Charity work makes us better bankers, says StanChart manager

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If you want foreign bankers to integrate better into Asia, ask them to do charity work, says Lee Woei Shiuan, senior manager, Asia governance and strategic initiatives, at Standard Chartered in Singapore.

Lee, a 12-year StanChart veteran who took on her current role last year, knows a thing or two about volunteering – away from the office she’s been organising community events in Singapore since 1995 and even helped set up her own charity shop.

Now she’s putting this experience to work at her bank, encouraging other employees to volunteer. Lee tells us why governance is a great job and how bankers benefit from running exercise classes for old people.

How did you get to where you are today?

Standard Chartered encourages its talent to change roles every two years, which creates a good working culture. I’ve done six roles over 12 years and because of this I’ve been able to progress, work on many different banking products, and improve my skills by taking on tasks over and above my business-as-usual work.

What, exactly, is a governance job?

In short, it’s maintaining relationships between the financial markets, the regulators, management at the bank, and our employees. My role is APAC-wide and I work closely with our country CEOs and other senior people in markets like Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. Governance is about identifying potential problems, for example a compliance issue, in one country and solving them with help from other offices. No single person has all the answers, so my team is there to find solutions by bringing together the experts.

That’s a broad role. How did you get it?

One reason is because I had worked in finance roles at Standard Chartered, which gave me previous exposure to the wide range of colleagues and departments that I now work with. More importantly, I’ve got a track record of contributing strongly to the success of teams I’ve worked for in the past. It’s a rewarding role – you get to help your colleagues and make their jobs easier.

Is your team hiring?

We are taking on people, but we prefer to hire internally – people who already understand how the bank works. There’s no specific technical background or qualifications needed for a governance role – we’ve got a consultant, lawyer and an accountant, me, in the team – but you definitely need to like solving problems.

Your job also involves organising community volunteering for staff. What’s that about?

One of the main ones is called “Silver Lining”, an initiative to help elderly people in Singapore. For example, some of our employees run exercise classes at senior activity centres, while others actually go to people’s homes and help clean up, paint, and generally improve living conditions.

Do bank employees like volunteering?

Yes, contrary to what you might think, they are very keen to take up the challenge of helping the elderly. Recently when we called for volunteers for Silver Lining, all positions were taken up within three hours. We get people signing up to volunteer again and again, which shows it’s not just a one-off thing for them.

Does volunteering help them in their careers?

Yes, bringing people of all levels to work together outside of their day jobs improves teamwork and builds more open communication channels between staff. Volunteering in the community also gives them empathy for people from different backgrounds and cultures. This is especially important for our foreign colleagues who have recently arrived in Singapore. It’s a unique opportunity for them to integrate into multi-cultural Singapore, giving them immediate exposure to our community in a way they might not otherwise get. It’s a low-stress, fun way to integrate.

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