a Malaysian bank, where I am in charge of risk management in Singapore, covering market, credit, liquidity and operational risks. My responsibilities include monitoring the day-to-day funding, liquidity as well as trading positions of the bank, controlling the credit risk of the loan portfolio, and also dealing with operational risk i.e., with the processes and controls of the bank. My role extends to the bank’s brokerage arm, CIMB Securities, as well. I am also in charge of quantitative model validation for the treasury products offered by the group across the region.

You seem to have been quite successful and have already earned the right to add a few three-letter abbreviations and acronyms after your name, why go for a PhD now?

I guess this is as much for personal fulfilment as it is to support my professional role. I want to contribute more and focus on certain areas in which I am involved. Risk management has many unanswered questions and has been hit by one crisis after another; I want to address some of these questions and to do so I have to take this step further in my educational ‘career’. In particular, I am interested in studying how a firm’s risk-management related governance can contribute to a firm’s success from this angle.

Why did you choose this particular programme?

In fact, I had been scouting around for a while, looking for a PhD or another programme with a strong research component. In my decision to apply to the EDHEC-Risk Institute PhD in Finance, the format of the programme, its focus, and the quality and profile of its faculty all played an important role. Programme duration is manageable and the block-week format of the course makes it easy for me to fit classes into my schedule. The topics covered and the research expertise of the instructors tie in very well with the questions I intend to pursue.

Do you think there are benefits to having a majority of professionals in the class?

Having practitioners in the classroom provides insights into what are the current issues in the industry, what research questions are relevant to the industry, and how to take into account the industry’s perspective in addressing these questions. This benefits all participants. Networking benefits are another added-value of having the majority of programme participants on the executive track.

Have there been a-ha moments over the course of the first year?

It is hard to point to specific moments, but the corporate finance course has been particularly insightful. Corporate governance is of the highest importance in the banking industry, but doing it right requires a lot of support at every level. The course provided me with a solid understanding of the research done on corporate governance issues as well as helped me understand what the important questions are. I can easily relate to the research, being in a middle to senior management role, where one needs to oversee implementation of the governance policies and ensure that ongoing issues are being addressed.

How much do you feel a research degree is relevant to a risk manager like you today?

I think there is always relevance, even at a senior management level. A senior risk manager who has background understanding in a given area, will be in a position to provide insights to the organisation in that particular area. Applying new approaches, say modelling extreme risk beyond value at risk, implementing new methods to hedge tail risk, running stress tests, etc., is something all risk managers need to be looking at on an ongoing basis; you do not need a PhD to do that, but the training it provides makes readings a lot easier. Finally, with a proper PhD programme that allows for customisation via elective courses and supervised research, you can build research expertise in areas that are useful to your organisation or otherwise correspond to your interests.

Who do you think this programme is for?

Practitioners involved in the day-to-day operations need to master very specialised areas of knowledge and would greatly benefit from a programme like that; I am thinking of people like those who validate models, of the risk managers to some extent, and of course of the investment managers. Senior management can benefit differently: they need the background to understand the issues that their staff highlight to them and beyond this, to make their own informed decisions instead of simply relying on reports and recommendations from their juniors.