Drawing on experience

Mr Suripong draws a picture during Visa Volunteering Day. Pete's Philosophy is a Facebook page created by Suripong Tantiyanon, Visa's country manager for Thailand, to give inspiration for life and work to more than 100,000 fans. He made the page for fun three years ago during a short career break after resigning from Siam Commercial Bank (SCB). Mr Suripong, 44, writes all the articles, draws a cartoon character called Pete and does the administration himself. The page doubles as a forum where dispirited employees can seek career advice.

Two pocket books with a selection of stories based on Pete's Philosophy have been published by Amarin Printing, and a third is on the way. Mr Suripong spoke to the Bangkok Post about his life and work. Mr Suripong runs the Pete's Philosophy page on Facebook as a forum for giving advice and inspiration.

Q: What is your favourite article?

It's called "Price and Worth". I have a favourite chair whose price was quite high, but it had been scratched every day by my daughter since she was three years old. Each new scratch always pissed me off until I changed the way I thought about it and realised that the scratches in the future would remind me of my kid's tender years. My kid is now 10 and she stopped scratching my chair a long time ago. Now, every time I sit in the chair and see the scratches, I think the scratches are worth so much and the chair's value should grow more and more as I get older. It will be a happy moment when I see the scratches 20 years from now, when my daughter is married.

Q: Who is Pete?

Pete's nobody. It's just a 30-year-old cartoon character on my Facebook page. He's that office guy that inspires everyone. There's not much to the name Pete, it's just a simple name and it's easy to remember. I first write the story on paper, then draw a cartoon to go along with it. Then I take a pic of the cartoon and post it on the page.

Q: What do you wish for your kids?

Let's just say that in the next 20 years I hope to see my daughter married, and I hope to laugh with her when I see that ragged, expensive chair. I have two daughters. The older is 10 and the younger eight. They are interested in art, so my wife and I let them pursue their passion. The world changes. Children choose their ways as they like now. Many high-potential people are not doctors or engineers. All fields can build great people these days.

Q: Why were you attracted to finance and banking, despite earning a degree in political science from Chulalongkorn University?

After finishing my bachelor's degree, I started working at Lowe Thailand, an international ad agency formerly known as Lintas. I worked at the agency for a few years, then started overseeing co-branded credit cards at Citibank. That was my introduction to the financial industry. At Citi, I worked on Royal Orchid Card, a co-branded card by Citi and Thai International Airways. Citi Thailand was a good banking school for several local bankers, especially in the retail banking sector. I joined the bank about five or six years before being promoted to country marketing director. I stayed at international banking firms for eight years before joining SCB as head of the credit card team.

Q: Why did you move to a local bank?

Because I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about a wider variety of banking areas, including loans and deposits, from all customer segments at SCB. I learned a lot about cardholders by working on SCB's cross-selling strategy. A cardholder may require other financial products and services from the large local bank. And a bank has to supply these needs to keep the customer, and to open opportunities to expand to other businesses. With about 14 million accounts in different segments, SCB faces the big challenge of responding to all of their requirements. At the time, that was a fun job for me. In terms of finance, there are several interesting things apart from plastic cards. I wanted to explore these other things, so I decided to move from Citibank, even though I had greater opportunities for promotion there.

Mr Suripong and his family during an overseas trip.

Q: Did moving to a local bank give you culture shock?

Not at all. At the time, SCB was expanding its business operations and recruiting younger-generation executives. The bank's culture was a balance between existing executives -- whose experience was a great asset to the bank -- and the new generation. I was the head of SCB's credit card department for three or four years. Then I moved to the mass customer segment. Back then, SCB paid more attention to digital banking and business platform development. I was appointed head of digital banking, which also supports the mass client segment. In my new job, I had more opportunities to create financial products and services that responded to retail customers of each sub-segment. Digital services cover loans, deposits and investments. Digital transactions offer convenience, but also another venue to help customers build wealth. Before joining Visa, I helped set up the foundations for the credit card payment system in the local market. I also followed my childhood dream by joining with friends to open the small Royal Beauty skincare business, which distributes products to 7-Eleven.

Q: How did you arrive at Visa?

In 2015, Visa Thailand chief Somboon Krobteeranon was looking for a replacement, and he approached me. He asked me if I was interested in Visa. I said yes. Mr Somboon built up Visa Thailand for 20 years, and the search for a new country manager was not an easy job. I talked with him several times and he finally got me an interview. After that, I went through a tense four-month interview process.

Q: Do you feel pressure in filling the role of Mr Somboon, who practically became the symbol of Visa Thailand?

It's a challenge rather than a pressure. I came to Visa at a time when digitisation was prompting big changes in the payment solutions market.

Q: Why did Visa pick you?

I think because of my experience in payment and digital banking. During my interview, Visa said that a digital and open platform was needed to fulfil the company's mission of providing "the best way to pay". Partnerships, collaborations, shared application programming interface (API) and the sharing economy are the new business models. I didn't think those models would work. But now, we have seen this change at Visa and in the financial market overall. Change is important, but adjusting and coping with change is even more important.

Q: Do you think your connection with the younger generation made Visa pick you?

No, I don't think so. My experience fits in with Visa's requirements and that was the key point. I am not an engineer or a technical guy. I worked in plastic card products and digital banking. I had relationships with retail consumers, merchants and other financial institutions, both locally and internationally. My experience would help guide Visa towards greater digitisation. And, by and large, I have fulfilled this expectation.

Mr Suripong at Visa Thailand's head office in Bangkok.

Q: What is the greatest challenge in the financial and payment sector?

Learning. I acknowledge that I have many things to learn. Despite working in payments for a long time, payment technologies have been always changing. We also need to adapt that knowledge and learning for the rest of the world.

Q: What has been your favourite job?

I launched a lot of credit card features and campaigns, but my favourite job was a donation project for the 2010 Haiti earthquake. I oversaw credit card business at SCB, and we launched a reward point campaign for Haiti. The campaign received a very good response from SCB cardholders, who contributed 70 million reward points for an 8-million-baht donation in only one week. For me, this project showed that you can help others and persuade others to help without using money.

Q: What do you want to do next?

I want to go back to being a teacher. I used to be an adjunct lecturer at Thammasat Business School. I really don't plan for the next five or 10 years. I just enjoy doing my best for now. I want to let life unfold itself through attempts, intentions, happiness and discipline. Some people pick between their careers and their happiness. Luckily, I have both.

Mr Suripong says the Pete character is a 30-year-old office worker based on nobody in particular.

Mr Suripong says his Pete character is a 30-year-old office worker based on nobody in particular.

Mr Suripong says his Pete character is a 30-year-old office worker based on nobody in particular.

Mr Suripong says his Pete character is a 30-year-old office worker based on nobody in particular.

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