Former Custody Chief • Royal Bank of Canada
If one word could describe David Dunlop’s career progression it is serendipity. Having begun his custody career at National Trust, to eventually running the show at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Dunlop always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. The serendipitous trend was continued through his personnel decisions as the team he assembled propelled the franchise to international respectability and continues to grow the business today.
That journey of a thousand miles began with a single step for Dunlop in 1985 when he joined Royal Trust and was mandated to expand the custody operation at his new organization. “With the benefit of hindsight, I had a stroke of good fortune right from the outset,” says Dunlop. “Three of my predecessors under pressure from major clients had opened a global custody unit in London in the earlier 1980s, albeit put together by bailing wire.”
Even if the global operation had been put together on a shoe string, and without the capabilities that conventional wisdom says a global custodian should have, the global reach and integrated reporting eventually proved to be the differentiator between Royal Trust and its Canadian competitors.
In a career filled with achievements Dunlop says his proudest achievement was the three year period from 1991 to 1993. “In late 1990, Royal Trust started to get in serious trouble due to poor corporate lending,” explains Dunlop. “We were subject to continuous negative press coverage and credit downgrades over a significant period, but we were able to retain the confidence of more than 90% of our clients and still had a very viable business when we were acquired by Royal Bank in 1993.”
The pride comes not from merely holding on, however. Rather, it took all members of the custody team to ignore the distractions, and focus on the many facets of client retention. “No team could have worked any harder on client service under pressure,” Dunlop says. “Because of the tremendous efforts of my colleagues, I was fortunate enough to have been asked to head the joint Royal Bank/Royal Trust custody business in September 1993.”
At the time of the integration, assets under custody were C$280 billion, and under the aegis of the reputation and financial strength of Royal Bank, a period of rapid growth ensued. The magic figure of C$1 trillion was reached in 2001.
It was in 1999 that Dunlop began looking at life after custody, when he stepped down from running the day-to-day custody operations for RBC in November, and took full retirement on December 31, 2001. Looking back, Dunlop definitely sees it as a wild ride. “If you had told me in 1985 that this was going to happen, I would have said you were crazy.”
Dunlop sees his legacy as having taken the custody franchise through its formative years and now takes tremendous satisfaction in seeing the business embedded into Royal Bank. His chosen successor José Placido, is now RBC Global Services executive vice president and has been given broader responsibilities including Global Financial Institutions and Treasury Management. “He is a very capable person with great people skills,” says Dunlop. “To me, the way things have progressed since I retired makes me optimistic that the bank recognizes the true value of a successful custody operation. I take particular pleasure that so many of my former colleagues are still part of the team and have been promoted as the business continues to thrive.”
With all this success, one might deduce that Dunlop would have a hard time stepping away, but as it turns out, retirement from the industry was a not an empty threat. He briefly toyed with the idea of running a consulting business. “After six months, I began asking, ‘Why am I doing this?'” says Dunlop. “After 41 years in the business why don’t I do something for myself?”
The solution was extensive travel. With his new partner, Dunlop has so far traveled to the Azores, France, Tuscany, and just recently returning from a saunter to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. It is in this new passion that Dunlop finds his future as well. “There are two purposes to these trips,” explains Dunlop. “To enjoy the trips and to find places we might settle down.”
Wherever that place may be, Dunlop will most definitely provide an exciting destination for the newest member of his family-a grandson born in Bermuda in April 2004. It appears Dunlop has new, more relaxed, adventures ahead of him. —Eric Hazard
This profile originally appeared as “A Little Luck, A Lot of Talent,” in Global Custodian, Spring 2005.