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Chong Hing Bank CEO Felton Lau pioneers into untapped markets

Published on Saturday, 14 Mar 2015
Felton Lau
Chief Executive, Chong Hing Bank

Hong Kong banker takes advantage of opportunities offered by mainland parent company

Breadth of experience is a prerequisite for any executive tasked with leading a bank through a period of significant change. Equally essential is the vision to innovate and inspire, the drive to execute plans, and the ability to get the best out of others.

Felton Lau Wai-man ticks all these boxes and, as chief executive of Chong Hing Bank (CHB), is now engaged on a series of reforms and initiatives that will draw on the full range of his talents.

In large part, the transformation now taking place stems from the acquisition of a majority stake in CHB by Yue Xiu Group, a Guangzhou-based state-owned enterprise, in February 2014.

For what was previously a family controlled bank known for its fairly conservative approach, that move has opened up new opportunities and a greater interest in considering options for expansion. Another consequence has been to afford Lau a heightened profile in the industry, with the chance to address different types of business challenges and build an organisation offering more comprehensive services, additional investment products, and a wider geographical footprint.

It is something for which he is well prepared, having spent more than 25 years with CHB since joining in 1988 as chief auditor. Prior experience with a major accountancy firm and a Dutch-headquartered international bank had provided an excellent grounding. A subsequent spell as head of CHB’s retail banking operations taught him the ins and outs of everything from compliance and back-office procedures to credit, loans and making money for the bank.

Later responsibilities as a director and deputy CEO marked a steady progression and paved the way for his appointment as chief executive in 2013.

Besides the usual imperatives of increasing profitability and meeting regulatory requirements, Lau’s current role entails a number of clearly defined objectives. One is to add to the network of branches in Guangdong at a steady pace over the next three years. A second, closely tied to that, is to expand the customer base in South China through the efforts of a larger sales team and the help of referrals from the Yue Xiu Group and its partners.

A third is to provide a platform for mainland-based entities to make strategic investments in Hong Kong and overseas. And another, with a view to achieving a sensible balance, is to work towards a rough 50/50 split of business between local and mainland clients.

“As a priority, the bank needs to maintain stability and be risk-conscious at all times. But, along with that, the board of directors has asked me to explore opportunities, expand the business, and develop the talent to sustain future growth and improve co-ordination between our Hong Kong and Mainland China operations,” says Lau, whose academic qualifications include a law degree and an MBA.

So, while the basic culture will not change, the focus will. Declining loan demand and intense competition mean prospects in Hong Kong are circumscribed. In contrast, the untapped potential of the mainland market, with enterprises ready to borrow and individuals keen to invest, presents a quite different picture.

“There, we can expand in a more ‘aggressive’ way,” Lau says. “For example, we are able to target industries and businesses, such as alternative energy and information technology, which suit our risk appetite and which need structured loans in compliance with PRC and Hong Kong regulations.”

Mindful of the mainland policy encouraging leading enterprises to “go out” and find opportunities abroad, Lau is also looking to develop more investment products and offer financing options for possible acquisitions. To this end, he has led the bank in setting up a new China business department, strengthening its compliance function, restructuring its sales team and recruiting more senior specialists.

Lau is also placing new emphasis on long-term planning, as well as on the monthly analysis of concrete achievements and results. In this respect, the key measure is “real business”, not just discussions, prospects or promises. Innovative ideas are welcomed, provided they fit in with necessary rules and frameworks.

Individuals also have greater freedom to develop business across different areas than the working environments at certain larger institutions would allow. And newcomers are made aware that they are joining an organisation that offers a very good future and which holds the unique position as being the first local Hong Kong bank to be acquired by a non-banking mainland entity.

“Essentially, we are in a people business and everyone agrees that having the right people is the most important thing for sustained growth,” says Lau, who is also a vice president of the Council of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB). “Therefore, training and talent development is very important for us and, more generally, for upholding Hong Kong’s success as an international financial centre.”

