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A Thai military makeover

For years, Thai Military Bank remained an anomaly in Thailand's financial sector. Founded by the armed forces to provide financial services for their personnel, the bank has struggled with both its business and identity. Having just completed Thailand's only three-way banking merger, management aims to change all of that.

THE HEADQUARTERS OF Thai Military Bank (TMB) just opposite Chatuchak Park in Bangkok give the impression that the institution has survived rather than thrived since its foundation in 1957. More reminiscent of a civil service department than one of the country's mid-size banks, TMB's offices are redolent of the legacy the bank's management is so keen to shrug off.

Subhak Siwaraksa, TMB's president and chief executive officer, emphasizes the changes that have already taken place.

"Twenty years ago the bank rose from the bottom to become the sixth-largest bank in Thailand," he says. "Over the years the military shareholding has gradually diluted as the assets have grown, and the capital base had to grow too. The bank has always been under non-military management."

He sounds apologetic and he has good reason. Like most Thai banks, TMB was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis and the devaluation of the Thai baht. Perhaps because of its name and associations with the military juntas of Thailand's past, however nebulous these might be, TMB seemed to be locked in the past, limping along under the weight of non-performing loans while the country's bigger banks got on with the task of modernization.

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