, Hong Kong

UOB’s Christine Ip reflects on 3-decade banking career and circling back to the arts

Ip believes that finance and creativity go hand-in-hand in building a holistic pool of talents in UOB.

When you’ve had a storied 30-year career spanning a handful of banking markets — including being the CEO of UOB’s Greater China and Hong Kong businesses for a decade — where do you expect the next stage of your career to take you?

Veteran banker Christine Ip found herself coming full circle with a role that delves into her first love: the arts.

Ip, who took over as UOB’s Group Head of Strategic Communications and Brand in 2023, is now the main driving force for raising the bank’s profile and branding. She also leads her team in building up the Bank’s art portfolio, which veers close to her childhood dream of becoming a performance artist.

“[This role] resonates with [the career] I originally imagined I would pursue,” Ip told Asian Banking & Finance in a recent interview. “While my role with UOB focuses on visual art rather than performing arts, I can use both my business and art experience to lead UOB in building its brand, external and internal communications, and social media platforms.”

Art is close to both Ip and UOB’s hearts. Recently, UOB ventured into renewing its commitment with the arts. “We recently renewed our partnership with National Gallery Singapore for another five years, a testament to our commitment to support the art community across ASEAN,” Ip said,

She added that they are collaborating to grow the world’s largest collection of modern Southeast Asian art pieces through acquisitions.
UOB also established a partnership with the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to provide holistic education to over 4,000 art students and artists over the next five years.

“You can see that even though we are a bank, we believe in creativity. Both are equally important so that we can build a holistic pool of talents that can fit today’s dynamic business,” Ip said.

Ever-learning, always changing
Before she circled back to a role close to her first love, Ip had established herself as a powerhouse woman banker. She remains a member of UOB’s management committee. She was most notably CEO of the bank’s Hong Kong branch for over a decade and the CEO of UOB Greater China for seven years.

Prior to joining UOB, she was the CEO of ANZ China and led the Australian bank’s incorporation in the country. Before that, Ip served as head of consumer banking for China in Standard Chartered.

She experienced rapid changes in banking and finance as she was part of the first generation of bankers when credit cards were just becoming a norm. Today, mobile phones and other forms of technologies are slowly replacing physical plastic cards as the default form of payment.

“It’s an ever-learning journey,” Ip said, when asked to reflect on her banking career. “I actually went to study a program in Oxford on blockchain, because if I don’t understand this, how am I able to work with the modern generation to understand crypto, to understand how to avoid scams, to have a better understanding about AI? Last year, I went for a course to get a certification on sustainability. It's a lifelong, ever changing operating environment.” 

Ip considers herself blessed to have had the chance to work across different markets: from Singapore, Hong Kong, and China, and even in Canada and the US earlier in her career. 

“It helped me grow as a person, and to have a better understanding of what the business involved,” Ip said. 

Asked what inspires her in her daily career, Ip has no hesitation in answering: “My fellow colleagues.”

She likened the breadth of knowledge her colleagues have to working in a law firm that has attorneys specialising in different fields.“Each of us, if we work together and provide the right advice to our clients [and] let them understand our bank’s vision and what we stand for, I think that can connect lives and create inspirational stories we can all be proud of,” she said.

Different life stages, different career options
So, what led a once aspiring actress to pursue a career in finance? 

“I was from a very typical traditional Chinese background. And being the eldest in the family and having a university education-- they expected me to do something more stable,” she said.

In a way, becoming a banker was the younger Ip’s form of “rebellion” against expectations, whilst still being somewhat obedient to parental expectations. 

Ip recalled how, at that time, women were often boxed into following two careers: work in the government or pursue a career in education. Even such careers came with a caveat — women then were expected to eventually halt working as they transition to becoming full-time mothers.

The flexibility that the banking industry offers is another point of attraction.

“Within banking there is retail banking, wholesale banking, marketing, HR, finance, and many different careers. I felt that even if I choose the wrong job, I can still move around and navigate within these,” Ip said.

This flexibility extends not just to pursuing different fields in banking, but also in career progression — especially for bankers with young children or with elderly family members who they need to take care of.

“You don’t always need to have a very active, front-facing role, or a role that requires you to travel long hours,” Ip said. “Depending on your lifestyle, we can choose to pursue different roles within the bank.”

Using herself and her fellow women bankers as examples, Ip recalled how she was able to apply for a more operational role with regular work hours when her children were still young, or when she studied to enhance her industry expertise.
Meanwhile, her colleagues who are single and can focus on their work can occupy a more time-demanding role.

Today, another way that banks can empathise with women in different life stages is through remote working. This allows parents to spend more time with their young children or ease the burden of taking care of the elderly, Ip said.

Apart from tangible support for women’s careers that take into account their varying life stages, fostering a workplace that is diverse and inclusive is important — not just in banking but in any industry.

“You need to accept diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of our preference, our social background, our religion, our culture. [We] need to see and respect that people are different, but also include those who are different,” Ip said.

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