New broom, and new competition
PROFILE: FirstRand CEO Alan Pullinger
Taking over at a time of great challenge to the banking sector will make Pullinger’s work that much harder. But he has homed in on the opportunities for FirstRand
FirstRand CEO Alan Pullinger will start his new job at a time when the bank needs to be ready for real competition, and not just from other banks. It also has to square off against fintech businesses such as Bank Zero, created by former FNB bankers Yatin Narsai and Michael Jordaan, as well as telecoms businesses and insurers that are rapidly moving into its space.
Pullinger, who will succeed Johan Burger on April 1, seems to have sussed out the competition.
"The telecoms companies have difficulty building trust and getting enough customers, and I am not sure how many people would be prepared to put their salary into a fintech start-up," he says.
Pullinger is more concerned about soon-to-be-launched Discovery Bank: he is familiar with Discovery as the insurer’s credit card is managed by FNB.
He believes it will succeed. "It has built up trust, it is very well managed and it has some data which will be useful in running a bank.
"But I am confident that FNB has much richer data available. It will be tough for Discovery to match the experience of using our banking app."
Educated at Bryanston High School and the University of the Witwatersrand, Pullinger is married with three daughters.
Early in his career he became a partner at Deloitte, where he was comfortable but lacked challenges. After a few weeks at Deutsche Bank, he joined Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) in special projects, which focused primarily on structured finance and gave him a mix of technical and client-facing tasks. Until 2004 there was an emphasis on tax planning, but then the SA Revenue Service closed most of the loopholes.
In 2008 Pullinger took over as head of RMB from Mike Pfaff. His more cautious and introverted approach kept the business in reasonable shape during the 2008 financial crisis. In 2015 he was made deputy CEO of FirstRand, a clear indication that he would take over from Burger.
FirstRand is some way from the operational action at FNB, RMB, WesBank and Ashburton Investments. But Pullinger will keep busy with the newly acquired Aldermore Bank in the UK, which is being combined with WesBank’s Moto Novo vehicle finance business. There are also potential acquisitions in Africa. "The key will be to find return on equity higher than cost of equity wherever we go."