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Bernard Chan studied Studio Art in university but he is now the President of Asia Financial Holdings and Asia Insurance Company. When he was young, he never knew art would have such inspiration on the development of his financial career, just as he never knew he would choose insurance as his career for life. "Opportunities do not just come to your face. You have to take the first step and walk on, many doors will then naturally open up for you." Bernard advises young people to be more adventurous in their career paths.
"When I was studying Studio Art in the United States, I had to find and create my unique style so that I might stand out from the rest. I had to know myself and also the strength of my classmates so that I would not be making the same thing. Otherwise, I could not stand out." Bernard thought he was not particularly good at drawing, photography or pottery but he "accidentally" created his own pointillism - painting impressionistic works with correction fluid. This has remained to be his signature style ever since his graduation exhibition.
"I ask myself all the time how I may stand out."
After graduation, Bernard did not return to Hong Kong directly to help in family business but rather chose to work in an investment bank. "I was a bit timid back then. All the colleagues around me studied Mathematics or Economics but I studied Fine Art. There was enormous pressure and so I worked really hard to strengthen myself. Looking back, I realized it was not that other people were better than me but that I just did not have enough self-confidence."
"My training in Fine Art taught me that I should go out of the box in whatever I do. This mentality has led me in my career in finance though I did not realize it until more than 10 years after graduation. There is huge market competition that both frontline and management teams have to face. There is no huge difference between our financial products and those of our competitors. How may I stand out then? Art is a form of presentation, which is kind of similar to product marketing."
Bernard emphasizes that certain jobs require highly professional knowledge such as the actuarial department in insurance companies but there are many jobs in the financial services business that require mixed skills instead of one single skill. Financial services professionals need to continually equip themselves to adjust to the changes in the market.
New employees will receive a series of training from the insurance company. Therefore, Bernard cares more about graduates' willingness to learn and take on challenges than their major subjects. He stresses that the financial services field gives lots of opportunities to young people with different backgrounds.
"Working in an investment bank sounds good but when everyone goes to investment bank, there is naturally a lot of competition. The banking industry has also been facing a lot of difficulties in recent years. The insurance industry, however, is facing the problem of lack of manpower. Many people think that the insurance industry is all about the frontline but there are many departments in the back office, such as risk management and claims. There is much for young people to explore."
He encourages young people to not focus on immediate benefits and not be afraid of doing more. For certain works, one may not gain much in one or two years but one should never overlook any opportunities.
Bachelor of Arts, Pomona College, California, USA (1988)
President, Asia Financial Holdings Ltd.
President, Asia Insurance Co. Ltd.
Advisor, Bangkok Bank (China) Company Ltd.
Chairman, Hong Kong-Thailand Business Council