Chief­tain on a mul­ti­pronged sor­tie

In­sur­ance vet­eran Win­nie Wong is on a cru­cial er­rand, telling her pri­or­i­ties in­clude cru­sad­ing for gen­der di­ver­sity and cor­rect­ing the pub­lic’s wrong per­cep­tion of the in­dus­try.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK BUSINESS - Contact the writer at cher­rylin@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Wi n n i e Wo n g Chi-shun prides her­self as be­ing among just a hand­ful of fe­male big­wigs in the in­sur­ance world.

With more than 20 years’ em­piri­cism in the in­dus­try un­der her belt, Wong, as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Asia In­sur­ance Ltd — the in­sur­ance arm of Hong Kong-listed Asia Fi­nan­cial Hold­ings — com­mu­ni­cates with oth­ers pro­trud­ing a ten­der and gen­tle voice.

As leader of one of Hong Kong ’s emi­nent play­ers in the trade, Wong has three key goals in her mul­ti­ple-fold mission — fight­ing for gen­der di­ver­sity, lay­ing waste to what she calls peo­ple’s mis­con­cep­tion of the in­sur­ance sec­tor and get­ting the govern­ment to give the in­dus­try the back­ing it de­serves.

She speaks of how much s h e’s a w a r e o f t h e s o c i a l re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with her gen­der and job ti­tle and, as a re­sult, she has been try­ing all she can to pro­mote gen­der di­ver­sity within the com­pany it­self, plus her two other listed am­bi­tions.

“As a fe­male leader in this male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try, I em­pha­size equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for mem­bers of both sexes in my or­ga­ni­za­tion. I also en­cour­age fe­male col­leagues to work af­ter giv­ing birth, so I of­fer them flex­i­ble work­ing hours.”

Sport­ing an easy-go­ing and con­sid­er­ate at­ti­tude, Wong is pop­u­lar among the staff. She prods her team mem­bers into try­ing out var­i­ous tasks. She nei­ther puts them in the cross hairs nor throws a tantrum if they aren’t up to the mark, but guides them in learn­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly from fail­ure. Her team thus ex­hibits a sus­tained com­mit­ment to per­for­mance excellence, can­dor and mu­tual re­spect.

In­sur­ance hub

How­ever, be­ing a good boss i s n’ t r e a l l y e n o u g h f o r a n in­dus­try leader. Wong, who also serves as a coun­cil mem­ber of the Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Devel­op­ment Coun­cil (FSDC) — the group set up by the Hong Kong govern­ment to lift the devel­op­ment of the SAR’s fi­nan­cial ser vices sec­tor — tasks her­self with turn­ing the city into an in­sur­ance hub for the re­gion. And, top­ping her goals is chang­ing the peo­ple’s tra­di­tional mind­set about the in­sur­ance busi­ness.

“There’s still a gen­eral mis­un­der­stand­ing of in­sur­ance. When speak­ing of in­sur­ance, peo­ple tend to think of the sales agents slog­ging un­der im­mense pres­sure be­cause their num­ber is ver y large and they’re more vis­i­ble in the mar­ket. A small num­ber of agents may not be­have well, so the gen­eral pub­lic may har­bor a bad im­pres­sion of the whole in­dustr y. Many par­ents even bar their chil­dren from en­ter­ing the in­sur­ance busi­ness be­cause of such mis­un­der­stand­ing. And, this has led to a se­ri­ous shortage of tal­ents in the sec­tor,” she says re­gret­fully.

The in­sur­ance uni­verse is far from that of bro­kers, agents and life in­sur­ers, she en­light­ens China Daily. It em­braces a lot of pro­fes­sion­als be­hind the scenes — un­der­writ­ers struc­ture and price in­sur­ance pro­grams, lawyers han­dling claims, risk en­gi­neers pro­vid­ing risk man­age­ment ad­vice, mar­ket­ing and ac­tu­ar­ial pro­fes­sion­als, etc.

