An Interview with
Senior Director, Financial Services Business Lead - Asia, Microsoft
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
Microsoft develops and supports a range of software products, services, devices, and solutions. The Company's segments include Productivity and Business Processes, Intelligent Cloud, and More Personal Computing. The Company's products include operating systems; cross-device productivity applications; server applications; business solution applications; desktop and server management tools; software development tools; and video games. It also designs, manufactures, and sells devices, including personal computers (PCs), tablets, gaming and entertainment consoles, other intelligent devices, and related accessories. It offers an array of services, including cloud-based solutions that provide customers with software, services, platforms, and content, and it provides solution support and consulting services.
22 February 2022
Tell us about your background, and what are you most passionate about?
I grew up, studied and lived my entire life in Hong Kong. I studied Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science and my first job was a software developer of a new software house – a startup as we would say now. This is where I had the opportunity to build the entire wholesale banking and trading solutions for the financial services industry from scratch and also subsequently I led the sales team and expanded our markets from Hong Kong to Asia and Europe.
I grew into the Director role and in order to expand into US market, the company was sold to a large US software company. I left 3 years later. Since then, I had taken many sales leadership and management roles and had a diversified experience from dot.com, cards issuing and acquiring, payments, treasury and trade While Hong Kong is my home, all of my work experiences had been working for global organizations with headquarters in Canada, US, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland and UK, etc and business development in international markets that includes extensive travel to Asia, Europe and US. Very often, my roles involved bringing new products/solutions to new markets as well as driving revenue growth. I started my career in software development and my journey to Microsoft led through Intellect, Misys and SWIFT - a nonprofit organization.
Currently I am Financial Services Business Leader for Asia at Microsoft, responsible for driving thought leadership and high-level engagements with key stakeholders in the financial services industry across the Asia Pacific region, from India, to Australia and New Zealand. I am also part of Microsoft’s Worldwide Financial Services group providing strategic direction and leadership across all aspects of the financial services sector, including banking, capital markets and insurance. I am also honored to be named among the “25 Women Leaders in Hong Kong Fintech” by InvestHK in Oct 2018.
Aside from my professional career, I have always been active in volunteering. In fact I started when I was 15 and ever since I have been passionate about helping others, supporting each other, and driving our society to be a better place.
I am passionate about how technology and innovation have become engines for growth and transformation in our industry and I am inspired to see so many examples of how technology can enable change for the better, create more opportunities for our society and help people live longer and healthier lives. I am fortunate to be in a company that matches my own passion both professionally and personally.
Describe a time you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.). What did you do and what was the result?
Back in the years, when our software house had grown successfully in Asia and we were at a crossroad of expanding into US market, we needed to do something differently and one of our customers introduced us to a large US retail banking software company. It was a tough decision to go with the acquisition idea. It was difficult to let go of something we were so very proud of and enter into an unknown with the merger. Clearly it was also challenging to accept losing control of the company, while ensuring staff retention and a smooth transition.
To mitigate the risks and ensure this was the right decision for our customers, our staff and the company, we went through a complex due diligence exercise including interviewing clients, leadership team and staff from both sides. We spent weeks in their US headquarters, negotiating with the lawyers in drafting the S&P contract, the management contracts for the key members and more. I almost turned myself into a lawyer after this exercise. In the end it was a successful merger, although there was a major cultural shock (which was not identified in due diligence) as it was the first time the parent company is doing international business outside of US, so a lot to learn after the acquisition.
How would others define your communication style? Do you prefer to be close to your employees or maintain a healthy distance, and why?
My communication style is largely shaped by two experiences.
When I was young, I was a volunteer working with a very experienced outbound social worker who coached teenagers on the street, and he taught me there are 8 rules of communication in social working, a critical one was being non-judgmental.
The second, is my career, where I have the opportunity to attend many communication trainings and also practice every day with customers, partners, media, colleagues, team members, etc. I believe communication is a two-way street, others probably define my style as being assertive, open, trusted, safe to talk to, non-judgmental, a listener and always curious to learn and sensitive to see from other person’s point of view.
I prefer to be close to people or employees. Communication is very important in our daily lives not just work but personal as well, At times I am also a mentor to students and colleagues. I believe in the power of a network, where we buld strong support system for each other, helping each other grow. Being allies for one another and these small things of being there others need you make this world a better place for everyone.
How has the industry been changing in recent years? What do you think are the biggest challenges your industry will face in the next 5 years?
The industry is experiencing a seismic tech-driven transformation. It pursues new products and services for customers across the region, to ultimately ensure better experience for them, on their terms.
While cloud is the foundation for all this transformation, FSI organizations are specifically looking into data analytics and AI to drive this massive change and meet consumers expectations and providing seamless one-stop shop services available non-stop from their fingertips. I believe integrating data, particularly unstructured data, is key to a successful implementation of such scenario. Moreover, translating data into hyper-personalized offerings via services and apps should be a high priority for FSIs to drive value-creation for its digital customers.
From biometric authentication to customer service bots to detecting cybercrime with machine learning, we see exciting applications now possible at a scale and accuracy that is unmatched. AI can analyze huge amounts of data with a speed and accuracy that no human can match. It can not only reduce costs, but also drive efficiencies, and increase revenues.
While technology continues to enable change, it is ultimately people who drive and sustain it. As such, I see four areas of change that FSI firms need to embrace: technology, data, customer centricity supported by processes, as well as people and culture to drive systemic innovation.
We cannot underestimate how driving change remains the largest challenge in our industry, but this begins with culture and prioritizing collaboration within the organization, the modernization of platform, the pace of technology adoption such as Cloud, data and AI.
This ultimately paves the way for continual digital transformation as FSIs keep up with evolving industry trends and consumer preferences, even in on our region.
What personality traits make a good leader?
A good leader is someone who is passionate, positive, optimistic, accountable for his/her own actions and fair. It is also very important for a leader to respect diverse cultures, backgrounds, opinions and who is open minded, yet authentic, adaptable and flexible. We expect a lot from great leaders so I would add: patience, empathy, sensitivity, strategic and critical thinking, motivating and inspiring people.
What does the future hold for your company?
At Microsoft we are committed to constantly innovate to empower our customers and partners to transform and drive better experiences to their customers. Large and recent shifts in consumer attitudes, as well as the ongoing pandemic, are forcing Financial Services Institutions (FSI) to accelerate toward a digital frontier. And we are here to help them embrace technology, whether it’s to empower their employees in a new hybrid world of work, or optimize their processes or drive insights to inform new services and business models.
In our region, FSIs are already taking the lead in reshaping customer experiences, leveraging efficient, reliable and cost-effective data infrastructure and the cloud.
We are seeing FSIs, including industry leaders like Standard Chartered and Manulife that have recently doubled down on digitization priorities and increasingly realizing the value of the cloud.
The path to a data-driven business model for FSIs inevitably involves the cloud, and Microsoft is committed to being a trusted partner to FSIs, in our region, and beyond.
We also recently introduced Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services , an industry-specific cloud that provides FSIs with new capabilities that support their responsible and sustainable growth. Apart from gaining agility, efficiency, scalability, security and resilience from the cloud, this is now combined with an industry data model and capabilities which are tailored to the financial vertical.
Digital transformation is undoubtedly a complex and long journey. While the pace might be different for each FSI, Microsoft will continue to work with and support FSIs as they digitize, by empowering each of them to define and reach their destination through accelerated technology adoption and platform modernization to make their ambitions a reality.