Exemplifying that principle, Lau has applied himself throughout his career to constant self-improvement. Early on, this included distance-learning programmes and short courses overseas to round out his professional knowledge.

Lately, it has involved playing an active part in influential industry bodies in the banking and accountancy sectors and attending events such as the “2014 Mainland Economics and Finance Elite Seminar for Hong Kong Banking Executives”, organised by HKIB. Held in October 2014 in Langfang, a city just south of Beijing, this event brought together 68 leading figures representing 38 banks and regulators to discuss policies and developments likely to have a significant impact on the financial landscape in the mainland and beyond.

By focusing on practical topics, such high-powered get-togethers help Lau to determine what CHB will need to prepare for and adapt to in the next couple of years. This has a direct bearing on everything from people and technology to premises, branch networks, evolving customer expectations – and profitability.

At one level, it can mean considering the prospects for new RMB-linked products in response to obvious investor demand and the gradual moves toward internationalisation of the currency. At another, it might relate to the need for enhanced online banking facilities, particularly in the mainland, where things look set to snowball.

“For the China market, web-based penetration is essential,” Lau says. “The infrastructure has to be user-friendly and secure, and we have to make it more ‘human’ to help people change over from the standard kinds of banking transaction.”

This push for wider use of IT is similarly important in improving internal communication and general efficiencies. For instance, CHB has developed a lot of tools for its personal banking department and it encourages employees to use WeChat groups to discuss things such as market strategies, good HKIB courses to attend, and interesting items of mainland banking news.

When reflecting on the key steps in his career to date, Lau is quick to credit the colleagues who so willingly shared their knowledge and experience.

He also highlights his good fortune in having had so many opportunities come his way. “I’ve been lucky – I’ve always been a pioneer doing something new or dealing with products which were ‘hot’ at the time,” he says.

“But when you do something new, you must also be ready to ‘give up’ your past achievements – in effect, starting everything again from scratch – and welcome whatever the next challenge brings.”

 

Training equips staff to succeed

Felton Lau firmly believes that CHB’s success depends first and foremost on having the right people and making sure they get the necessary opportunities for training and development.

Therefore, the bank provides a comprehensive selection of courses that allow employees to achieve personal and professional growth and encourages them to set new goals to reach their full potential. “We want all of our staff to keep learning and to be well equipped for both their current and future roles,” Lau says.

For this reason, CHB makes full use of the training and development options laid on throughout the year by the HKIB. These include specialist courses on topics such as counter-party credit risk or trade finance for credit and marketing officers, which carry a certain number of continuous professional development (CPD) or continuous professional training (CPT) hours.

But there are also wide-ranging workshops and seminars on anything from anti-money laundering to transaction screening, which focus on topical issues of interest or concern to the banking sector.

The HKIB also attracts leading industry figures to events such as the “2014 Mainland Economic and Finance Elite Seminar for Hong Kong Banking Executives”, which included exchange sessions and discussion groups, and offered valuable networking opportunities.

The most up-to-date details of HKIB courses, seminars and other events can always be found at www.hkib.org/Calendar.asp

 

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MetLife Hong Kong CEO Lennard Yong is proud of his success in an industry that helps people

Published on Saturday, 17 Jan 2015
Lennard Yong
Photo: Paul Yeung/SCMP
Lennard Yong
Photo: Paul Yeung/SCMP

Former banker says fresh talent is needed to ensure city continues to lead the way in Asia

Lennard Yong, chief executive of Metropolitan Life Insurance (MetLife) of Hong Kong, switched to life insurance to help people in a key industry for the city. He was trained to be an accountant and started his career in banking before making the switch. “I wanted to do something different, a little bit more personal, so I made the move,” he says.

He explains that many people think Hong Kong’s insurance market is now saturated, with most Hongkongers having a number of policies, be it home, health or life insurance. However, he believes the best is yet to come for local insurers.

