Man on a mission
TransUnion MD Angus Choi aims to teach Hong Kong the value of credit health, writes Jolene Otremba.
As the man at the helm of Hong Kong’s only credit bureau, Angus Choi, managing director of TransUnion, believes that to effect change in any organisation, leaders must instil confidence in their staff and groom them for success.
“If you can identify someone with potential and train them up, it’s a win-win situation at the end of the day because for the company, you don’t have a high cost, and you are giving staff a chance to grow their career in your organisation,” he says.
It is easy to assume that Choi’s cheerful and laid-back disposition is a reflection of his job and leadership style. But in fact, he has the herculean task of working with the city’s financial regulators and banks to transform TransUnion from a traditional credit bureau business into an organisation encompassing risk management, analysis and decision-making solutions. He also has a personal goal of wanting to educate the public on the importance of credit health.
“[The] awareness is still not there,” he says. “My goal is to make sure that Hong Kong people understand how important credit reports are – as important as having regular medical check-ups.” He adds this would mark the biggest success in his more than 30 years in banking, which has seen him work for financial heavyweights such as American Express, Citibank, DBS and Visa International.
As China starts shifting from a cash to a credit economy, regulators are becoming more stringent with aspects such as risk, privacy laws and business ethics. TransUnion, therefore, has to change with the times.
Choi sees his job as a form of social responsibility. He says TransUnion has been instrumental in building and rebuilding a strong economy, especially after the 2003 Sars outbreak and the financial crisis.
“For example, credit card and secure-lending businesses need on a regular basis to get credit reports from TransUnion for banks to do risk assessments. It’s a critical part of risk assessments, and the proper functioning of a credit bureau contributes to the healthy growth of Hong Kong’s economy, and also to the banking sector.”
Before 2003, Choi says, banks could only access negative data about a customer, such as any delinquencies or bankruptcies. But in 2003, TransUnion worked with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to introduce positive credit reporting, meaning that all positive and negative credit reports on an individual could be accessed by a lender or bank. The positive bureau to date has 4.95 million people in its database.
“The banking system has become much healthier, because [banks] can assess consumers in a 360-degree way,” Choi says. “This history is what gave me the passion to work for this organisation, which is unique in the Hong Kong market. And this way I can also contribute not only to the banking industry, but also to the government and to the community as a whole.”
But taking over as head of TransUnion has been no easy task because, aside from fulfilling a social responsibility role, Choi’s mission to ensure the continued growth of TransUnion and facilitate TransUnion’s transformation is no simple task, with a low staff turnover rate in particular making it sometimes tricky to get everyone on the same page.
“The first thing I had to do when I joined the business was change people’s mindset,” he says. “In the past, they were all working on a different kind of business. When I joined, I wanted to ensure that I still maintained the good and talented staff.”
Drawing on his wealth of experience, Choi decided to take a two-pronged approach: the first was to ensure staff understood the new mission and objective of the business, and secondly to focus on human resources.
“This is a tough period for them, [going from a credit] bureau to [working with] new products that need to be launched. So in terms of IT, operation, frontline, they needed to change, and also to embrace the change.”
He decided to focus on retaining loyal staff, whom he calls the organisation’s “Bible”. Some had been with the company for over 30 years, and their experience and knowledge was invaluable, as they had seen it grow from humble beginnings to what it is today.
But he is also focusing on bringing in new talent because of the varied experience and energy they bring. “I really need people with a passion to work with me, especially as we embark on a new journey. Without passion you go nowhere, and work would just be painful to go to every morning.”
For example, Choi says he built a secure lending business at Singaporean bank DBS with a small group of around six people. But, with their passion, drive and his leadership, today, it boasts almost 300 staff in a successful business that carries on despite his departure.
He says that taking a chance on people and giving them an opportunity to build their careers is key to any organisation’s success. “This is how I enjoy running and building a business from scratch”, he said. “I can grow with the people, and as we grow together, we can enjoy the results,” Choi says.
STAY VIGILANT TO KEEP A HEALTHY BALANCE
Angus Choi shares some tips on how to improve your credit management.
Stay in shape “Good credit health means that when you go to a bank, it will be easy for you to borrow money or apply for credit cards or an unsecured loan with a better credit limit and interest rate.”
Check reports regularly “Make sure you are not over-leveraging, over-borrowing or if you are failing to pay off your credit card. These are not good for your credit history.”
Guard your security “As identity theft and hacking become more serious – especially with access to online banking – the bureau can provide an SMS service which will tell you if someone is accessing your credit report without your knowledge. The bureau can then trigger an alert to you.”
Avoid excessive debt “Control yourself and do not get into too much debt. If you have a high risk score, work on improving it.”