Author

Ai Lei, journalist

While trudging up hills may be exhausting for the uninitiated, Regina Lee, HSBC’s head of commercial banking in Singapore, relishes the challenge. An energetic hike aside, it’s the reward of panoramic views at the summit that flames her passion for hiking, mostly along Hong Kong’s picturesque trails.

It’s the same spirit of perseverance that’s driven her career in banking. 

‘It’s refreshing to be in a new role every few years, so I’m always learning; that’s important for me’

After graduating with an accountancy degree in Hong Kong, Lee was drawn to HSBC’s graduate programme. The strength of the brand coupled with the opportunity to experience the various functions of banking were deciding factors for her.

Twenty-five years on, she has worked in a range of areas across the business, from customer-facing and product management roles to business development, risk and commercial banking.

This has allowed her to explore and develop herself professionally. ‘It’s refreshing to be in a new role every few years, so I’m always learning; that’s important for me,’ she says.

CV

2021

Head of commercial banking, HSBC Singapore

2018

Managing director, HSBC Hong Kong

2015

COO, commercial banking, HSBC Hong Kong

2014

Regional head of business risk and control management, commercial banking, HSBC Hong Kong

2012

Head of business development, global trade and receivables finance, HSBC Hong Kong

2011

Head of wholesale risk management, HSBC Taiwan

2009

Head of corporate banking, HSBC Macau

2007

Division head, commercial banking, HSBC Hong Kong

2005

Senior vice president, commercial banking, HSBC Hong Kong

2000

Relationship manager, HSBC Hong Kong

Problem-solver

A large part of Lee’s career has been in commercial banking, working with a mix of SMEs and larger corporates. It’s a space that speaks to her more than any other. She works with clients on their business challenges and ambitions, helping them to analyse their financials and providing strategic guidance.

In return, she says, she constantly learns from business owners. ‘You can learn a lot from their success stories – how they view the world and suss out opportunities,’ she says. ‘All that helps me when it comes to running the business.’

‘We have a strong, collaborative culture, which doesn’t change even if people don’t come to the office every day’

HSBC

40m

Number of HSBC customers globally

63

Number of countries and territories served

1877

First branch opens in Singapore

2022

HSBC launches Trade Working Capital, its first digitised trade loan product

Photography by Noor Hazmee

Lee, who manages around 500 employees, moved to Singapore from Hong Kong in 2021, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the move was in many ways straightforward, there were nevertheless challenges as organisations, including HSBC, raced to create a safe environment for both staff and customers.

‘When I started, I wanted to meet my team in person, to know them and to bond,’ says Lee.

Despite the challenges, from the outset Lee was able to build trust with her team. She cites an example of one staff member who, at the height of the pandemic, asked to work abroad in order to care for his sick parents.

‘He shared how glad he was that he could simply ask me about it, without feeling pressure or that I would say no,’ Lee recalls.

Opportunities abound

Singapore’s commercial banking space is enjoying a wealth of opportunities, Lee says. ‘Singapore is a financial hub for Asia’s wealth and MNCs’ head offices, and it sits within South-East Asia, which is one of the world’s fastest growing regions, thanks to growing manufacturing and production capacity, rising consumer population and increased urbanisation.

‘We’re poised to help businesses across markets connect and work together. It’s an exciting time,’ she says, noting that South-East Asia is seeing rapid growth in the new economies sector.

Post-pandemic, digitisation continues to rise and e-commerce and other online transactions continue to grow. Many of the fintechs are catering to underserved segments, providing alternative payment solutions to consumers, such as buy now, pay later products, as well as peer-to-peer lending for SMEs.

To meet the needs of the new economies sector, in 2021 HSBC set up a US$200m fund to help them expand operations. This has benefited companies such as Carro, South-East Asia’s largest AI-driven car marketplace, and Atome Financial, a buy now, pay later brand. ‘If we had used a traditional lending lens, we wouldn’t have extended any credit to them,’ Lee says. ‘But we understand their business model is very different from that of a traditional business, and we are here to support them.’

Sustainable solutions

With climate change one of the most pressing issues of our time, and its effects expected to impact negatively on the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, Lee sees sustainability as a key priority for businesses at large.

As corporates are increasingly looking to reduce their emissions and become more sustainable, there has been an increase in demand for sustainable finance.

‘The biggest impact we can make is by partnering and engaging with our clients in the transition to net zero,’ she says. ‘We’re proud to be at the forefront of driving the sustainable finance and ESG agenda, recently introducing Singapore’s first Green Loan for SMEs.’

While Lee does not have so many hiking opportunities in Singapore as she does in Hong Kong, she has been able to continue to embrace another outdoor hobby: golf. It is a pastime that she approaches with the same enthusiasm that she gives to her day job.

‘Even after 25 years, I’m still enjoying what I do,’ she says, adding that she would like to share her experiences with the next generation of finance professionals: ‘If I can help someone with my experience, that would be really meaningful.’

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