“I see Hong Kong as the Silicon Valley for insurance; it attracts big brands from around the world and is a leading market in Asia,” he says. “Many countries in the region look up to Hong Kong for changes in regulations and product development. Insurance people cannot find a better place than here to build their career.”

For the past decade, the industry has recorded double-digit growth. Advances in technology and medical research have opened many new areas that require insurance. “I see that as our society becomes more complex and we have to deal with such a high cost of living, people will have a stronger desire to protect their wealth,” Yong says. “This will bring opportunities to the insurance industry for years to come.”

Yong served in a Dutch insurance company for more than a decade before taking up his role in MetLife. “In my previous job, I had the chance to work in Hong Kong and in the company’s headquarters in Amsterdam. The experience there gave me the chance to meet people from a different culture. Then in 2008, I returned to Hong Kong in the midst of the global financial crisis.”

 This was the most challenging, but also the most exciting, time of his career, because it inspired people to put into practice what they had learned about financial and risk management. “People were dealing with real situations. While I don’t wish for that to occur again, I think we have learned a lot,” he says.

The talent supply for the insurance sector agent has been growing healthily over the years, Yong explains, and more insurance agents are earning professional qualifications such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP) that add to the professionalism of the industry.

He sees a strong demand for people with skills in marketing and product design to develop high-quality products for insurers. “We do not necessarily recruit talent with educational backgrounds related to insurance. We want people from different walks of life to join us. The key is sharing with them the career opportunities they will have with insurance.”

Yong predicts Hong Kong will remain the leading insurance market in Asia over the next five to 10 years, as long as it continues to develop innovative products and improve on regulations.

“It is always easier to build a career in a growing industry. It is even easier to build a career in an industry that is growing and is something that people need. From the growth we have had over the past decade, I see there is a demand for better insurance products and services,” he says.

Looking back at his 15 years in life insurance, Yong says he was lucky to have a mentor who taught him how to think positively and to communicate to drive change. “He taught me to always think of [the glass] as half-full rather than half-empty,” he says.

Yong believes a leader is someone who inspires staff to do what they believe is right, not what the boss wants. “Leaders need to give staff a reason to follow,” he says. “In the modern workplace, staff won’t do what the boss tells them because he or she is the boss; they want to know why they should do so and why they should support the boss.”

When communicating with staff, Yong says he never simply barks out instructions. Instead, he put himself in their shoes and tries to tell them what good it would do for them. “I think it is common in companies to see a manager talk and talk and nobody wanting to listen. If the manager changes to think from the staff’s point of view, there will be shorter memos, shorter emails and shorter speeches,” he says.

He points to two books that have inspired him: Good to Great by Jim Collins and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. “Good to Great made me realise that what defines the success of a company is a matter of choice. When facing crisis, a company chooses to struggle or to shine. Seven Habits taught me the importance of prioritising challenges,” he says.

Yong sees insurance as a safety net for society. People fall ill, lose their loved ones, and are in need of support. Insurance, therefore, is not just a product – it serves a social good. “Insurance helps people when they are the most vulnerable – people in the industry need to live up to that promise,” he says.

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > GT won the Hong Kong Awards for Industries: Technological Achievement Certificate of Merit
GT won the Hong Kong Awards for Industries: Technological Achievement Certificate of Merit
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

GT won the 2014 Hong Kong Awards for Industries: Technological Achievement Certificate of Merit. The Hong Kong Awards for Industries (HKAI) was officially launched in 2005 by merging the former Hong Kong Awards for Industry and Hong Kong Awards for Services, established in 1989 and 1997 respectively. Championed by the Government, the HKAI aims to recognise the outstanding achievements of Hong Kong enterprises in pursuit of high technology and high value-added activities, and to commend excellence in various aspects of their performance.

http://www.hkindustryaward.org/en/winners/2014.html#c6

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > GT fully supported Orbis : CHOCOOLATE Moonwalkers
GT fully supported Orbis : CHOCOOLATE Moonwalkers
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

As like the pass few years, GT fully support and be the sponsor for Orbis’ fund raising event, Orbis : CHOCOOLATE Moonwalkers. GT not only support for the Moonwalkers app development and all the technical issues, our staff also be the volunteers for on site support for the event night. Thanks very much for all the participants and volunteers for leading to the great success of the event.

