MUFG taps math expert as CEO to lead digital transformation amid Japan’s negative rates
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. named Hironori Kamezawa as chief executive officer on Friday, turning to a math expert to help Japan’s biggest bank forge a path in the digital era.
Kamezawa, 58, will take the top post on April 1, the Tokyo-based bank said in a statement the same day, confirming news reports from earlier this week. He succeeds Kanetsugu Mike, 63, who is stepping down after just a year at the helm but will remain chief of the main lending subsidiary.
Currently deputy president and a leader of the lender’s technology overhaul, Kamezawa faces the challenge of reshaping a domestic business that’s being squeezed by low interest rates and costly branches.
“We expect MUFG to accelerate its digital efforts with the promotion of Kamezawa,” Rie Nishihara, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo, wrote in a note. “Also, speed of management is expected to increase by dividing the roles of the holding company head and the bank head.”
A University of Tokyo mathematics graduate, Kamezawa is a rare breed in an industry where most of the top echelon have either law or economics backgrounds. As chief digital transformation officer, he has been leading efforts including the development of MUFG’s digital coin.
“Large overseas banks have similar anxiety over digitalization,” Kamezawa said at a news briefing after the announcement. “The biggest task is how we strike a balance between ensuring security and convenience.”
Mike’s retention of the banking unit chief role brings MUFG into line with its two main domestic rivals. Both Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. have separate heads for their holding company and lending units, and MUFG had been urged to do the same to better manage operations that have grown and diversified.
Mike told reporters that he was appointed to the two posts to speed up the bank’s overhaul, with the understanding that he would hold them both for a short time. The lender is now ready to split the roles, he said.
In MUFG’s annual report last year, Tsutomu Okuda, an outside director who chairs the nominating and governance committee, defended the bank’s decision to let Mike have a “dual-hat leadership,” while adding that it was “not desirable” from a governance perspective.
MUFG has been cutting branches and revamping others to replace rows of tellers with tablet computers and video booths — a move to help customers migrate to digital platforms.
The bank booked a ¥94 billion ($853 million) writedown last fiscal year after scrapping an information-technology upgrade at its credit card unit that couldn’t keep pace with changes in payments technology. It’s now building a new blockchain-based payments system with Akamai Technologies Inc.