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Who is Bonnie Chan, the first woman CEO of Hong Kong stock exchange operator HKEX? What challenges does she face?

In Business
March 01, 2024

Here is what you need to know about the first woman to serve as CEO at the local stock market, which began operations in 1891.

Screens show stock prices outside Exchange Square in Hong Kong’s Central district, the home of bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, on February 15, 2024. Photo: Sun Yeung

Who is Bonnie Chan Yiting?

Chan, 54, was born and brought up in Hong Kong. She has a law degree from the University of Hong Kong and a master’s degree in law from Harvard Law School.

She started her career as a lawyer at the legal firm Deacons in Hong Kong in 1993 and then moved on to join Sullivan & Cromwell to practice as a lawyer in both Hong Kong and the US.

In the early 2000s she worked for a few years at Morgan Stanley as an in-house counsel. She first joined HKEX as head of IPO transactions and listing in 2007, then in 2010 became a partner in legal firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, where she stayed for nine years.

Chan rejoined HKEX as head of listing in 2020 and was promoted to co-chief operating officer in February 2023.

What are Chan’s contributions to the capital market in Hong Kong?

HKEX 2023 profit jumps 18% on investment income as CEO Aguzin departs

Digitisation is her other key achievement; she shepherded the launch of the Fast Interface for New Issuance (FINI) system in November, which has shortened the settlement cycle to two days from five by modernising the IPO settlement process.

“Technology will help us further enhance our processes and cut out paper,” Chan told the Post in 2020. “[FINI] is expected to eliminate 11,000 paper forms in the first year of launch. Digitisation will also reduce human error and improve the efficiency of the overall market.

“Ten years ago, during the busiest times, we handled around 60 IPO applications simultaneously. Now, at any given point, we are handling as many as 200 IPO applications at the same time.”

What is Chan’s working style?

“I have seen Bonnie work over the last three years,” Aguzin said during his final results briefing on Thursday. “She has all the ingredients to be an incredibly successful CEO. My advice to her is to continue being herself. Her style may be a little bit different than mine. That is perfect, because everyone has to succeed with their own style.”

HKEX’s current director, Carlson Tong Ka-shing, who was the chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission from 2012 to 2018, has known Chan and worked with her on listing matters for more than a decade.

“One of Bonnie’s notable attributes is her ability to maintain a calm and resolute demeanour, enabling her to navigate challenges with grace,” he said. “She possesses a unique talent for simultaneously analysing the big picture while meticulously attending to the smallest details.

HKEX-owned LME targets Hong Kong as option for warehouse expansion: sources

“The balanced approach allows her to make well-informed decisions that take into account the broader context. Given Bonnie’s remarkable track record and her exceptional leadership skills, I have full confidence that she will excel in leading the Hong Kong stock exchange during this challenging period.”

Laurence Li Lu-jen, chairman of the Financial Services Development Council (FSDC), expects Chan to “steer a steady ship in choppy waters”.

“I very much enjoy working with Bonnie,” he said. “She takes a very balanced approach and always anticipates and listens to all stakeholders’ concerns. She looks for solutions to address those concerns.”

During her seven years as a member of the FSDC, Chan produced seven research papers suggesting reforming the stock market and enhancing Hong Kong’s role as a capital fundraising centre.

When Chan quit the FSDC to rejoin HKEX as head of listing, she put her ideas into action. For example, the HKEX expanded the weighted voting rights regime, under which shares held by founder shareholders carry more voting rights than those held by others. Many technology firms have such structures, and the reform helped to attract more US-listed Chinese technology firms to seek secondary listings in Hong Kong. Allowing SPAC listings is another example of a reform Chan had promoted while at the FSDC.

What does Chan’s appointment mean for gender diversity in Hong Kong?

Chan’s appointment sends a positive message, said Damien Green, chair of Manulife Financial Asia and a current director of FSDC.

“As the first internal candidate and the first woman to lead the HKEX, the message to global capital markets is clear: Hong Kong has a deep financial talent reserve and is serious about leadership diversity,” Green said. “Greater gender diversity in corporate C-suite leadership globally will lead to more sustainable long-term returns for investors over time.”

In Hong Kong in 2022, 16 per cent of company directors were women, up from 11 per cent in 2018. Globally, just 12.9 per cent of the nearly 3,000 companies in the MSCI ACWI Index have women in at least 30 per cent of their board seats. Only 4.3 per cent have women CEOs.

What are the top challenges Chan will face?

“One of the priorities for Chan as the new CEO of the exchange is to roll out new measures to reboot the stock market turnover and new listings,” said Tom Chan Pak-lam, permanent honorary ­president of the Institute of Securities Dealers. “That is the key to maintaining Hong Kong’s role as an international financial centre.”

Daily turnover in stocks tumbled 16 per cent to HK$105 billion (US$13.4 billion) in 2023, clipping HKEX’s trading fee income by 18 per cent, the company said in its 2023 results announcement.

Proceeds arising from stock offerings fell by more than half to a 20-year low of US$5.9 billion in 2023, based on Refinitiv data.

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