“Before I joined Citi two years ago, I sometimes wondered if the work of a compliance officer was just box checking and routine, but I find it much more interactive than that now!” says Florence Ng, Assistant Vice President, Compliance, Citi Hong Kong.
“After the financial turmoil of 2008, I really understand the importance of compliance to keep banks safe and help senior management to run a bank, and also to protect customers and educate them to manage their finances wisely. I think it is very meaningful work.”
It is, perhaps, unusual to meet a compliance officer driven by such altruistic career motivations, yet Ng is part of a wider evolution of the compliance function in the financial sector.
Today, the compliance function is more than purely advising on the regulatory aspects of business initiatives; it also helps preserve the integrity and reputation of the bank, via managing regulatory risk, conducting monitoring and surveillance, and managing regulatory relationships. All this has made a career in compliance more exciting and meaningful than ever before under the changing regulatory landscape.
“A compliance officer’s role is about supporting the business to achieve compliance, and meeting regulatory expectations while facilitating business growth and innovation. To be a responsible compliance officer, we need to pro-actively engage the business to understand the product design, execution flows, customer communications and post-implementation in order to provide a credible challenge to address compliance risk,” says Ng.
Ng says the Citi compliance team is keen to support innovation and new products that benefit customers and the public at large, and will look for ways to support innovations that can thrive in a safe, sound and sustainable manner. Particularly in recent years, thanks to technology development, fintech initiatives have become a new arena for the financial sector. “As compliance officers, we need to keep abreast of technology developments and evaluate business proposals according to rapidly evolving regulatory requirements. We must also be open to frequent engagement with regulators,” adds Ng.
Secured banking services, customer protection and treating customers fairly are priorities, says Ng. “It is our role to work as partners of the business and arrive at the right outcomes for their initiatives. The job requires good communication skills and continuous learning in order to add value.”
Ng’s empathy may well derive from her previous career path. Prior to joining Citi two years ago, she pursued a career in marketing and communications for asset management and wealth management companies, and subsequently at the Hong Kong Association of Banks, which is a statutory industry body for the banking industry in Hong Kong, upon completion of her Bachelor of Laws Degree.
“You might think marketing and compliance are very different from each other but even in marketing, I worked with compliance officers. All marketing material and communication pieces had to be reviewed by compliance and the legal team. That equipped me with some knowledge of being compliant at driving business,” she says.
Ng was involved in the launch of Citi Pay with Points on HKTVmall, launched in April 2018, a feature that allows Citi cardholders to redeem points in real-time at an online store, and was later expanded to other merchants. The program was launched following customer feedback, which revealed that 94% of millennials are more likely to redeem points if they can do it in real-time.
Clearly, the initiative was imperative, but when a groundbreaking product like this is proposed, compliance officers have their important role to play.
“When we launch a new service like this, compliance officers need to communicate with the regulators together with the business to make the proposal happen in a compliant way,” she says. “This project makes use of API, so that the clients who shop at the merchant can offset purchases upon checkout using their credit card reward points seamlessly without ever leaving the shopping platform. We talked with regulators to explain how it works and supported the business to balance customer experience and regulatory expectations.”
After the Citi Pay with Points project was launched, Ng was thanked by Citi Gratitude, an internal program that allows colleagues to celebrate teammates’ successes. “It was an amazing experience,” says Ng.
Ng credits her Citi colleagues, including senior management, for fostering an environment that has eased her career transition and for supporting a healthy work-life culture. Her peers frequently share their experience and she is inspired by the diverse and inclusive culture in the bank. A soprano and pianist in her free time, she is thankful for having the flexibility to attend rehearsals and recitals!
Participating in Citi’s annual Global Community Day is another highlight for Ng. Employees can volunteer in service projects that address local community concerns. The most recent community day in June 2019 saw an impressive turnout of 110,000 Citi volunteers in more than 400 cities and 90 countries. In Hong Kong, 3,000 colleagues supported more than 30 community activities. Ng took part in a Saturday morning storytelling session to underprivileged families and children.
The bank also provides extensive professional training - particularly related to the latest fintech developments. There are over 1,000 e-learning materials available for staff and there is a strong emphasis on ethics and compliance-related trainings.
Citi is currently recruiting in compliance across APAC and details of all open roles can be found on Citi’s careers site. Asked what kind of person thrives at Citi, Ng says it is a place for people who enjoy people. “I appreciate the bank understood why I wanted to change career focus and that they look at the holistic profile — not just direct experience,” she adds. “I really enjoy working here,” says Ng. “I’m glad the bank was willing to give me a chance.”