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Banking On Creativity: Meet UOB’s Christine Ip, Deana Ku and Marietta Li

Banking On Creativity: Meet UOB’s Christine Ip, Deana Ku and Marietta Li

After more than 30 years in banking, Christine Ip, UOB’s CEO for Greater China, finds inspiration in art, sustainability and wellness.

Filling the CEO role of UOB’s Greater China region sounds like an overwhelming responsibility, one shrouded in spreadsheets and numbers – which it probably is – but for Christine Ip the role is about more than just banking. The industry stalwart also has a passion for the arts and wellness, and is at the forefront of UOB’s sustainability efforts.

“Banking is the only career I’ve had,” she says. “I feel blessed because I’ve been able to work in different lines of businesses within banking. It’s given me the chance to work in different continents and countries as a result, so I’ve had the chance to meet and learn from a lot of people.”

Ip is well aware of the responsibilities on her shoulders and attempts to use her power for good. “I think banking is somewhat the mother of all economies and industries. This industry allowed me to be able to help customers to fulfill their dreams and help them weather difficult times,” she says with pride.

Despite her years abroad and constant travelling, Ip says Hong Kong will always be home to her, and has brought her many opportunities over the years. “In my experience,” she adds, “most employers see Hong Kongers as hardworking, with a high sense of integrity. We’re very committed, and the quality of our output is good and consistent. I feel deeply proud when other people see us like this.”

Surprisingly, banking was never meant to be on the cards for Ip. In fact, she never studied anything related to banking at all. “When I applied to be management trainee, the head of HR subsequently told me that they didn’t think I was a typical banker – all my occupational tests were geared towards [being] an artist. So they actually took a chance on me. And they weren’t too sure whether I’d succeed.”

Fortunately, she did – and thrived, becoming one of the most successful female leaders in the Asian banking sector. Ip believes the most important quality in a good leader is to be honourable, which is reflected in UOB’s four core values, of being honourable, enterprising, united and committed. And while some values can
be learned, honorability is instinctive. “Being united and committed can easily be done, and creativity sometimes can be nurtured,” says Ip, “but being honorable is whether you have the courage to speak up, and to change things when you see them happen. ”

In the process, Ip has been able to use her artistic strengths and creative qualities in different ways. “I’m not a typical banker. Instead, I tend to be a very creative person,” she explains. “I was the one who brought the bank’s automated teller machines into Hong Kong that you see these days. I transformed the way people were doing banking – not to just rely on branches, but to create brand new products and services. She adds, “In those days, it was completely new and unheard of. I’ve found my artistic creativity has certainly helped me in my banking career.”

Ip is not only creative banker: she’s also one who cares, especially about climate change and sustainability, which is a core focus at UOB. “Being a leading bank in Asia, we’re seeing a lot of developing economies that are undergoing transition,” she says. “So to help to build a brighter future for the next generation and our clients, sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance) are initiatives that have become imperative in various industries with the threat of climate change and climate risk. That’s why we really need to all embark on.”

Of course, ESG is a framework that helps stakeholders understand how an organisation is managing risks and opportunities related to environmental, social, and governance factors. ESG takes the holistic view that sustainability extends far beyond just environmental issues.

UOB is at the forefront of such sustainability efforts, and was one of the first Asian banks to appoint a Chief Sustainability Officer. “We have very clear credit facilities, guidelines, principles and target assignments – on everything from electronic cars and renewable energy to how to do waste management, we proactively provide training to our staff and clients,” says Ip. As a result, all UOB’s key markets, including Hong Kong, have a Sustainability Officer in charge to ensure targets are met.

UOB’s Christine Ip, Deana Ku and Marietta Li

Helping UOB clients be more environmentally friendly is a key part of the team’s mission, and there’s an increasing demand for their assistance in Hong Kong. “A lot of the local clients – and in particular, the smaller ones – understand the importance of sustainability,” says Ip. “They’ve heard about it, but they don’t know how to do it. And that’s where we come in to help.”

When she’s not running a bank and attempting to save the planet, Ip takes her mental and physical wellness seriously, no matter how busy she is. Asked what she does to unwind, she instantly lists a variety of physical activities, instead of the leisurely ones we’d expect from such a busy banking professional. “I do yoga, Tai Chi and pilates – and I run and I swim,” she says proudly.

“Even though I do a lot of business travel,” she adds, “I always take my swimming suit with me wherever I go. I get up at 6am and I go swimming almost every day. It helps clear my mind. Afterwards, I feel clarity, because helps me think and reflect.”

After more than three decades in the banking industry (and clearly a lot of reflection), Ip says she still manages to find inspiration in her role by helping others. “These days, I’m at my happiest when I’m able to help someone emerge again out of hard times,” she says. “It can be my colleagues or my clients. When I can see people through a difficult time, especially these last few years, it makes my role even more meaningful.”


UOB’s Deana Ku


Head of Human Resources, Greater Bay Area

Tell us about what you do.

I have more than 20 years of working experience in the HR domain. My particular focus is HR business partnering, as well as talent development. Aside from the banking industry, I’ve worked in retail and also telecoms. Simply put, I love connecting with people.

What challenges do women face in their careers?

I’m lucky enough not have faced many challenges myself as a woman. Since I joined the banking industry around 13 years ago, I’ve been lucky that an organisation like UOB advocates gender diversity and inclusion. That’s why we encourage bringing in people and professionals from different cultures and different perspectives. We’ve tried to create a culture in which both female and male colleagues can enjoy the same opportunities.

See Also

How do you bring art and creativity into the banking world?

Besides UOB’s CSR initiatives, we host art therapy and workshops for our staff, which creates a positive impact on mental health and wellness. It definitely works for many of us, relieving stress and creating positive emotions, as well as increasing the feeling of social connectedness. It translates into better performance in the workplace too.

UOB’s Marietta Li


Head of Strategic Communications, Brand and Customer Insights, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Head of Network Partnerships and Strategic Marketing, Foreign Direct Investment Advisory, Hong Kong

Tell us about what you do.

I’m responsible for the strategy and development of brand management, communications, customer insights and CSR initiatives for UOB Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as network partnerships and strategic marketing of the foreign direct investment business in Hong Kong. I previously worked largely in retail banking.

How has art impacted your work at UOB?

Personally, I’m really into fashion, so it’s been a perfect match for me, because I love fashion as wearable art. Since we started the UOB Art Academy – our signature programme launched in 2015 – I can definitely see the power of art. I can see how art can connect people, how it can bring people a sense of belonging and provide a shared platform for people to unleash their potential and shine.

What advice do you have for future female leaders?

As a career woman, first you need to accept who you are. You don’t need to behave like a man and compete with the other gender. You just need to understand yourself, be who you are and focus on what you need in order to grow.

Source: Prestige Online

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