At 78, Arsenio “Archit” M. Bartolome remains fit and he still keeps himself busy at his office in Amber Place in Taguig. Despite the hectic schedule he follows, however, he never misses a good game.
The “good game” may refer to his pastime, which is golf. Or he may have been referring to that other sport he excelled in, basketball.
The “good game” could also well describe his storied career in the banking and finance industry.
Born in Tondo on 30 June 1941, Bartolome grew up in that part of historically rich Manila. It was then a place that infuses a sense of adventure and wonder in any child.
The Manila he remembers in his childhood days was simpler and the place much easier to get around. He would often play basketball at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum along Vito Cruz.
Getting to the venue was always an adventure in itself as he marvels at the architectural landmarks that make the city so cosmopolitan. He relishes these simple pleasures although his family had been hard hit financially as consequence of the second World War.
Still, Bartolome graduated among the top of his class in Torres High School. By 1957 he enrolled at the University of the Philippines in Diliman where he played for the UP-Varsity basketball team. He also became a fellow of the Upsilon Sigma Phi.
However, good fortune offered him a different path. He earned a Business Administration degree from another institution, the University of the East in Manila, where he further honed his basketball skills.
“The idea there was just to finish my college, and since all my good friends were taking up business, I said I might as well take up business. But it was not influenced by my parents, siblings.
During those days we were happy-go-lucky. Whatever is the flow, you just follow it. (But) my interest was really in architecture,” he says.
It was basketball, too, that fated him in the productive and no-nonsense world of banking where he rose to prominence. He became a player for Bank of America’s basketball team at his accountant sister’s urging. This was an opportunity that opened another door as he toiled as messenger for the bank to earn extra cash. He was eventually promoted supervisor and stayed with the bank for five years.
It was at the Bank of America where he met his wife, Maria Rosario “Nenne” Hernandez Reyes, too.
But getting married and raising a family wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Thus, Bartolome decided it was time to widen his horizons. In 1969 Bartolome, and a co-worker, Mario Sayoc, traveled to the United States in search of greener pastures. They brought with them some $1,000 in pocket money, their undying sense of adventure, and a desire to succeed in their chosen careers.
Wells Fargo Bank, San Francisco took him in, where he further built up his professional profile. But in this same period of bulging opportunities, tragedy struck with the death of their first son, Arsenio Emmanuel Reyes Bartolome, in 1967.
But in banking, Bartolome proved unstoppable. He got the biggest break in his life when he was head of Bancom Development Corp.’s money market department in 1968.
His stint with Bancom opened still more doors. He moved up to Citibank where he eventually became head of Treasury group. Then it was off to Multinational Investment Bancorporation in 1973 where he was general manager.
He also became treasurer and senior vice president of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., and in the ensuing period emerged as president of the Money Market Association of the Philippines in 1978. Two years later, Bartolome was among the 10 Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in the field of development banking.
“In 1980, I said to myself, if I can manage banks, I might as well put up my own bank. That’s Urban Bank. It was a very small bank, humble beginnings, capital of P20 million, single office, manpower complement of ten,” Bartolome said.
“And then after almost 20 years of Urban Bank it became a universal bank with a total capital of almost P2 billion and manpower complement of 600. But the unfortunate political reality, we were closed.”
Bartolome’s portfolio goes beyond banking. In 1992, under the presidency of fellow Manila Rotarian Fidel V. Ramos, he was unexpectedly appointed Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority or BCDA. Its first such official.
He loved his job at BCDA but this was cut short when he was again called by then President Ramos to take the helm of the Philippine National Bank (PNB). He replaced Gabriel Singson who was appointed first Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
He fondly recalled, “When President Ramos asked me to move to PNB, I said, ‘Sir, if given a choice I would like to stay at BCDA because I’ve been in banking for some time and moving to PNB, I’m back to where I was.’”
“The next question of the president was, ‘Oh, what’s interesting about BCDA?’ I said, ‘Sir, number one, I’m putting up Heritage Memorial Park. Never in my whole life have I been involved in developing a memorial park. Number two, I’m removing all the lahar at the Clark airport (to) put the airport in working condition. Very interesting job. Number three, I’m fixing up a golf course at Camp John Hay. My learning curve was very high.’”
Bartolome took a much-needed break when Urban Bank closed in 2000. He held several consultancy and advisory engagements.
Eventually, he found himself dabbling in his true passion, architecture. He established Amber Properties, which he admits has given him a “playground” for his creativity. The company currently has 120 apartment and office units, the majority of which are residential buildings.
The impact he made and his contribution to the industry he delved in has not gone unnoticed. In 1996, he was voted the University of the East’s most outstanding alumni. He was likewise voted one of Outstanding Manilan in 1999.
He was also president of several organizations, including the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (1980), the Rotary Club of Manila (1988), and the Management Association of the Philippines (1999).
Bartolome currently serves as chairman of publicly listed I-Remit, the largest Filipino-owned non-bank remittance service provider. It offers a wide array of services to Overseas Filipino Workers and other migrant workers.
Playing golf, doting on his wife, his four children and 12 grand-children, as well as catering to the nitty-gritty of tenant demands now take a large portion of his time. Still, he admits that leaps in the financial services sector is something that interests him greatly. He said the Philippines even now is still catching up with its neighbors in terms of financial inclusion.