IN­VEST­ING IN SO­CI­ETY

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

Al­tru­ism is a word not com­monly as­so­ci­ated with the world of bank­ing. But, if Chris­tine Ip has her way, that per­cep­tion might very well change.

As CEO of the Greater China di­vi­sion at Sin­ga­pore’s United Over­seas Bank (UOB), she has risen through the ranks of the male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion.

Ip is not only forg­ing a suc­cess­ful path for women, but is also us­ing her role to as­sist phil­an­thropic ini­tia­tives.

“While many peo­ple say that life is the art of liv­ing, I be­lieve that life is the art of draw­ing with­out an eraser,” she said.

Mak­ing ev­ery day count is a phi­los­o­phy she is de­ter­mined to live by.

Ip was born and raised in Hong Kong, in a fam­ily of five chil­dren. Her for­ma­tive years were shaped by her mother’s role as head of a school for special needs chil­dren, where the young Ip of­ten helped out dur­ing her child­hood.

“There I spent my af­ter­school hours learn­ing Braille and soft skills, such as in­ter­per­sonal and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. I also vol­un­teered my time dur­ing sum­mer breaks to help the vis­ually im­paired stu­dents. I was in­spired to see chil­dren with dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties over­come life’s chal­lenges to gain knowl­edge and skills.”

Most of her re­main­ing free time was taken up with artis­tic pur­suits.

“I have loved art, es­pe­cially the per­form­ing arts, since I was a lit­tle girl. I learned bal­let and to play the piano when I was in pri­mary school. Art has al­ways been part of my DNA,” Ip said.

“When I was a child, I dreamt of be­com­ing a per­form­ing artist at the Hong Kong Reper­tory Theatre be­cause I en­joy per­form­ing and act­ing on stage.”

As a stu­dent, Ip chaired the dance club and was ac­tive in the drama so­ci­ety while study­ing at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

De­spite her pas­sion for art, Ip stud­ied ge­og­ra­phy for her first de­gree.

“Upon grad­u­a­tion, I wanted to take on new chal­lenges, so I looked for an in­dus­try that could pro­vide me with an ar­ray of ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Ip.

“Re­al­iz­ing that the bank­ing in­dus­try is very dy­namic as it re­quires a va­ri­ety of roles and skill sets, I sub­mit­ted my job ap­pli­ca­tion, suc­ceeded in en­ter­ing this in­dus­try and work­ing for more than 30 years.”

In 1987, Ip’s first break in bank­ing came at HSBC, where she re­mained for seven years. There she earned her stripes in var­i­ous man­age­rial po­si­tions.

In 1994, she joined Stan­dard Char­tered and worked her way up to be­come head of con­sumer bank­ing for China. She switched to Aus­tralian bank ANZ in 2009 as CEO of its China di­vi­sion.

Ip joined UOB in 2011, be­com­ing CEO of the Hong Kong di­vi­sion the fol­low­ing year. Last year, she stepped up to be­come CEO for Greater China.

She re­mains un­fazed by her rapid rise in what is tra­di­tion­ally re­garded as a male pro­fes­sion — cer­tainly in the up­per ech­e­lons. But Ip be­lieves that Ris­ing through the ranks in a male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion, banker uses her role to em­power lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties any­one with the right ca­pa­bil­i­ties can suc­ceed in bank­ing.

“In the bank­ing in­dus­try, which is highly com­pet­i­tive, di­verse strengths among the work­force help to en­rich busi­ness com­pet­i­tive­ness and or­ga­ni­za­tional per­for­mance,” Ip said.

In her cur­rent po­si­tion, “the prac­tice of di­ver­sity ex­tends be­yond gen­der to in­clude draw­ing on the range of ex­pe­ri­ences and abil­i­ties in­di­vid­u­als can bring to the or­ga­ni­za­tion”, she said.

But cou­pled with Ip’s per­for­mance, it is per­haps her phil­an­thropic com­mit­ment that truly stands out.

“I have been the co-chair­per­son of the Wu Zhi Qiao (Bridge to China) walkathon foun­da­tion’s fundrais­ing com­mit­tee since 2013,” she said.

“I also worked with a group of ex­pats in China to form a non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion called CEO Global, which aims to men­tor the next gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness lead­ers through train­ing and talks.”

In line with the bank’s cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to fo­cus on art, chil­dren and ed­u­ca­tion in Hong Kong, Ip helped es­tab­lish the UOB Art Acad­emy in 2015 to high­light the im­por­tance of cul­tural her­itage by nur­tur­ing lo­cal tal­ent.

