Forget Google. HSBC’s Tamara van den Ban wants more graduates in Asia to start careers in digital banking.
“There’s a big opportunity in Asia to take advantage of the historically slow uptake of traditional banking and the high recent uptake of mobile technology. That combination is a good basis for the expansion of digital banking,” says van den Ban, who joined HSBC in Hong Kong in February as head of digital products for Asia Pacific. “The pace of change here is generally faster than in the US or Europe.”
Jobs in digital banking are also likely to benefit from technological change rather than be displaced by it. “Graduates should consider moving into a digital role at a bank because the potential for this industry to be disrupted by technology is very strong, so they will be working in a vital role at a time of great change,” says van den Ban.
Van den Ban is already a veteran in the context of digital banking. Prior to HSBC, she spent two years as head of digital channels at ING-DiBa in Frankfurt. From 2008 to 2015 she worked in Bangkok for TMB Bank, which is part owned by ING, latterly as head of digital strategy and channels.
Digital roles in banking appeal to Van den Ban because they are typically more “complex” than those in other sectors. “You deal with complicated financial regulations, internal legacy systems and rapidly changing customer demands,” she explains. “Digital banking isn’t just about e-commerce any more – it’s also where you acquire customers and sell to them, so it’s a full sales and service challenge for banks.”
And there’s the money involved. HSBC alone is investing $1.7bn in “digital transformation” globally in the three years to the end of 2017.
The firm is hiring in Hong Kong on the back of this investment, but would not provide headcount numbers. At the graduate level, it has launched a new digital banking recruitment programme, which rotates grads across different functions within digital for two years.
HSBC’s digital banking department in Hong Kong also wants experienced staff, and not only technologists. Van den Ban – who has a digital strategy rather than a programming background herself – is hiring across several functions, including product managers, project managers, developers and content producers.
Hong Kong-based employees work on both local and global digital products, with a focus on retail and wealth management clients. But why locate these jobs in a city as expensive as Hong Kong when large banks, including HSBC, are still offshoring many operations and technology roles to India and China?
“Alongside London, Hong Kong is one of two main locations for our business, so a lot of digital banking jobs are here,” says Van den Ban. “Digital banking staff work as one team in agile scrums on each project. This kind of work, which involves daily reflection and interaction, is much easier to do in one location, and Hong Kong has a strong talent pool to hire from.”
HSBC recruits from large banks, fintech start-ups and global technology companies for its digital roles. “The skills we need are primarily digital ones. In each team we look to have a balance of people with and without prior banking experience,” says Van den Ban.
If you join HSBC in Hong Kong, don’t expect to always stay in its office. Last September the bank rented several hundred hot desks in a Causeway Bay building run by workspace-sharing company WeWork. This is where “people from different departments – the front-office, technology, data, and product – can come together to work on specific digital projects”, says Van den Ban.
Placing employees into funkier external digs also means HSBC is reacting to the threat posed by fintech start-ups. “We’re replicating a start-up environment to change the way we work and adopt a more agile, start-up-like mentality. We need to be as, or more, innovate in digital banking as the fintech firms are.”
So far the move seems to be paying off. “We’ve found that this outside office encourages creativity and simulates the co-operation found at a small fintech. The staff then take this attitude back to our main office when they return,” says Van den Ban.
How can digital professionals at large banks stay ahead of the start-ups? “Keep up to date with emerging technologies like AI, VR and blockchain. They might not directly affect your job at the moment, but you need to think about how they could be applied to help banking customers in the future.”