The WFE's Women Leaders 2021 - Bonnie Y Chan, Head of Listing, HKEX

By: The WFE Focus Team Mar 2021

Nominee’s name: Bonnie Y Chan

Member: Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX)

Nominee’s job title: Head of Listing


1. - Brief description of nominee’s role/job:

Bonnie leads the Listing Division of HKEX, which is currently the world’s largest exchange group by market capitalisation. Its Listing Division is responsible for supervising the listing process of equity, debt and structured products, the ongoing compliance by over 2,500 listed issuers on its markets with their obligations under the Listing Rules, and ensuring those rules reflect best international practices.

With a team of about 270 people, Bonnie oversees various aspects of the listing function, including strategic planning, policy development, market consultations, relationships with regulators and other key stakeholders. Bonnie reports to the Chief Executive and is a member of the Group’s Management Committee.

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

Bonnie has more than 25 years of experience in legal and financial services. She began her career in private legal practice, worked in a number of investment banks and was a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell before assuming her current role. She was Head of IPO of the Listing Division at HKEX between 2007 and 2010.

Bonnie has served on various public service bodies, including the Financial Services Development Council, the Inland Revenue Board, the Standing Committee of Company Law Reform and the Disciplinary Panel of the HKICPA.

She graduated from the University of Hong Kong and Harvard Law School, and is admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong and an attorney at law in New York State.

Bonnie has enjoyed cooking her entire life, and in recent years she has embraced pottery as another way to relax. She finds the creativity and manual nature of pottery to be therapeutic, and with her hands covered in clay she can’t touch her phone, which is an added bonus!

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

2020 was a very eventful year, filled with unexpected developments. That created challenges, but it also made my job more exciting and interesting.

Despite the disruption of the pandemic, HKEX continued to attract new issuers from around the globe. Our IPO market ranked second globally, with 154 news listed companies raising a total of HK$ 400.2 billion (US$ 51.3 billion), which is the largest amount of new funds since 2010. HKEX demonstrated its resilience and strength, providing fully functioning, well-regulated markets amid all of the Covid disruptions, and I feel great pride in how we managed our markets and our business through this crisis.

The unexpected events of 2020 tested my experience, creative thinking and leadership skills. My team and I managed to be adaptive and flexible and came up with solutions in response to the fast-evolving Covid situations, and at the same time accelerated changes needed for the long-term benefits of our markets. Some of the highlights are as follows:

Covid related guidance on audits 

At the start of the crisis where Covid already showed signs of affecting Hong Kong, the accounting profession was worried that with the travel bans they would not be able to dispatch staff to China to do audits, and this could lead to a massive failure across our listed companies, including the possible suspension of trading. There were about 1,800 issuers that potentially could have been impacted.

We quickly came up with a solution. My team worked with the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong and developed with some waivers and exemptions that made sure that the market would stay informed, notwithstanding the fact that the audits may not be 100% complete under HKEX’s usual rules.

HKEX was the first among of the major international exchange regulators to come up with Covid related guidance on audits. We issued special guidance to the market numerous times, which gave the market comfort that the quality of reporting was not reduced in a material way. In the end, there were less than a handful of companies that were suspended for being unable to provide adequate financial disclosure to the market.

This showed we were adaptive, and that as regulators we need to be empathetic, and sometimes this means making concessions in order to maintain the market’s stability and resilience during adverse situations.

Listing digitisation 

In the past year, our Listing Division has made significant progress in our digital transformation journey. This was a big achievement within a long-established, large and complex organisation with multiple stakeholders and responsibilities. The Covid situation helped highlight the need, forced us to dispense old ways of operating and opened the door to accelerate positive changes.

The changes brought about by digitalisation began internally. We had to believe in the change for it to work. And then we reached out externally, communicating with market participants. Personally, it was rewarding to see the entire Division, with people of different generations, change course together.

For example, we designed and launched a first-of-its-kind, award-winning artificial intelligence solution to enhance our review of annual reports. Since Covid, our listing committee meeting has also managed to turn paperless. In terms of the external changes, we transitioned to an entirely paperless listing application process, and we’ve also launched a market consultation for Fini, a platform which aims at modernising Hong Kong’s IPO settlement process. This has made the market more efficient, reduced the pain points caused by the old paper-based system, and it’s more environmentally friendly due to reduced paper and ink use. Covid forced us to drop old habits, which can be liberating. It’s like taking away a safety blanket.

Market quality enhancement 

Over the past 12 months, we continued to upgrade the quality of our listed issuers through new approaches targeting backdoor listings and accelerating de-listings, striking a balance between market quality and market development. While we needed to be empathetic towards issuers as they dealt with Covid-related restrictions, we could not use Covid as an excuse to let the quality of our listings deteriorate. Being tough on issuers during a crisis like this wasn’t always easy, and there was some resistance to it, but I think we got the balance right, and were able to effectively communicate that.

Team leadership and communications

Covid has been a test of my leadership skills, from creating team engagement to cohesiveness and empowerment. The key has been communication, often using technology for virtual meetings, video-recorded speeches and newsletters. In that way Covid created an opportunity to be more creative in finding solutions, and we did a good job of it. In the Listing Division we were so concerned about the team becoming disconnected due to work-from-home and other Covid-related circumstances that we made that a priority and focus, and in the end, I think we became stronger as a team, with more communication, due to the challenge.

I think 2021 will be an equally challenging year, but now I know what I, and my team, are capable of doing. We were tested, and we passed with flying colours. I’m confident we can provide stable, transparent and resilient markets to our investors, market participants and more than 2,500 issuers, despite the challenges that may arise.

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

My father, who has a physical disability, has been an inspiration to me. He always told me that there’s a solution to every problem, you just have to go out and find it, and he exemplified that in his own life as he overcame his disability. That influenced me to be a very optimistic person.

I have been given so many opportunities in my career, and I want to pass those opportunities on to the next generation. Working with the women just entering finance and law encourages me to try harder as well.

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

My advice is to stay nimble and learn to adapt. We lawyers are trained to follow precedents. There is a tendency to look at how we used to do it right, and try to follow. But this is a time where we should also break away from precedent and challenge ourselves to see if there are more disruptive and in fact, better and more efficient ways of doing things.

Some young women still think, in the back of their minds, that being a woman puts them at a disadvantage. Push that out of your mind, because if you think that, it will limit your potential.

My personal professional journey has a lot to do with the fact that I just want to learn and experience things for myself. What is it like, and what does it mean, to practice law in the United States? What does it mean to become an investment banker, in-house counsel or regulator? If young women keep an open mind and remain curious they can embrace the opportunities as they present themselves. Don’t stop learning.