“But, the gen­eral pub­lic just isn’t aware of that,” she em­pha­sizes. To this end, Wong has been giv­ing talks and lec­tures to mem­bers of the pub­lic and univer­sity stu­dents with the aim of cor­rect­ing the in­dus­try’s im­age, espe­cially among the younger gen­er­a­tion.

As a fe­male leader in this male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try, I em­pha­size equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for mem­bers of both sexes in my or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Rallying for sup­port

An­other must-do on her list is push­ing for govern­ment sup­port. Along with sev­eral other ex­perts sit­ting on the FSDC, Wong came up with a re­port ear­lier this year sug­gest­ing ways of mak­ing Hong Kong an in­sur­ance hub. The re­port high­lights the chal­lenges fac­ing Hong Kong , such as the stiff com­pe­ti­tion from re­gional mar­kets like Sin­ga­pore, and the need to stem the flow of busi­ness out of Hong Kong . It also urges the Chi­nese main­land au­thor­i­ties to grant Hong Kong in­sur­ers pref­er­en­tial or spe­cial sta­tus, espe­cially those in the rein­sur­ance and marine in­sur­ance sec­tor.

“Hong Kong is con­sid­ered to­tally off­shore un­der the China Risk Ori­ented Sol­vency Sys­tem (C-ROSS). That’s to say Hong Kong and other in­sur­ance cen­ters en­joy the same sta­tus un­der the sys­tem. But, as in­sur­ance hubs of­fer a lot of tax ben­e­fits to lure in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to set up of­fices there, many Hong Kong-based rein­sur­ance com­pa­nies, such as Mu­nich Rein­sur­ance Com­pany, have moved their re­gional head­quar­ters to neigh­bor­ing cities, weak­en­ing Hong Kong’s com­pet­i­tive­ness. It’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem, and that’s why I had put so much ef­fort into the re­port,” she clar­i­fies.

Tw o m o n t h s a f t e r t h e re­port was is­sued, the China In­sur­ance Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (CIRC) and the Hong Kong Of­fice of the Com­miss i o n e r o f In s u r a n c e ( O C I ) signed an agree­ment frame­work to con­duct an assess­ment into equiv­a­lence for the in­sur­ance sol­vency and reg­u­la­tory regimes in the SAR and on the main­land. Wong’s ef­fort paid off.

CAP­I­TAL IDEAS: PETER LIANG

Ac­cord­ing to the OCI, the next step is for both sides to work out a more de­tailed plan for the equiv­a­lence regime, which is set to be com­pleted within four years. Be­fore com­ple­tion of the assess­ment, a tran­si­tional ar­range­ment will ap­ply un­der which the two sol­vency regimes will be rec­og­nized as equiv­a­lent or sim­i­lar on a pro­vi­sional ba­sis.

“The au­thor­i­ties acted very quickly to our pro­posal. Hope­fully, Hong Kong could get closer to an on­shore sta­tus and en­joy some pref­er­en­tial poli­cies dur­ing the tran­si­tional pe­riod, which will prompt some in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to move back to the city. If they move back to Hong Kong, more tal­ents will join our in­dus­try,” says Wong.

Apart from seek­ing a clos­eto-on­shore sta­tus, she sug­gests in­tro­duc­ing tax in­cen­tives and pro­mot­ing busi­ness to over­seas clients.

“Cur­rently, Hong Kong has a sag­ging in­sur­ance mar­ket with a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing record. There are over 160 in­sur­ers in such a small city, so we need to de­velop a big­ger pie for Hong Kong in­sur­ers.”

Wong’s up­beat that with ad­e­quate govern­ment back­ing, Hong Kong in­sur­ers can do busi­ness from other coun­tries and re­claim the busi­ness they’ve lost in the past. Only af­ter build­ing up a big­ger mar­ket with healthy and sus­tain­able growth, can the in­dus­try af­ford to im­prove its rep­u­ta­tion, at­tract and re­tain young tal­ents.

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