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > Welcome our New Intern Mike~
Welcome our New Intern Mike~
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

GT has a new Intern Mike, who has joint our Mid-Autumn Festival party and the senior management meeting. Mike fits in well in GT, makes lots of friends in GT. He has not only been learning from different departments, but he also brings us lots of great creative ideas and fun.

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > GT be the speaker for the HKAIM ABC4CMO seminar
GT be the speaker for the HKAIM ABC4CMO seminar
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

Our CMO, Jacqueline Chong, be the speaker for the HKAIM ABC4CMO seminar on 26 November, to share the new use of our new product Storellet for the new era of Loyalty program.

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > GT be the speaker of WTIA Career Talk "就業講座及博覽 2014:新媒體x 創新 x 工作"
GT be the speaker of WTIA Career Talk "就業講座及博覽 2014:新媒體x 創新 x 工作"
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

GT be the speaker of WTIA Career Talk “就業講座及博覽 2014:新媒體x 創新 x 工作” on Dec 6, 2014. There were about 300 participants for the events, mostly are students who are interested in the Technology industry. Our CMO, Jacqueline Chong, shared about our GT Story “我們不妥協的創新故事”, our senior technical staff answers questions about GT and the career in the industry in the exhibition as well.

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > GT be the speaker for the HKITF Mobile Enterprise Solution Day
GT be the speaker for the HKITF Mobile Enterprise Solution Day
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

Our CMO, Jacqueline Chong, be the speaker for the HKITF Mobile Enterprise Solution Day on 24 November, to share the new use of Teamwork for the enterprises.

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > [PCM Biz IT] 創新公司爆多 員工有前途
[PCM Biz IT] 創新公司爆多 員工有前途
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

員工晉升空間大,有得上位

打工仔加入創新公司最大的風險是「唔穩 陣」,不過現任GreenTomato市場總監莊芷坤證明 自己無揀錯。從一個小小的市場營銷部職員,經過4 年努力,當上市場總監。該公司於2003年成立, 主要設計及開發應用程式,目前較著名的有Hong Kong Movie及TalkBox Voice Messenger。

她表示,當年在大公司廣告銷售部工作, 預見將來沒有晉升空間,工作熱誠大減,毅然 辭職。及後到GreenTomato應徵,跟行政總裁郭 秉鑫大談項目推廣,感到這公司制度彈性,老闆允許員工實踐自己的想法,決定加入。

在創新公司做了幾年,她認 為只要清楚自己的目標及性格、 有勇於承擔及挑戰自己的心 態,在細公司反而更容易找 到自己的位置,以及接觸更多層面,得著比在大公司工作更多。

她指出,大公司看似福利待遇較好,但所學到的東西始終有限,若只求安穩的工作,反而很難適應創新公司的節奏。另一 方面,因為細公司資源有限,很多時沒有明確分 工,以業務匯報為例,當中除了包含推廣策略,還 會接觸其他範疇,如她比較擅長市場推廣,但財務 策劃,以至實際的簡報設計技巧都要重新學習。不過,能夠接觸不同人,建立更廣的人際網絡,對自己往後的人生獲益匪淺。

現在,她雖然已是市場總監,但同事各自擁有出色的技能及專長,工作時都會互相交流學習。

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Home > Top Employers > Green Tomato > GT Mid-Autumn Festival Party
GT Mid-Autumn Festival Party
Published on Monday, 29 Dec 2014

GT had a great party with all of the stuff for the Mid Autumn Festival. We played puzzle games and shared the great joy with all.

We work hard. We also play hard and have fun here~!

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival~!

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