My Story - Laura M Cha, Chairman, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX)

By: Laura M Cha, Chairman, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX) Mar 2021

Name: Laura M Cha

Job title: Chairman, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX)

1. - Brief description of role/job:

Laura M Cha is one of the most influential female business and political leaders in Hong Kong. She has played an instrumental role in the development of Hong Kong as a key international financial centre, and in the continuing evolution of China’s capital markets.

As the first female Chairman of HKEX, Laura leads the board in setting the strategic direction and has overall responsibility for the governance of the organisation. HKEX is currently the world’s largest exchange by market capitalisation, and it has a complex global stakeholder base given its roles as market operator, regulator and public listed company.

On joining HKEX, Laura established HKEX’s first international advisory council, consisting of some of the world’s most respected financial sector leaders, bringing fresh perspectives and insight into international best practices to the company. She has upgraded the Group’s governance structure, played an instrumental role in introducing and attracting global talent to the leadership of the Group, and actively sought to elevate the relevance of Hong Kong’s financial markets.

2. - Short bio (career highlights, education, interests/hobbies):

Over the past 30 years, Laura has been a champion of change, progression and development in global financial markets in her various capacities; from regulatory oversight and policymaking to the financial market structures and sustainability. In recent years, Laura has become one of the most vocal advocates speaking on sustainability in capital markets.

She is a passionate champion of good governance, the importance of board diversity and the powerful role of green finance products in economic development.

Laura was appointed as the first female Chairman of HKEX since 2018. She is also an Independent Non-Executive Director of HSBC Holdings plc, and in December 2019 was appointed as the first female Non-Executive Chairman of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. She is a Non-Executive Director of Unilever plc; a Senior International Advisor of Foundation Assets Management Sweden AB; and a member of Sotheby’s International Advisory Board. Laura is also Vice Chairman of the International Advisory Council of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, and a Director of the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE).

On the policy-making front, Laura is a member of the Executive Council of the Government of Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR), and the only female member of HKSAR’s Financial Leaders Forum, a group of 11 leaders in the financial and regulatory community that advises the HKSAR on matters related to monetary stability, financial safety and prosperity.

Laura became the first, and to-date, the only person outside Mainland China, to join the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China at the vice-ministerial rank. She served as Vice Chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004. Laura worked for the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) in Hong Kong from 1991 to 2000, becoming its Deputy Chairman in 1998.

Laura was Chairman of the University Grants Committee in Hong Kong from 2007 to 2011 and Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Corruption of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong from 2007 to 2012. She was also the founding Chairman of The Financial Services Development Council of Hong Kong from 2013 to 2018.

Laura earned her BA degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and holds a JD degree from the Santa Clara University in California. She practised law in San Francisco and Hong Kong from 1983 to 1990. She received an Honorary Doctoral Degree in Law from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2002.

Laura was awarded a Silver Bauhinia Star in 2001, a Gold Bauhinia Star in 2009 and the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2017 by the Hong Kong Government for her public service. She was named as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women International by Fortune in 2020 and was also one of the top 10 most powerful women in China by AOL MAKERS China in 2014.

3. - What were your professional highlights and challenges of 2020?:

2020 has been an unprecedented time for global markets. As Chairman of HKEX, I led the board of directors in setting and implementing the strategic direction of the organisation at a time of intensified social, economic and geopolitical tensions, taking the bourse through the sustainability journey as well as advocating Hong Kong’s relevance as an international capital market to the global audience.

Business Impact 

Despite the challenging backdrop, we continued to deliver on our three-year strategic plan – China Anchored, Globally Connected and Technology Empowered – with significant results. HKEX reported record annual financial results in 2020, with revenue and other income reaching HK$ 19.2 billion (US$ 2.46 billion). Our IPO market was ranked number two globally. We expanded our product ecosystem and launched a number of key initiatives to drive our markets forward. These achievements reflect our resiliency and adaptability as a business, and make us even more competitive as the go-to international financial markets in Asia.

Covid Impact

A key highlight of our success in 2020 has been our swift response to the disruption caused by Covid-19. Our markets remained fully functional amid heightened volatility, providing a fair and orderly trading environment for global market participants. We also effectively mitigated the impact of Covid-19 outbreak on listed companies’ compliance efforts, with clear guidance on the publication of annual reports, as well as the hosting of AGMs and EGMs.

We drove a number of initiatives to extend care and support to HKEX employees and the wider community during the Covid-19 pandemic. We implemented an extensive campaign to engage and communicate with staff, providing wellness workshops to counter increased health risks. We’ve also launched HKEX Foundation during the year, through which we provided HK$10 million (US$1.28 million) in Covid-19 emergency relief, which has directly helped more than 29,000 individuals.

Sustainability Impact 

As an exchange group, we seek to lead by example, promoting sustainability across our business, our operations and our markets.

As a market regulator, we continued to enhance our market quality and governance structures through rule upgrades and market education. As a market operator, we remain resolutely committed to creating a sustainable finance ecosystem that supports businesses’ sustainability transition in Asia and globally. In June, we announced the appointment of New Head of Green and Sustainable Finance in June 2020 to drive the commercial proposition of sustainable finance. In December we launched HKEX's Sustainable and Green Exchange (STAGE), Asia's first sustainable investment platform.

Our newly launched HKEX Foundation also announced its Flagship Charity Partnership Programme with an inaugural HK$20 million commitment to support over 40,000 people across 10 community projects, focusing on financial literacy, diversity and inclusion, poverty relief, and environmental sustainability.

At HKEX, we see people as a business’ greatest asset, and place diversity and inclusion at our core. We support the development of female leadership within HKEX through training and sponsorship, and also embrace diversity in the wider community through supporting community and university programmes.

I was very proud that HKEX was again selected as a constituent of a number of sustainability indexes such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index, Bloomberg Gender Equality Index, FTSE4Good Index, and Hang Seng Sustainability Index in 2020.

4. - What and who inspires/has inspired you to achieve your professional success:

I admire Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) and Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of US, a lot.

Equipped with legal training, Christine holds numbers of leadership roles in international financial organisations and being the “first woman” in many aspects, including the first woman to head ECB and IMF. She is definitely the source of inspiration for me as I share quite similar background as she does – a lawyer holding managing roles in global financial institutions.

Another inspiration is Michelle Obama. She was the first African American First Lady and also practised law in US. I admire how she is a vocal role model for women, and she shares my passion to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of business.

Inspired by these female leaders, I have also been involved in many of the global discussions such as the World Economic Forum and Global Reporting Initiative. I hope my Asian business and woman’s viewpoint creates additional value in the debate around global businesses, sustainability and diversity.

5. - What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be in leadership positions:

I tell women that it’s all about making your own choices at the right time. For me, I studied abroad in the US for my university education and soon after graduation I got married and had children. My first focus in my early professional path was on my family, but as soon as my children were a bit older I went full swing into my career. Luckily enough, I could concentrate on one thing at a time back then, which helped me excel in both my family and my career. Above all, just believe in yourself and commit to achieving those things that are important to you.