Virtual banks are banks which primarily deliver retail banking services through the internet or other forms of electronic channels instead of physical branches. Driven by advances in Fintech, virtual banking is taking off in Hong Kong. In 2019, eight virtual banks were granted licenses by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, of which Fusion Bank is one. Alan Lui, brimming with confidence, makes for an amiable young entrepreneur. He is currently Chief Marketing Officer of Fusion Bank, jointly owned by Tencent Holdings Limited, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) Limited, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, Hillhouse Capital, and Perfect Ridge Limited.
The dynamic executive has had a varied career path. He started off as a management trainee for Dragonair in 2004, the year he graduated from the Materials Science Programme under the Department of Physics of CUHK. The merger between Dragonair and Cathay Pacific in 2006 landed Alan the position of management trainee with Cathay Pacific. Before joining Fusion Bank, he was the Chief Operating Officer of Asia Miles from 2016 to 2019, the leading loyalty programme in Asia with 10 million members worldwide.
The leap from the airline industry to banking seems to be a prodigious one, but to Alan, his core duty remains the same, and that is how to connect and engage different parties to popularize products or services.
‘My major duty is to maintain engagement between customers and the bank. As a virtual bank, we don’t have any branches, and the first point of contact between a customer and the bank is the app on the customer’s mobile phone. The app design is the moment of truth,’ Alan said during our interview.
The design of the app determines the users’ experience, and users’ experience is the ultimate yardstick of a virtual bank’s success.
‘We want 99% of banking services to be delivered by the app, and a customer’s choice between bank A and bank B really depends on his or her experience with the app. The money factor aside, 80% of decision making depends on user experience.’
Not too long ago, people would have to buy their air tickets and reserve hotel rooms through travel agencies. But now the rise of hotel and airline booking websites and apps has revolutionized the way we plan our journeys. What has happened in the travel industry will definitely repeat itself in the banking industry.
‘To “disrupt” the banking industry, you need to stand back and review its services from the point of view of the user.’
‘Not only do virtual banks have to see things from the point of view of the users, some virtual banks, such as those in the UK, have diversified their services by targeting specific groups of customers,’ he added.
Another challenge faced by virtual banks is the engagement of staff from banking and non-banking backgrounds. To use his own bank as an example, they have assembled expertise from traditional banking and Fintech industries. As Chief Marketing Officer, Alan not only has to engage customers, he also has to design an internal process that allows people from different backgrounds to give their best. As a facilitator, he endeavors to drive his team to collaborate seamlessly.
In spite of the challenges facing virtual banking, Alan emphasized that Hong Kong has what it takes to be a virtual banking hub.
Hong Kong has a sound legal and financial system, and the regulators wish to promote and advance virtual banking. The Hong Kong government recognizes the necessity of transforming Hong Kong into a key player of Fintech in this era of ‘smart banking’. Hong Kong possesses a good compliance framework that protects the interests of customers, and Alan regards it essential that virtual banks strike a balance between customer protection and a smooth user experience.
When asked the secret of how to transit careers successfully, he admitted that transiting between careers is always difficult. Alan said that it all boils down to ‘facilitation’ – the capacity to organize stakeholders to work together to design an efficient and effective workflow.
‘Having worked in different industries, I realize that the problems of different industries are quite similar. My task on hand has always been organizing different parties to work together and that involves soft skills.’
Besides being a savvy senior executive, Alan is also a civic-minded citizen heavily involved in public administration. He sits on several public bodies such as the Hong Kong Housing Authority, the Trade and Industry Advisory Board, the Consumer Council, the Competition Commission, and the Standing Committee on Disciplined Services Salaries and Conditions of Service.
‘I regard myself fortunate to have benefitted from a good education, and therefore want to give back to society. I hope that I could contribute my experience to society and the government,’ Alan said.
He stated that both commercial and public organizations can serve the Hong Kong society, and that he is keen on standing the community in good stead by applying his expertise to these two spheres.
‘We all know that there is a long waiting list for public housing. That problem might take stupendous effort to solve. But do we realize that we can make the experience of handing in an application for public housing friendlier? We may not be able to introduce massive changes overnight, but we can certainly improve small things if we have great passion.’
Alan’s penchant for diversity can be traced to his student days at CUHK, where he was a team member of the Chung Chi Debating Team and the CUHK Chorus. He is particularly appreciative of CUHK’s tradition of humanistic scholarship. Alan was awarded a Hong Kong Bank Foundation Scholarship to Columbia University as a visiting student for one year.
He ended this interview with some advice to young people and CUHK students.
‘While applying themselves is a given, I hope that they could diversify their learning experience, and interact with people of different backgrounds. To me, leadership is about empathizing with other people, as well as bringing people from diverse backgrounds to work together. You must understand why people see things as they do; if you only focus on each other’s differences, you are never going to reach a consensus.’
Reported by Eliza Chan
Photos by Keith Hiro
This article was originally published on CUHK Homepage in Jan 2020.