Banking On Diversity

Regional Head of HSBC Private Banking in Asia-Pacific Siew Meng Tan discusses how the bank promotes gender diversity within the company and supports female entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Siew Meng Tan, Regional Head of HSBC Private Banking in Asia-Pacific

Q: You joined HSBC 14 years ago—from starting out in corporate banking in Singapore to taking on the CEO role in Mauritius and Thailand, and now you’re the Regional Head of HSBC Private Banking in Asia-Pacific. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in taking up a leadership role in the highly competitive finance industry?

It’s no secret that the finance industry is traditionally male-dominated, so there have been times in my career where I’ve had to work very hard on being visible and ensuring my voice is heard. The way I look at it, I always pursue roles that I enjoy so it makes it easier to transition from one position to another. Having the right drive and confidence has helped me to put myself forward and speak up. Rather than seeing them as a challenge, I look at every new assignment as a great learning experience. For example, moving from Singapore, known for having comprehensive regulations versus other countries that may be less so, I had to navigate through that as well as learn how to deal with different people from different cultures so it taught me a lot. In those roles—be it in Hong Kong, Mauritius, Singapore or Thailand—the common thread has been the opportunity for me to interact with clients to understand their businesses and needs in order to serve them better.

Why is gender diversity important in business? How does it benefit your clients?

Having led teams for a long time, I found that when you work with diverse teams—be it gender, nationality or background—you’re going to get more creative ideas and different perspectives in looking at things. And when your business is about finding solutions, diversity becomes even more important.

As for private banking in particular, it’s critical to have a diverse team because we’re dealing with very successful individuals and families, and increasingly more women who might prefer dealing with and learning from other women. Having diversity at our end ensures we are able to better cater for all our clients by having the right people to engage with them, be it different gender or individuals with different communication styles. It’s about having the right level of chemistry and, more importantly, trust.

What are you and HSBC management doing to promote gender diversity in the company?

As a group, we have given ourselves a target of 30% in terms of female leadership where it currently stands at 28%. However, in our private banking division, women account for 45% of the leadership posts at the moment. It is a good position to be in but ideally we’d like to set to 50-50.

It all starts with hiring where we are making a conscious effort to ensure that every time we create a shortlist of candidates to interview, it is balanced and well-represented. Same goes for when we’re considering promotions within the company as we don’t want to just leave it to chance.

We’re also looking at providing the younger female talents more opportunities through programs where they have mentors or sponsors, to make sure they get any support they may need to progress their career.

“We’re also looking at providing the younger female talents more opportunities through programs where they have mentors or sponsors, to make sure they get any support they may need to progress their career.”

– Siew Meng Tan, Regional Head of HSBC Private Banking in Asia-Pacific

In what ways does HSBC Private Banking support women entrepreneurs and business leaders?

I believe we’re in a very fortunate place to support women entrepreneurs and we do that through programs that aim to engage and educate our clients.

Last year we hosted a forum called ‘Invest Like A Woman’ where we invited successful female leaders in the investment space—CIO’s, portfolio managers at big fund houses—to speak and share their experiences and insights with our clients. The audience was a mix of women and men whom we feel are important to include in the conversation so that they may be more supportive of their children, siblings and spouses.

We also hosted our thought-leadership Women’s Forum earlier this year where we invited successful women leaders to share their insights and inspiring stories in driving transformation across various industries. We found that creating this kind of platform to share not just successes but also challenges resonates really well with clients.

This year HSBC Private Banking has also put its support behind AllBright, a networking club for women, with the aim of connecting and supporting entrepreneurial women. While they started in London, they are quickly expanding across the US and now looking at Asia. And HSBC is well-placed given our global footprint, our in-house expertise and our connectivity to contribute to the development of these future leaders.

One of the challenges aspiring entrepreneurs face is funding. This is where we come in with guidance on how to better attract investors. Same goes for the younger generation of family business leaders who might want to step out and set up a new venture, or need advice to better manage their family business and family wealth.

What advice would you share with other young female managers and entrepreneurs today?

My advice is that if you want to be successful it has to be a continuous learning process. I personally continue to learn and draw inspiration from successful women, who have made remarkable achievements in driving change and transformation on an individual, business and community level as well as striking the work-family balance. Speaking with them, you’ll be amazed at how each one has a different formula to success and ways to overcome challenges that they face.

I also believe that another key to success for everyone, regardless of their gender, is to be driven by passion for what they’re doing, which will eventually turn challenges into opportunities.

For me personally, what keeps me happy is the fact that I enjoy the role I can play in the banking industry, whether it is seeing development opportunities for my team or working with clients to support their ambitions.

The information contained in this article has not been reviewed in the light of your individual circumstances and is for information purposes only. It does not purport to provide legal, taxation or other advice and should not be taken as such. No client or other reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of the content of this article without seeking specific professional advice.

Issued by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited.

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