Tell us how you came to your current role.
I came to my current role in 2015, after spending over 20 years in other transaction banking roles across Singapore, UK, China and Thailand. I used to use this phrase a fair bit in my China days, explaining the pace and rate of accelerated change in China ie “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I would say that my “single step” in transaction banking started in Singapore, and progressed thereafter to different regions and geographies. As with my journey, the world of transaction banking, and specifically cash management, continues to rapidly evolve, and that certainly brings along with it huge excitement and significant new opportunities.
Could you outline the nature of your role? What types of things keep you on your toes at the moment?
The nature of my role requires me to bring the best of HSBC’s cash management solutions to our clients across different regions, by leveraging our network and people across the countries we operate in, and the investments into new digitised treasury solutions. Many things keep me on my toes at the moment. However, what we are focused on is ensuring that our clients are constantly updated on new solutions that are relevant, for them to better enable treasury to become more strategic to their business units, instead of simply enabling operational treasury efficiency. With the many rapid changes occurring in Asia, specifically the evolution towards real-time payments, e-wallets, fintechs, new technologies such as blockchain, RPA for example, we need to ensure that we bring in optimal treasury solutions that are digitised and optimised to enable treasury to operate in a strategic and relevant manner, supporting the business ambitions of their organisations.
Clearly, navigating in many countries in Asia also continues to be challenging, as regulatory landscapes are not homogenous and bring along their respective challenges with the evolving geopolitical landscape. We certainly endeavour to bring the best of HSBC to clients by also leveraging on our know-how and best practice across the Asia Pacific region. This also aligns with our ambition of assisting companies as they move offshore, and set up regional treasury centres across the Asia Pacific region. A recent series of corporate treasury advisory sessions for our Chinese clients, in Mandarin, across China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and India is an example of how we can assist our clients on their treasury transformation journeys.
If we think of transaction banking itself, what do you think is powering its growth in Asia Pacific?
The growth in the Asia Pacific region continues to be powered by strong client activity that we continue to observe, coupled with the many changes that are rapidly evolving in the payments landscape, new digitisation technologies, and regulatory evolutions. Dialogue has shifted away from the more traditional discussions around cheque collections, cheque outsourcing, cash pooling structures, to new developments in blockchain, omni-channel collections, mobile collections, next generation virtual accounts, digital accounts receivables tools, interest enhancement facilities etcetera. The development of these new solutions and technologies are rapidly keeping pace with the need for many companies and treasury teams to digitise and transform their treasury in line with the transformation of their businesses. The industrial revolution brought with it Industry 4.0, and this has also driven Treasury 4.0, where the world of digital and physical collide to create new treasury opportunities. At HSBC, we continue to invest into this space to co-create new solutions with clients, to enable them to realise these opportunities.
How is geopolitics influencing the work that you're doing, and more specifically, how are the US-China trade war and lots of uncertainty in Europe affecting what your clients are doing in Asia Pacific?
Geopolitics clearly bring about challenges for the companies we work with, but at the same time, also clear opportunities.
With the ongoing US-China trade war, we continue to see companies – foreign and local – who have been operating in China, seeking to diversify their supply chains to other locations. Let me however clarify that they are not looking to exit China – as China remains non-negotiable for many, given the investments made and the size of the market.
What companies are looking to do is to engage on a ‘China plus one’ strategy. This strategy is one where China will continue to be a key and strategic location but where there is also a need to look for other areas to enhance and better manage supply chains. ASEAN is one of the areas where we have seen companies looking to expand into, with a view of either expanding their existing manufacturing capabilities there, making an acquisition or building greenfield. Clearly, these are long-term strategic decisions that need to be undertaken, and we are looking to assist our clients on their journeys. This form of advisory also extends to our clients in Europe where concerns on Brexit are driving them to look for alternative treasury centres in other sites such as Paris, Luxembourg and Ireland. Our network, people and cash management capabilities across these geographies provide us a clear advantage as we look to provide the right levels of advice to our clients.
How has 2019 been for you as a bank?
2019 has been a year of challenges, with fast changing geopolitics rapidly evolving the business and financial landscape. If I may characterise it: it was as a rollercoaster of a ride – one filled with intense moments of excitement with many ups and downs however, always moving forwards! As mentioned, challenges also bring about opportunities, and we have been focused on bringing the best of the bank to our clients and moving them forwards.
From a transactional banking perspective, we have been ensuring that we continue to invest and bring to our clients the best and most relevant transactional banking solutions, catering to allow them better ways to operate, and enabling treasuries to be more strategic in their execution. Clearly it’s rewarding when we see clients reaping the benefits of the solutions we are putting into place for them.
What are you looking forward to and what's going to be in store for you in 2020?
2020 looks promising as we see the momentum of client activity continue, and as we look towards maintaining the treasury transformation journey with many of the companies that we continue to serve. There is never a dull moment, and we will continue to invest into our transactional banking franchise to enable it to remain relevant to our clients as we bring about new digital solutions for them. Companies remain focused on wanting their payments to be fast, seamless and secure – a theme we continue to invest heavily into, to enable our clients to thrive!