Interviewed By Janine Marie Crisanto
Mary Huen of StanChart HK has an extensive and distinguished career in financial services and has led the bank to success amid turbulent times. Under her leadership, StanChart HK’s retail banking franchise has become one of the most outstanding business segments in StanChart Group globally, backed by strong income growth and profit contribution.
As the world faces an unprecedented global pandemic and the need for institutions to adapt and respond with agility and clarity becomes more urgent, exceptional leadership has never been more critical for survival. In our assessment of the best institutions in the Excellence in Retail Financial Services Programme 2020, we also recognise outstanding leaders who have contributed significantly to the transformation of their institutions and made enduring impacts on the industry.
The Retail Finance Person of the Year award is the highest accolade given every year in the Excellence in Retail Financial Services Programme to honour the significant achievements over the recipients’ entire careers in inspiring change in their institutions, the industry, as well as their commitment and achievement in the development of their staff. This special recognition, has over the years, been conferred on the most accomplished leaders in the retail financial services industry in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions. The Retail Finance Person of the Year award is the only individual award recognised under the Excellence programme and the only award of its kind for these regions. Very few candidates will ever qualify for this prestigious career-defining award.
Winners of this award undergo an exhaustive evaluation process involving a shortlist of outstanding candidates and confirmed by an international council of advisors. This year, the council of advisors gave importance to the ability to lead their institutions with vision, verve and fortitude during periods of transformation and challenges. The council also considered the ability to build long-term and sustainable banking franchise, and how this translated to their institutions’ leadership in their respective market and region through robust performance, innovative products and services, enhanced customer relationship and agile workforce.
The Retail Finance Person of the Year in 2020, Mary Huen, CEO of Standard Chartered Hong Kong (StanChart HK), has in her more than 30 years of banking and retail finance experience, demonstrated exceptional leadership and expertise. She has held senior positions in managing balance sheet, products, wealth management and distribution. Before taking on her current role as CEO, Huen was the head of retail banking for Hong Kong and regional head of retail banking for Greater China and North Asia, and led the strategic agenda and drove the performance delivery of all the retail operations in the region.
She has proven her ability to establish long-term and sustainable banking franchise. Since her appointment as CEO in 2017, the bank has become one of the largest and most profitable business segments in the group globally, backed by exceptional financial performance and a clear business strategy. The bank’s revenue grew by 20% from 2016 to 2019 – accounting for 25% of the total income of the group. Meanwhile, profit increased by 54% during the same period, which contributed to more than a third of the group’s total profit.
Huen has made significant impact on StanChart HK’s retail banking transformation
Despite a tough operating environment defined by constant regulatory changes, volatile economic conditions and increasing disruptions from technology players, Huen was able to deliver on the bank’s strategic priorities especially in digital and the affluent customer segment.
Under her leadership, the bank made significant strides in positioning itself at the forefront of digitalisation. Huen introduced new digital capabilities and reengineered its processes to enhance customer experience and value proposition. A notable new capability is QR Cash, a first in the Hong Kong market. Its mobile banking offering was also upgraded with new features, including the artificial intelligence-powered 24/7 virtual assistant Stacy, the SC Pay for Faster Payment System, online account opening, “Mobile FX”, and “Fund Select” which provides customers with a selection of handpicked high-quality funds. These initiatives helped boost the bank’s digital active client base by double digits.
Recognising the massive opportunity in Hong Kong as Asia’s international financial hub, the bank was able to tap into the growing affluent population. It established a new division of ‘Priority Private’ to serve high-end customers between Priority clients and Private clients. In 2019 alone, the bank was able to increase its Priority clients by 22%.
Huen helped the franchise navigate through periods of transformation and difficulties
She has demonstrated resilience by successfully leading the bank through various challenges including global crises such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Lehman bankruptcy, Asian Financial Crisis and Global Financial Crisis. Most recently, she is leading the bank in facing the social unrest brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to COVID-19, the bank introduced Invest from home and Bank from home digital campaigns to provide clients with human-oriented services to enable them to continue managing their finances during this difficult period. Aside from the new mobile features previously discussed, the bank encouraged its customers to utilise its new wealth management tool, My RM, which enables clients interact with their relationship managers remotely. It also rolled out SC Live, which is a live stream session to provides market analysis and allows customers to interact with experts.
Moreover, as the industry is pressured to go digital during this time, StanChart HK rolled-out a trial run of its virtual bank Mox in April 2020. Mox, backed by StanChart HK in partnership with HKT, PCCW and Trip.com, is one of the eight recipients of the virtual bank licenses from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) in the first half of 2019. The digital bank’s services have been made available to selected customers in order to gather feedback and prepare for its public launch by end of this year.
Huen has shown remarkable focus on talent development and building social capital
In line with the ongoing digital transformation of the bank and the industry, Huen has prioritised workforce development to adapt to the new normal. She was determined to infuse a digital culture throughout all aspects of the bank's business segments. This commitment culminated in the launch of SCVentures, which is a corporate platform to test new ideas and models, and the eXellerator innovation lab and collaborative space in Hong Kong in April 2018 where the bank innovates from within by creating technology catalysts for change.
Huen has forged collaborative relationships within and outside of the financial services community. She has also initiated an informal female CEO network, "Women Chief Executives" (WCE), in the financial industry. The network has hosted regular cross-bank sharing sessions and mentorship programmes with the objective to promote women leadership in banking. Her involvement and activities in various boards and committees in Hong Kong has also been significant in the development of the banking industry and wider economy.