One year on, Chris Taylor recounts to Joyce Njeri how winning the ‘Chartered Accountant of the Year’ award catapulted him to the top position of CEO of Abu Dhabi Finance…

GROWTH CURVE:I am proud to say that shortly after receiving the ICAEW award, I was elevated to the position of CEO at Abu Dhabi Finance. I wouldn’t link the two events directly but I am sure the award helped!

I am proud to say that shortly after receiving the ICAEW award, I was elevated to the position of CEO at Abu Dhabi Finance. I wouldn’t link the two events directly but I am sure the award helped!

IT IS known as one of the UAE’s fastest growing financial services company, providing individuals and businesses alike with the most relevant real estate financial solutions.

Almost five years since the high-stakes strategy upon which Abu Dhabi Finance (ADF) was formed, the vision has paid off.
The man now responsible for heading the top mortgage provider to the next growth phase is Chris Taylor, who was promoted from Chief Operating Officer to Chief Executive Officer in July, an appointment that came less than a year after he was declared ‘Chartered Accountant of the Year’ during last year’s excellence awards ceremony hosted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

But if you thought the new CEO sits pretty on his swivel leather seat while revelling in extravagances of CEO perks, think again.

“The only thing that has changed is my title,” he says, adding that “Although many CEOs perch themselves at the top of the pyramid and all the other members of the organisation take cues from them, I’ve chosen to take a hands-on approach as the company’s transformatio n progresses.”

“This is a deliberate and powerful way to demonstrate to the other employees how to fundamentally rethink and reshape the business to ensure they spend the right amount of time driving the necessary changes together,” Chris adds.

The handsome young Briton speaks proudly of the transformation of the company he’s now leading.

“About three years ago post the global financial crisis, ADF, like many other financial lenders, set out to transform itself. I and the team have gone to extraordinary lengths to make that transformation meaningful. We have strived to build and write a powerful transformation story that has led to the expansion and creation of our Dubai office, strongly reinforcing our commitment to our existing as well as potential customers.”

Since its founding, the finance lending company has operated from its headquarters based in UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, but in an interview with Accountant Middle East magazine, the CEO says that with the opening of the Dubai office, clients in the Emirate will also have a chance to benefit from ADF’s financial solutions, designed to suit their individual needs. Here are the excerpts from the interview;

Q. One year after winning the ICEAW ‘Chartered Accountant of the Year’ award, what has changed for you in terms of career?
A. I am proud to say that shortly after receiving the award I was elevated to the position of CEO at Abu Dhabi Finance (ADF). It is safe to say that some of the achievements which helped me to win the ICAEW award, in particular the successful fund raising, influenced the decision however we have a well-developed succession planning process in place at the company and the move had been under consideration for a while.

I now have the honour of leading the team at ADF as we bring our excellent levels of Client Service and flexible product range to Dubai, having spent five years establishing ourselves as the leading provider of conventional mortgages in the capital, Abu Dhabi.

Talk to us about your transition from COO to CEO. Handing over the reins – How did this happen?
We have a well-developed succession planning process and the handover was carefully planned and well executed over a period of three months. The main addition to my responsibilities relates to Sales and Business Development as I was handling most other areas as the COO. This has meant I have had to become more outward facing and spend more time meeting with potential business partners in the Real Estate and Finance sector.

I have really enjoyed this new aspect of the role which has been made possible by the fantastic team at ADF who have stepped up to the mark in ensuring everything in the office runs smoothly whilst I am out and about.

It is only a few months since your elevation to the position of CEO. What is your vision, plan and strategy in leading ADF to its next growth phase?
The overall strategy is set by the Board of Directors as agreed with the shareholders. Our fundamental strategy of being the best mortgage provider in the UAE has not changed. We are currently implementing the second phase of that strategy which is launching our residential and commercial mortgage product range in Dubai. Having a great product or service that you are sure many people will need isn’t good enough. Rather, the answer is finding new clients and taking your services closer to them.

So far the launch has gone really well and we are seeing strong interest from clients who are attracted by our market-leading products and our reputation for transparency and Client Service which we have built up over five years serving the Abu Dhabi market.

During the real estate bust of 2008-2009, UAE mortgage lending institutions took severe beating. However, ADF has sailed the storm and for the last two years experienced tremendous growth. To what do you attribute that success? How did you and your team keep up?
You are right. We have been growing at around 20% year-on-year during the crisis and we are very proud of our extremely low levels of delinquency and non-performing loans. We operate to a fundamentally sound set of lending criteria which aim to ensure that a client can truly afford the commitment they are taking on when applying for a mortgage.

We do not lend based on property valuation alone but undertake a full budget review and credit assessment of every single client who applies for a mortgage with us. We choose the developers and properties we are prepared to offer mortgages on very carefully and independently value every property before we make our lending decision. Adhering to these fundamentals has and will continue to serve us well in the UAE.

What’s the company worth now in terms of assets value, compared to when it was formed 5 years ago?
As we are a privately held company we do not provide this information publicly however I am happy to confirm that we are on course to meet the shareholders expectations for 2013 and our key performance indicators such as Return on Equity, Cost: Income ratio, and Return on Capital continue to improve year on year.

You have held a number of different positions at various finance institutions in the country. How have you been able to advance and adjust? What advice would you give to others seeking to have a similar career path?

I have been privileged to have had a varied career path to date. I think my background in accounting and risk management set me in good stead for working at a senior level in various financial services sector organisation both inside and outside the UAE.

It is important to consistently seek to develop yourself and those around you. For example earlier this year I was fortunate that ADF sponsored me to attend a 2-week INSEAD Strategic Management in Banking Course held in Paris. This allowed me to network with my peer group from similar organisations around the world keeping me up to date with best practice management in banking.

I believe that flexibility, the ability to thrive in a multi-cultural environment, and being able to appropriately apply global best practice through a local filter have helped me to adjust to the different roles I have had. By that I mean that you cannot blindly apply global regulations to the banking sector in the UAE. You have to take your time to understand the mindset and the culture in which you operate before implementing new ideas and concepts. Effective change management, both from a personal and business perspective, has been critical to my career development to date.

I have also been lucky wherever I have worked to have the opportunity to work with a great set of people who I have learnt a lot from. The importance of spending executive time on developing a great team through setting a clear vision and embedding a core set of values cannot be underestimated.

As I said in the interview when I won the award I have also been lucky to have had a number of mentors through my career and I am thankful for that. I realised early on that I do not have all the answers to every question and seeking guidance and opinions from others is actually a sign of strength not a weakness.

What do you like best about your job and what excites you about the future?
I love the team I work with and the passion they display in helping ADF continue to provide the best levels of service to clients across our product range. They truly are an inspiration to me.

I am excited by the vision which Mubadala our main shareholder has, and look forward to supporting the various initiatives in place to develop and diversify the Abu Dhabi economy.

I am looking forward to further industry wide developments areas aimed at enhancing Consumer Financial Literacy and product transparency in the Financial Sector in the UAE.