Meet the man now spearheading the hottest new tech team at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong

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Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong

Standard Chartered has named Chris Ashe as head of engineering for the new virtual bank that it plans to launch in Hong Kong. His hire is a further sign that Stan Chart is staffing up the unit, which we understand is currently called Project Dragon, in anticipation of it receiving the regulatory green light.

Ashe has left his role as engineering head at UK-based online financial services provider Tandem Money and is now based at Stan Chart in Hong Kong, according to his online profile. A spokesperson for Stan Chart declined to comment on the appointment.

In a major shakeup of Hong Kong’s much-maligned retail banking sector, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority is granting licences to virtual banks – which operate purely online and don’t have a physical branch network – for the first time. Stan Chart, along with 28 other firms, submitted applications at the end of August, the first batch of which are expected to be approved by the end of the year.

Stan Chart “set up a new entity for its virtual bank” in August and appointed Deniz Güven as its chief executive officer. Güven, who joined Stan Chart in May 2017 as global head of design and client experience for retail banking, is leading a team “to build a new banking model”, according to an August statement from the bank.

A source close to Stan Chart told us in August that the firm, “has been recruiting quite aggressively for the virtual bank, so it can hit the ground running if the HKMA gives it the go-ahead”. The hiring, which is ongoing, includes jobs in technology, risk and compliance.

It isn’t surprising that Ashe was recruited externally rather than from within Stan Chart’s large tech team. “For banks as large as SCB in Hong Kong, it’s probably easier to hire new developers from the market rather than transferring people from other teams into virtual banking,” Sid Sibal, associate director of banking and financial services at recruiters Hudson in Hong Kong, told us. “Their existing technologists probably lack knowledge in virtual banking because it’s different from traditional e-banking.”

Other London techies, especially those working for online banks like Tandem, may follow in Ashe’s footsteps. The UK is a potential source of tech talent for Stan Chart and other Hong Kong virtual banks, because its online-only banking system is more mature, says a Hong Kong-based IT recruiter. Ashe joined Tandem in 2015, following a four-year stint as an architect and technical lead at Commonwealth Bank in London, Seoul and Sydney.

Stan Chart is believed to be the only mainstream bank to have applied for a stand-alone virtual banking licence. Other applicants include WeLab and HKT, as well as an alliance between Australia’s Airwallex, Bank of East Asia, and mainland firm Sequoia Capital China, reports the South China Morning Post. Stan Chart hopes that having a separate local digital platform will help it break away from its global and legacy technology systems and allow it to win new customers by working more closely with startups, according to Reuters.

While Stan Chart is looking to cut costs (and managerial headcount) in Singapore and Hong Kong, most of its business-facing technology jobs are safe from the axe, say recruiters.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: smortlock@efinancialcareers.com

Image credit:  winhorse, Getty

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