The acad­emy or­ga­nizes out­reach ac­tiv­i­ties to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on art, help to de­velop the skills of young artists and pro­mote cross-cul­tural di­a­logue.

“For ex­am­ple, in Oc­to­ber 2015, we held a work­shop to teach less-priv­i­leged chil­dren the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and how they can turn plas­tic flot­sam into in­stal­la­tion art. Their col­or­ful and vi­brant works were dis­played at pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tions,” ex­plained Ip.

“It was a mean­ing­ful project to me as th­ese young peo­ple in­jected the city with more pos­i­tive en­ergy through their art­works and en­abled the com­mu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate dif­fer­ent art forms.”

Ip re­mains buoy­ant about the op­por­tu­ni­ties that China presents to the bank­ing sec­tor.

“In light of China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and the Guang­dong-Hong Kong-Ma­cao Greater Bay Area and Hong KongZhuhai-Ma­cao Bridge, which will be com­pleted soon, we see huge busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties aris­ing from greater eco­nomic con­nec­tiv­ity within Greater China and in Asia.”

The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is a plan to boost trade and in­fra­struc­ture across the an­cient Silk Road routes and be­yond, the Greater Bay Area aims to de­velop a world-class city clus­ter; while the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Ma­cao Bridge will be the world’s long­est over­wa­ter bridge at 55 kilo­me­ters.

When asked about the se­cret of her suc­cess in as­cend­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der, Ip is frank.

“I at­tribute my ac­com­plish­ments to a num­ber of fac­tors — belief, ac­tion and dis­ci­pline. You need to have faith in your goals. Once your mind is con­vinced that you can do it, noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble,” she said.

“Then when you act upon what you be­lieve, there is fo­cus and en­ergy. And that en­ergy pro­pels you to greater heights.

“Lastly, willpower helps in­crease the chances of suc­cess, be­cause you will con­sis­tently fol­low up on your plans.”

Ip also in­dulges her in­ter­est in per­form­ing through her speak­ing en­gage­ments. She has ad­dressed pub­lic fo­rums and un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grams at var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties in Hong Kong.

Top­ics she cov­ers are as broad as busi­ness and bank­ing sec­tor trends and op­por­tu­ni­ties, work­place in­clu­sive­ness, ca­reer de­vel­op­ment, and arts and cul­ture.

Ip pre­dicts the big­gest change in bank­ing over the next decade will re­volve around dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion and will “con­tinue to evolve with ad­vance­ments in fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy”, or fin­tech.

“To en­hance the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, to pro­vide more cre­ative so­lu­tions and to be more ef­fi­cient, banks could look to us­ing more fin­tech and strengthen part­ner­ships with fin­tech com­pa­nies and help to ac­cel­er­ate the growth of fin­tech star­tups in Asia.”

With Ip’s in­volve­ment, UOB has teamed up with SGIn­no­vate, a Sin­ga­porean or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides a bridge be­tween academia and en­trepreneur­ship, to bring “deep tech” prod­ucts to the mar­ket.

“(This) is one way through which we help to men­tor promis­ing fin­tech star­tups on re­fin­ing their busi­ness mod­els and propo­si­tions.”

Ip said banks can play a major role in al­le­vi­at­ing world poverty “by pro­vid­ing fund­ing to busi­nesses, cre­at­ing jobs and sourc­ing lo­cally” to help em­power lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“For ex­am­ple, UOB Ven­ture Man­age­ment set up the 100 bil­lion yuan ($15 bil­lion) Si­noSin­ga­pore Con­nec­tiv­ity Pri­vate Equity Fund, in part­ner­ship with three com­pa­nies, to in­vest in com­pa­nies that con­trib­ute to the in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment of western China.”

The bank has also un­der­taken projects in other coun­tries in the re­gion.

“In Myan­mar, (the bank) has helped fa­cil­i­tate the fi­nanc­ing of the con­struc­tion of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions tow­ers and gas­fired power plants to help the coun­try meet the in­fras­truc­tural needs and en­ergy de­mand aris­ing from its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.”

Such projects fit in with Ip’s sense of cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“I be­lieve in treat­ing peo­ple with fair­ness, re­spect and in­tegrity, show­ing care, com­pas­sion and con­cern, and giv­ing back to so­ci­ety. I be­lieve it is a bless­ing to serve oth­ers and to make oth­ers shine,” she said.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chris­tine Ip says any­one with the right ca­pa­bil­i­ties can suc­ceed in bank­ing.

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