An interview with Arthur Wong


China Construction Bank’s Head of IT speaks to FST Media about how the bank is enhancing its payments functionality.

FST Media: What are your key priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Wong: We have three IT priorities in the next 12 to 18 months for CCB Asia. Firstly, developing a new breed of applications to facilitate the growth of cross-border business between Hong Kong and China. The exact nature and scope of the applications is still under review, but it is likely that the new apps will be riding on mobile platforms. Secondly, on the infrastructure front, we are starting to get rid of the legacy and obsolete technologies through different upgrades and consolidation initiatives. The Bank is still relying heavily on old technologies like Windows XP, Windows 2003 and SQL 2000 and unfortunately we have not paid sufficient attention to our legacy infrastructure in the past, so we have to manage these upgrades urgently now for obvious compliance and security reasons. We will also use this as an opportunity to increase our capacity for technology like big data, in order to cope with future business growth. Thirdly, we are also working with our head office on a new core banking system initiative. It is a new generation, jumbo scale, multi-billion, multi-year project and the ultimate objective is to integrate all banking systems in CCB into a single, unified, platform globally. 

FST Media: What technology or innovation will be the single biggest game changer for retail banking in the future?

Wong: It will be between big data and mobile payments and if I can only pick one, I would say mobile payments. Given the phenomenal success of Alipay and WeChat payments in China, it would definitely change the way we think about how retail banks should work. The role of retail banks would change from a traditional transactional model to a more consulting and advisory-oriented one. 

FST Media: How have big data insights contributed to your development of the 2015 Fun Plus rewards scheme?

Wong: Big data, or business analytics, is the engine behind our 2015 Fun Plus rewards scheme. By understanding our customer behavior, through our internal database, we have developed an extremely successfully scheme to improve the customer loyalty, by giving the right rewards to the right customers and products.

FST Media: What is the next big thing in payments and how is China Construction Bank Asia enhancing its payments functionality?

Wong: There is a new “e-cheque” initiative in the Hong Kong market, but I do not think it will be popular at all. We are also working with Head Office for some new cross-border payment functions, but I cannot see any major breakthroughs until we can work around the compliance requirements and regulations imposed by HKMA.

FST Media: What will be the most significant challenge facing IT in the year ahead? 

Wong: For banking IT, the major challenge is to meet and manage consumer expectations. Everyone is getting used to Facebook, WhatsApp, Taobao and WeChat and they have become the de-facto standard of how IT should work. Consumers are expecting banks to catch up too. Unfortunately, most banks’ technology levels are still archaic and it is extremely risky and impractical to completely revamp their infrastructure. Banks must embrace this transformation to update their stable but outdated, technology platforms but they cannot rush this process nor rebuild too quickly.  

It would be the technology gap that will have be the greatest challenge for IT over the next 12 months and customer expectations will only be widening in the coming years. 

FST Media: With respect to career development, what is the best advice you have ever received?

Wong: The best advice I ever received at the personal level was to stay hungry, stay foolish. At the organisational level, choose an organisation that can meet your needs and grow with you.

FST Media: How important is the role of the CIO and what are your views on its changing career path as it moves towards technology?

Wong: There is no doubt that the CIO role is very important in any organisation, but the reality is that it is still not a front-office role unless you are working in a technology company, so it will never have as much importance as the role of a top of the line sales manager, CEO or CFO. It is not related to how technology evolves, it is more related to the business nature of the organisation itself. 

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Wong: I want to be remembered for helping China Construction Bank being a pioneer when it comes to engaging our customers and securing their data. Securing and protecting customer information is always the most important priority for banks. In Hong Kong, the HKMA and other regulatory authorities have already published more than enough guidelines for banks to follow, and I would say that the mobile banking users here, in general, are very safe. In fact, the banks here are urging the HKMA to relax the restrictions a bit, in order to provide more room for innovation.