Career Advice Working Women

Credit to the cause

HKIB chief Carrie Leung has seen the industry body’s membership hit record highs during her nine-year tenure

When Carrie Leung Ka-lai was offered her current role as CEO of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) nine years ago, she had to decide whether she was ready to make the substantial jump from a senior role at the Hong Kong branch of a global financial institution to take the reins of a major industry body.

At the time, Leung was head of service quality and training at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong – no small role, considering she was responsible for making sure that the training curriculum for thousands of employees met business needs.

But the role that she was about to step into was significantly bigger. She would not only report to the institute’s council and executive committee – consisting of more than 30 influential bankers and regulators from local and international financial institutions – but also deal with a wide network of stakeholders, including individual and corporate members, students, and the public.

“You can basically say that HKIB is the training department for the entire banking industry in Hong Kong,” Leung says. She adds that one of its primary missions is to assist the government in sustaining the city as an international financial centre by providing quality professional training and to certify banker’s competencies.

Obviously, in the end, Leung took up the offer – which is fortunate, because she has since led HKIB from strength to strength.

Founded in 1963, HKIB provides learning programmes leading to four professional banking qualifications, ranging from general knowledge for entry-level staff to advanced topics intended to groom prospective senior managers. Under Leung’s tenure, the institute has expanded its individual membership – which now covers 90 per cent of the banking profession in Hong Kong – and boasts a corporate membership of over 60 banking and financial institutions.

Earlier this year, the institute’s learning programmes received accreditation from the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications. It also marked its 50th anniversary, an occasion celebrated in a series of seminars and lectures, and culminating in a gala dinner held in October.

Looking back, Leung says her decision nine years ago wasn’t so much about being qualified as it was about her willingness to commit to her career at the expense of time with her family.

Graduating from university in 1985 with a degree in hospitality management, Leung joined the hotel arm of New World Development as a training officer. A year in, she transferred to a sales executive role at a hotel managed by New World. This was swiftly followed by three more moves in as many years, before she found her calling when Standard Chartered offered her a job as a senior training officer. At Standard Chartered, she provided soft skills training to bank employees at its regional training centre serving Northeast Asia, and spent a year in its international department as a sales executive.

In 1994, she was appointed the bank’s head of training for its Hong Kong retail operations – a job which was later expanded to include overseeing service quality and customer complaints. During this period, she also found the time to complete a master’s degree in training from the University of Leicester.

Leung’s sales and marketing experience enabled her to sell ideas as well as products and services when dealing with people from all walks of life. It also schooled her in public speaking, enabling her to pursue a career as a training professional – a line of work where she learnt to absorb and digest vast amounts of information. These skills have been invaluable to her current capacities at HKIB, where she serves a range of roles with government bureaus, statutory bodies and non-profit organisations.

Leung and her husband have raised two kids who are now in their late teens and studying in the UK. In finding a balance, Leung says it helps to be passionate and to enjoy what you do, but the real secret is careful planning and communication. For example, she recently accompanied her children to the UK to send them off to school. She was able to take the time off work – despite feverish preparations for HKIB’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations – by informing her staff well in advance, and making sure they knew how to get in touch if anything urgent came up.

“If you don’t plan things out in time, you let things happen which end up driving your schedule,” she says. “Sometimes, people don’t communicate because they are trying to take a chance, hoping that a particular thing won’t happen or that someone else will do it. Sometimes, people don’t tell anybody they’re taking annual leave because they feel guilty about it.” She adds that it is much better to communicate and manage than feel frustrated when things go wrong.

Because communications skills are so important, she says, young professionals should learn to communicate clearly and convincingly to a wide audience early in their careers – and there’s no better way to learn than through sales and marketing roles.

“Nowadays, a lot of fresh graduates don’t want a job in sales because they don’t like standing around in the streets or they think it’s a second-class career,” she says. “My advice is that you better do this when you can, because it will be even more difficult to go back to this later in your career. Look at it as an opportunity to understand customer needs.”

She believes that graduates should also seize opportunities to participate in corporate events where they are able to express themselves and practise their public speaking and presentation skills.


Carrie Leung explains why good planning and communication are so important
Maintain control “If you don’t plan things out in time, you let things happen which end up driving your schedule.”
Take responsibility “Sometimes, people don’t communicate because they are trying to take a chance, hoping that a ... thing won’t happen or that someone else will do it.”
Have time for yourself... “If you have personal duties you must perform, use your annual leave and tell people you will be away.”
... and don’t feel guilty about it “Sometimes, people don’t tell others about their annual leave because they feel guilty about it.”
Be sensible “Don’t take chances and don’t feel guilty.”