Getting to Know Our Senior Fellow – Ms Marcella Chan
Published on 22 November 2023
In 2023, Ms Marcella Chan was honoured as a HKSI Institute Senior Fellow for her distinguished contributions in raising professional standards. She served as a reviewer of the Licensing Examination for Securities and Futures Intermediaries (LE) study manuals and questions, and made signification contributions to the HKSI Institute’s Examinations Committee and Education & Development Committee. Currently, she is a member of the HKSI Institute Individual Membership Committee and is a Managing Director and Head of Corporate Finance & ECM Transaction Management at Nomura, Asia ex-Japan.
Q: Tell us more about yourself and the field of work that you are involved in. What inspires and motivates you in your professional journey?
A: I am a mother, wife and banker. I studied Mechanical Engineering, Japanese and Management at university, and later completed an LLB when I was in my mid-30s. My career goal was to choose a profession that would allow me to develop the qualities of an alpha male while also leveraging female leadership traits. In social hierarchies of wolf packs, dominant and powerful ones take the lead; similarly, in banking, bankers are often seen as confident and charismatic figures, like Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen in the 1987 movie Wall Street. I asked myself, why can’t a leading actress be the focus of the movie plot? That is how I embarked on my banking journey, and I can assure you that female bankers, while being leaders of the pack, can often also show qualities of being meticulous, authentic, patient and collaborative.
My career also allows for plenty of travel, covering different continents, including major cities as well as tier 3 ones back in the ’90s. I recall having to take fighter helicopters to rural areas for site visits and due diligence. What was truly motivating was to get deals done despite encountering a harsh working environment. Translating this into advice for today's emerging bankers, when confronted with challenging tasks and tough moments, it is important to courageously tackle obstacles, persevere, and metaphorically, bite the bullet but never take the bullet. When things hit the fan, engage in group reflection to understand what went wrong and why, and try not to repeat mistakes. Believe in yourself, have dedication and pride, give your very best, and you will always be a winner.
Q: What is your perspective on the growth prospects of Hong Kong’s capital market? What are the factors influencing its growth and future development?
A: Based on Hong Kong’s robust legal and effective regulatory regime, its vibrant capital markets have helped Hong Kong develop into a leading financial hub globally. The constitutional guarantee of our “one country, two systems” principle and our autonomy, together with Mainland China’s enduring economic growth and initiatives such as the Stock Connect Programmes, Belt & Road Initiative, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Project, makes Hong Kong attractive and competitive, and explains why global investors continue to keep us on their radars.
Embracing technology, being forward-looking and fostering innovation is crucial to maintain our lead and for future growth. In today's conversations, be it pantry talk or topics discussed at bars, fintech, regtech, AI and related themes are frequently discussed and top of mind. How we, as finance practitioners and other professionals, including the HKSI Institute, work alongside our government’s strategy in boosting the economy and the finance sector, is key to perpetuating the success of our capital markets.
Current market volatility and challenges resulting from weakness in global growth and tensions between countries are headline news. While difficult times may seem to last forever, they also serve as a reminder that good times will eventually return.
Q: Can you share a key achievement from your work that you are particularly proud of?
A: Normally, I would start by talking about successful deals, be it strategic advisory transactions, listings or block-trades. After the completion of deals, we create tombstones, deal toys, or trophies for clients. I have accumulated over a hundred of these and if I highlight one or two, I may upset the majority of my clients. To avoid burning bridges, I prefer to share instances when I have helped turned down deals.
Our role is to ensure market integrity, protect investors and maintain a healthy state of the Hong Kong financial ecosystem while preserving its reputation. There have been times and dilemmas when we wanted to achieve annual business targets. However, in certain situations that required better judgement, it was important to exercise one’s professionalism and do the right thing. I would settle for smaller bonuses for a good night’s sleep. By showing impartial professionalism, I have been able to convert many clients and professional acquaintances into good friends and establish myself as their go-to advisor. I believe this is a significant accomplishment.
I am very flattered to have become a senior fellow of the HKSI Institute. I vividly remember the moment I became a member of the Institute decades ago, and I would often look up to those fellows and admire their distinguished contributions to the industry. Today, this recognition serves as validation of my achievements and hard work.
Q: What advice would you give to young professionals interested in pursuing a career in corporate finance? What career path should they consider and develop to succeed in this field?
A: Be motivated and always have a “can do” attitude in your career.
Build your relationships with professionals and clients. One door can lead to another, and sometimes, don’t expect a straightforward offer. Industry insights alone can help shape your pathfinding journey.
Development of interpersonal soft skills and technical skills are equally important. Be chatty with substance without nonsense, and practice articulating your thoughts, even on professional subject matters, in a way that is understandable for the layman. Bankers need to explain complex deal structures and valuations to clients who often have different backgrounds, which means it’s essential to keep the message focused and digestible.
Mentorship, formal or casual, can help you navigate your path. Learn from your mentors’ informed decisions in their own business or personal matters. I still talk to my former bosses, whom I consider my mentors, even after they have retired. In many of our conversations, they continue to enlighten me, even on subjects such as work-life balance. I always believe that their invisible hands have helped me in my career. As my father would often say: "Listen to the words of the elders, for their wisdom echoes the ages." Nowadays, I would do the same to those who need a helping hand.
Q: How do you effectively destress and maintain well-being amidst your professional responsibilities?
A: Well-structured scheduling between career, family, social life, spiritual life and me-time is fundamental to what we normally call work-life balance. Engaging in regular physical exercise is an essential routine for managing stress. I learned this from my highly disciplined husband, who maintains an exercise regime. We hit the gym 4-5 times a week which improves our mood and promotes overall well-being.
Junior bankers often encounter tough working hours, including over weekends. Knowing when to stop and disconnect from work to spend time with family and friends will provide you the opportunity to recharge and lift your performance at work.
In Hong Kong, the proximity and convenience of the city, the availability of domestic help and the support from family, are tremendous contributions for me to be able to have a career. Between my husband and I, we have built a strong emotional support system. Together with my daughter, we have regular monthly family meetings. Each takes turns to share two endeavours or activities from work or school, personal or involving the family. We start with an unhappy one, then try to follow that up with a light-hearted one. The rule is not to judge but to provide perspective. This process is not only therapeutic, but also helps free up mental capacity while building stronger family bonds.
Q: You have been an active member of the HKSI Institute since 1999. What excites you at the Institute, as well as your most memorable experience with us?
A: Teaching, learning, refining examination papers, and putting together study manuals have kept me engaged with the HKSI Institute, and they have become very fond memories. When you put yourself in the shoes of the regulators, you want to maintain a highly regulated industry. One way to ensure that is to have good-quality frontline professionals who are well-versed with their legal obligations and ensure compliance with applicable laws. I believe in a strong compliance mindset starting at the banking frontlines, which can help maintain a high degree of market integrity.
My involvement at the HKSI Institute drives me to have a deeper understanding. To be able to teach, you need to acquire a thorough depth of knowledge, identifying key concepts, having up-to-date practical views, and making connections to real deals. This provides me a strong foundation – understanding today’s complex regulatory regime and giving me an edge in my daily job. In a sense, l reap what I sow.