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This Filipino billionaire isn't worried about a slowdown

Despite expectations for weaker growth in the Philippines this year, Teresita Sy-Coson, one of the country's most powerful women, isn't daunted by the prospects of an economic slowdown.

In fact, she sees opportunities.

"The Philippines economy has always been the same. It's just that time it attracted a lot of attention," the vice chairman of SM Investments told CNBC's "Managing Asia." "This has given us a lot of benefits like low credit cost and also the stock market excitement [which] are good for business."

Teresita Sy-Coson, vice chairwoman of SM Investments Corp..
Julian Abram Wainwright | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Teresita Sy-Coson, vice chairwoman of SM Investments Corp..

Last week, the World Bank lowered its growth projections for the Southeast Asian country to 6.4 percent from 6.6 percent, citing low government spending and possible monetary policy tightening from the U.S. Federal Reserve as risks for the economy which is still recovering after last year's Typhoon Haiyan.

However, Sy-Coson remains confident that her business - one of Philippines' well-known family-run conglomerates - will not be impacted: "We hope to have a higher double digit growth this year. We just have to work harder."

This attitude is perhaps a result of her identity. She is the eldest child of the country's richest man, Chinese-Filipino retail magnate Henry Sy, who founded the SM Group, which invests in numerous sectors like retail, real estate and gaming.

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"We grew up in a very demanding environment. Dad expects us to prove ourselves... so my siblings and I worked hard to reach what we have today and I guess we have to continue working hard to maintain it," said Sy-Coson, who was named as one of Asia's most powerful businesswomen by Forbes in 2014.

Dubbed by the media as the heir to the Sy patriarch, the 63-year-old is known for transforming the family's small retail and savings bank, Banco de Oro (BDO), into the country's largest lender. However she said the process was "a challenging period that I would not wish on anyone," particularly when her decision in 2005 to acquire a stake into Equitable, the third-largest bank then, encountered strong resistance.

"I did not expect so much backlash just because I'm not one of the big boys. It was a very difficult process but I thought if I have to do it, I will do it right," she said. In 2007, BDO merged with Equitable to form Banco de Oro Unibank and by the following year became the Philippines' biggest financial player in terms of loans and deposits.

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Moving forward, the BDO Unibank will play a huge role in Sy-Coson's pursuit for rapid growth.

"We'll like to bulk up so right now we are looking as to where the bank should go in the Southeast Asian region [over the] next two to three years. Whether there are opportunities to be a part of another bank or have a bank that will have more working arrangement with us," she said.

Sy-Coson, who is also advisor to the board of directors for SMIC's retail affiliate SM Prime Holdings, also has her sights set on the mainland's retail space.

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With five shopping malls in China now, SM Prime plans to invest another $200 million to expand in the world's second-largest economy. But it is taking the unbeaten path of steering clear of first-tier cities and heading for less developed provinces.

"We are going to grow in China but as of now, it's not going to be a rush. We want to be steady," Sy-Coson said. "China is a big country, so we are looking into the ones that can bring us more bottom-line at this point. We are selective."

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    "Managing Asia" is the Asia Pacific region's ground-breaking interview programme featuring CEOs, entrepreneurs and other business leaders. Hosted by award-winning anchor Christine Tan, the show looks at what makes the region's corporate titans and top entrepreneurs tick.


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