Interview: departing CEO Ian Clyne on three companies that have transformed Papua New Guinea forever


After five years as ‘boss bilong BSP’, Ian B Clyne completes his appointment as the CEO of PNG’s largest bank at the end of this month. Business Advantage PNG caught up with him for one final chat.

BSP's outgoing CEO, Ian Clyne

BSP’s outgoing CEO, Ian Clyne

Business Advantage PNG: What are the things you look back on with the most satisfaction from your time at BSP?

Ian Clyne: My greatest satisfaction is the overall transformation of BSP. It has changed in every area of its operations, both in terms of commercial services —such as BSP First, BSP Rural, all of those—right down to the strength of our core systems.

The second one would be aggressively introducing electronic banking into Papua New Guinea, and taking banking to the rural people. The idea of financial inclusion was but a dream, and today BSP has gone from having 400,000 bank accounts in Papua New Guinea to over a million in Papua New Guinea and 1.5 million across the Pacific.

And thirdly, I think our commitment to social initiatives, such as Go Green and all the sporting initiatives.

They’re the three that give me enormous pride.

BAPNG: Over the last five years, you’ve travelled very widely across the country. What experiences have you found especially memorable?

Ian Clyne: I did a trip not so long ago where we visited our Kainantu branch. PNG is challenged by law and order, and Kainantu especially has been challenged.

So, we left Goroka at 6a.m. in the morning because there are sometimes some raskols  operating on the Highlands Highway, as is known, and we came to Kainantu, which is clearly a very bustling town. You could feel a little bit of tension in the air, but we came into the branch, and the branch was absolutely in a perfect state: it was well-secured, there were people lined up for the ATMs and they were being extremely polite and orderly.

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This is a young country with enormous opportunities, but there’s got to be a commitment, a moral obligation on everyone involved, to execute these types of projects in such a way that they are there forever.

I was the first CEO for thirty years to take the time to come to Kainantu. Some staff members were in tears because the CEO had taken the time to come to their branch; they were very proud of their branch, they were very proud to be working with BSP.

When I went to visit BSP Rural branch at Chuave, there were few people sitting around and one walked up and said: ‘I know you. You boss bilong BSP, I see you in the paper or on TV.’

I’m in the middle of nowhere, and yet these really very, very nice grass roots people come up to me and say hello.

These are the types of things that have really moved me personally.

BAPNG: Regarding local retail banking, do you think there are opportunities to alleviate fees and charges? Many Papua New Guineans don’t understand why they pay such charges.

Ian Clyne: Corporate banking is a business, retail banking is a business and they should both be self-supporting. Since we’re a publicly-listed and privately-owned company, we need to give a return on those investments.  If you look at BSP’s one million retail customers, 95% of those are really only doing one service with BSP: cash in/cash out. However, the customer has to understand that there is a cost to those services.

When I came, we had less than a thousand EFTPOS, and probably sixty or seventy of the oldest ATMs in the world. Today, we have around 11,000 EFTPOS, 275 new ATMs, we have mobile phone banking.

We’re launching a mobile wallet this week called Wantok Moni.

BSP makes money if someone uses an EFTPOS outlet or if they use mobile phone banking. We don’t make money if they come to a branch—the average cost of servicing someone when they walk to the teller is 11.50 kina. We believe about 30% to 40% of the people coming into the branches can actually do their banking using our electronic solutions.

BAPNG: So, ultimately, as your costs go down, some of the benefit of that might be passed onto customers?

Ian Clyne: Without doubt. The challenge for us is to continue to improve our financial literacy and education to our customers, because if the customer understands their options today, they can actually do their banking a lot cheaper.

BAPNG: What would be your favourite part of PNG, of all the places you’ve visited?

Ian Clyne: I have had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to enjoy some boating off Alotau, around the islands, and I’ve found it absolutely stunning. But, in general, I don’t think there’s a part of Papua New Guinea that I don’t find amazing.

BAPNG: What are the major changes you’ve noted during your term?

Ian Clyne: I think there are three organisations that have really changed Papua New Guinea forever. The first is ExxonMobil. Peter Graham and the team of ExxonMobil have done an absolutely outstanding job. Obviously, there were a lot of lessons they needed to learn, but they have stuck at it and put PNG on the world map. The impact of the PNG LNG project directly and indirectly in terms of businesses coming into this country and looking at all the other opportunities– it’s really changed PNG in a very positive way.

The second one is Digicel. The introduction of mobile phone banking through Digicel has changed the way business can be done throughout the country. Again, John Mangos and the team at Digicel really are clearly very aggressive. They came here to succeed, and I think they’ve done an absolutely outstanding job for this country.

The third, I would say, is BSP. I think BSP has changed the way financial services are done in PNG and the Pacific, and we’ve brought a level of governance and professionalism that was seriously lacking.

BAPNG: If you could wave a magic wand over PNG, what would you hope it would achieve in the future?

Ian Clyne: If you give people the opportunity, the resources and the encouragement, there’s absolutely nothing Papua New Guineans cannot do, and I’d say BSP is an example of that.

The challenge is for this government, and all future governments, is to really try to get benefits to the people—upgrading the Highlands Highway, improving access to education and health services and so on.

What I’d love to see is people step back away from the ‘What’s in it for me?’ mentality—because PNG is challenged with corruption—and really go out there and execute all these opportunities in a professional way. This is a young country with enormous opportunities, but there’s got to be a commitment, a moral obligation on everyone involved, to execute these types of projects in such a way that they are there forever.

BAPNG: What’s next for Ian Clyne?

Ian Clyne: That’s an interesting one. People know how passionate I have been about BSP and PNG, and I will continue to be so, to give [incoming CEO] Robin Fleming any support that he would ever request.  I’m 30-odd years working around the world, especially in emerging markets. I think I’m young enough to want to run another bank. But I’m not going to rush into it. It has to be meaningful, because I do put my heart into it.

I leave PNG with extremely mixed feelings. First, enormous pride in what we have achieved and in what BSP still could achieve and, second, great sadness because of my affection for the country.

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