Risk managers all love a nice long risk document, right? Not so StarHub’s Nigel Tay. Meet the man bringing on-the-ground collaboration, agile process and even fun to corporate risk management. Trust us, you’ll like him.
The most striking thing you note when you meet Nigel Tay is that he is fun. Really fun. Corporate risk managers are not always associated with fun. But then, Nigel Tay is not your average corporate risk manager.
As team lead of enterprise risk management and insurance at StarHub, Asia’s answer to Telstra and one of the three largest telcos in Singapore, Tay always knew this was where he wanted to be.
“I’ve always been interested in risk management. So after my stint in the Big Four, I went to a securities brokerage firm where I handled financial risk management and securities fraud. I also did some form of risk evaluation when the company was being sold to another company securities brokerage. That was my little foray into that financial risk area and I was hooked.”
He is described by one colleague as a “jovial breath of fresh air in an otherwise corporate environment”. Not words often associated with risk managers, but there is a sense that shifts are coming in that arena, and Tay will be a part of it.
Tay joined StarHub in April 2015, just as huge changes were afoot at the firm.
His mentor, Ryan Tan, now vice-president, mergers & acquisitions and corporate planning at the telco, came on board not long after this and was working hard to make the traditional slow-moving telco behemoth into a more agile, nimble firm better able to respond to the changing needs of its customers.
TAN’S RIGHT-HAND MAN
“Initially, I joined to ensure that the existing ERM process was operable and the insurance process was operable. Frankly, nothing fancy. I was just maintaining the risk registers, making sure the insurance queries are addressed. Very, very process-driven kind of thing.
“Things started to change roughly a year later when there was a restructuring. I think Ryan was just on board to lead strategy and M&A at that point and rationalised that risk management could fit under this function as well, so we were subsumed into that department, under Ryan. That’s where some of the real changes started to take place.”
Several times during our conversation, Tay stops, laughs heartily and goes on to tell me another amusing anecdote about Tan. You get the sense their working relationship is more brotherly than simply mentor/mentee.
“Ryan’s pretty much the person that gave me this opportunity to drive new initiatives. He is quite a progressive, forward-looking guy.” He stops and laughs again, adding: “Ryan doesn’t agree with me sometimes, but he is always very supportive of me wanting to try new things.”
Tay pauses, becoming uncharacteristically serious. “Ryan has had to make some integral changes to the business that were pretty painful. But from that, the company culture has improved. He came to me after making the changes and said: ‘I’m going to give you the chance to drive this and lead the department. Do you want it?’” Tay laughs as he tells me his response: “Yes, of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?!”
When asked about Tay, Tan had nothing but the highest praise. “He is a very proactive person, who is able to translate guidance into actionable initiatives.” He agrees that Tay’s “personable style also lends well to his ability to cycle between understanding and engaging with the ground”, adding, “I also like the fact that Nigel always tries to bring in cross-industry initiatives into his work; this is a trait that is valuable and hard to cultivate.”
COLLABORATE AND LISTEN
What about risk management style? Is he similar to Tan? Tay says so, but with a caveat. “Actually, my personal mantra is – and this is something I really tell myself daily – ‘there is no risk management if there is no business.’”
“So I usually try to position myself as more of a collaborator. I tell these guys I’m on their side. I’m not here to force a giant risk management framework or lengthy risk identification process. I don’t like very theoretical, textbook-style knowledge.”
“My style is to try to make it as simple as possible for everyone. But from their end, I want to know what goes on in their business. For me, it’s all about the quality of information I’m getting from my stakeholders.”
Tay is on a one-man mission to shed the old skin of risk management and embody a new way of thinking. His sense of fun and boyish charm means he gets what he wants from people by being one of them, not above them. “I don’t want to annoy people by sending them a very boring risk document to fill in. I don’t want to walk into a room and for someone to say: ‘Oh man, the risk management guy was here again. Great, we have a ten- page document to fill out,’” he laughs.
Tay believes he is starting to see a shift in company culture to his style – no small feat. “I can see people starting to be more receptive to trying new things. People are becoming more agile. They are not sticking to the old ways and saying: ‘I’m just going to do this. I’m not going to try anything else. Don’t bother me.’”
Tay believes the ability to be alert and responsive is absolutely vital to the way he works and the positioning of his role, which in turn helps to influence and shape his style of working within StarHub.
Tay is a passionate advocate for modern, agile risk management. He makes it is very clear throughout our conversation that he is not a believer in risk appetite statements or documentation for the sake of it.
“What I try to do with all these kinds of things is actually become involved in commercial decision- making from day one. For example, our risk team is involved in all forms of product development. They want our input to help them make more strategic decisions. And this helps manage the risk overall.”
“What I do is about much more than just risk management. It shouldn’t be siloed on its own in a corner of the business.”
MENTEE BECOMES THE MENTOR
So what does the future hold? I ask Tay where he sees his career taking him. While he says areas like product development could present some interesting opportunities, Tay is adamant he is happy sticking with risk management alongside Tan at StarHub.
“This role gives you exposure to a lot of different kinds of commercial and business processes. But my passion has always been risk management. Risk management will always be at the heart of what I do because it is where I started my craft . It is my thing.”
Tan believes Tay has huge potential. “It’s been a pleasure to guide and work with Nigel,” he says. “My aspiration and challenge to him is that, in time, he should take a leadership role in the local risk management community and pay it forward to the next generation of leaders in risk management.”
Tay believes this attitude of engaging with the new kids in town is key. “For the more veteran individuals in the industry, it would be worthwhile for them to give more opportunities to the next generation. They may be pleasantly surprised at some of the new ideas.”
When asked if there is anything else he wants to add, he, of course, laughs: “No, we’re cool.” It is hard not to laugh with him. Watch this space – this guy has potential and he isn’t afraid to use it.