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Are Asian banks slower adopters of IT?

Carol Ko | Aug. 21, 2008
I am always tempted to ask my interviewees whether Asia or Hong Kong is a slower adopter of IT.

The IT environment in investment banking is very different in the US to that in Asia. As a result, it is very different working in a foreign bank compared to a local or Chinese investment bank, said Alex Liu, executive director, IT division at the Bank of China International (BOCI).

This is what Liu told me in a recent interview. He said that four months ago, he joined BOCI and found that working in IT with a foreign bank or a global company in Asia involves very (much) implementation and co-ordination type of work.

He shared his experience with working at a foreign investment bank that operates similar to Morgan Stanley. He said, With most global companies like that foreign investment banks, the development work was done in Europe or the US. And all the implementation was driven in Asia.

When Lius previous IT department was to implement an application, they would do a local deployment and implementation. As a result, a lot of IT staff are technologists in Asia, are more responsible for the implementation and co-ordination. They hardly ever really develop applications, he said.

Not slow adopters but market reactors

With the government label IT hub in Asia hanging over Hong Kong, and working for an IT management magazine, I am always tempted to ask my interviewees, especially if they are CIOs, whether Asia, or Hong Kong, are generally slower adopters of IT.

I wouldnt say slow adopters, Liu quickly said, Probably, overall IT is moving a little bit slower. Their [Asian banks] forecast doesnt compare to global investment banks. But, having said that, they are more reactive to the market.

Citing his experience at the BOCI, he explained, We have a local base, and we dont have to worry about the global systems in the US or the UK. So our focus is on Hong Kong. Sometimes, well move ahead faster than the other global investment banks, because this is our focus.

But compared to others, like Morgan Stanley, their IT system is very much driven by global applications, so sometimes theyre a little bit slower, because they have to wait for someone to develop a system for them.

Three-month IT queue

Unlike here. When we work with programmes, we decide on our own, we are flexible in that sense. We have the authorities or the decision-makers here locally. We can decide that this is the way to go, whether we have problems or issues or obstacles that well have to overcome. Well just go ahead and do it.

In other companies, sometimes, in my past five years here, with other firms, we used a global system, and we cant change it, because you have to ask New York which is in charge of development. So you have to submit your request, wait in the line, and go through a series of conference calls, until they understand your needs in Hong Kong, you are speaking on behalf of your business here.


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