Head of Global Client Solutions ● Asia-Pacific ● BNP Paribas Securities Services Singapore Branch
If you’re thinking of building a custody business in Asia, then Elizabeth Chia is the person you want to speak to. As one of the leading figures in securities services in Asia, Chia has been at the forefront of the industry for more than 25 years-launching and expanding custody departments on the continent for a number of major providers and petitioning regulators for progress and reform.
It would be impossible to discuss custody in Asia without mentioning Chia’s name: She practically built it across the region herself. But the high-profile nature of her career, she says, did not always come naturally to her.
“I’m not someone, being Chinese, that actually likes to be in the limelight,” she admits. “But I see my role not just simply to build something for the bank-one of the things, being in the industry, is also being able to drive changes within the industry. Asia is a very fragmented market, including a lot of countries. When you become part and parcel of the industry, you give ideas to regulators [and] industry players.” It was no surprise, then, to see Chia join BNP Paribas, the institution with the tagline “the bank for a changing world.”
One of the markets Chia is most passionate about is Singapore, where she has spent much of her career. Along with other members of the domestic market practice group, she has lobbied for global best practice in the country.
“If Singapore wants to be a regional center of excellence with a strong financial hub, it has to be one of the few that must take the lead in terms of putting in changes in the market and helping the end investors,” she says. “We have come a long way in 3 years of lobbying. I am most passionate in driving these changes in the market.”
Chia spent 13 years with Morgan Grenfell Asset Management (Asia) as its director of operations in asset management. After the business was sold to Deutsche Bank, she joined the German bank in 1993, building out its custody operations across Asia. By 2002 she had become head of its custody network in 13 Asian markets.
In 2005, she moved to Singapore’s DBS Bank, heading its securities services business and expanding its custody offering. Now she is doing the same for BNP Paribas Securities Services as it “accelerates its strategic expansion in Asia-Pacific.”
Chia, who always had an interest in banking, says she considers herself to be an entrepreneur. “From running back-office operations, to running a business, and being able to drive that business, is exactly what I enjoy most,” she says. When she started at Deutsche Bank, for instance, “we had nothing-no systems, no people. We started with three of us, and eventually we built a significant business. It was good for Asia. I enjoy being part of a team, to be able to make a difference, to launch a product and even define the exact nuts and bolts behind those products, to provide thought leadership and management direction, to be able to implement and launch products and solutions with success; this was very uplifting.”
Chia says Asia, with its multifarious markets, is the “next growth area.” Outsourcing, which was a foreign concept until she championed securities services across the region, is becoming increasingly common as institutional investors in Asia become more comfortable and more familiar with custodians. “It took many years for people to start understanding what it means to outsource. But those who outsource continue to recognize its benefits, and those who do not are talking more about outsourcing,” she says.
If that is the case, it is an auspicious sign for Chia. A greater demand for outsourcing means BNP Paribas, with Chia at its helm, will likely broaden its scope in Asia-another milestone in the success story of one of the industry’s leading figures in the region.-Christopher Gohlke