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Client and Distribution Leader, Asia

In a conversation facilitated by Parima and AXA XL, The Fung Group's corporate risk manager, Ronald Cheung, talks with AXA XL's Client and Distribution Leader, Asia, Stephen Nguyen, about his career journey and the lessons he has learned along the way.

Ronald Cheung didn't set out to become The Fung Group's corporate risk manager. However, he did take the initiative to create a centralised risk management function within the Group. In a conversation facilitated by the Pan-Asia Risk and Insurance Management Association (Parima) and AXA XL, Ronald talks with AXA XL's Stephen Nguyen, Client and Distribution Leader, Asia, about his career journey and the lessons he has learned along the way. The Fung Group is a privately held company headquartered in Hong Kong. Their diverse businesses operate across the entire global supply chain for consumer goods, including trading, logistics, distribution and retail.

Stephen Nguyen (SN): Welcome, Ronald and thanks for taking the time to talk about how you became a corporate risk manager and share your views about what it takes to succeed in this role. Could you start by describing your position and The Fung Group's business?

Ronald Cheung (RC): My pleasure. My title is General Manager, Legal and Risk Management. I have a dual role in the department. Half of my role is doing legal work with Fung Group business units on different legal issues. The other part, which is the more interesting part for this audience, is risk management.

On the risk management side, I mainly concentrate on four pillars: insurance management and claims handling, loss prevention and investigations, trade compliance and sanctions issues, and basic security.

SN: The four pillars you mentioned show the diversity of issues a corporate risk manager has to deal with. Could you describe a bit further what each involves?

RC: Sure. Insurance management is how we interact with our insurers. We do renewals, negotiations and help new business units. We also are the face of the company when talking with our risk partners about we can manage different risks and accelerate growth in the company. That is the bulk of the work. And with the recent hard market, the past two years have been challenging for my team and me.

We also do investigations where we deal with external authorities. As you know, the regulatory environment has been tightening for the past couple of years, and we help our businesses deal with regulatory inquiries.

Another hot topic for us is trade compliance. Whether it is the GDPR in Europe or the various agencies and regulations governing exports and imports in the U.S., ensuring that all our business units remain compliant is an ongoing challenge. So, my team also manages those internal controls.

The last one I want to touch upon is data security and cyber risk; that is also a hot topic. When I started as in-house counsel in the Group, cyberattacks were still quite remote and mostly confined to North America. But as we all know, companies around the world now risk being attacked by cyber-criminals. Here, we liaise with our IT security team to ensure our policies and infrastructure are aligned and up to date. Our businesses need that peace of mind as operations become more automated and more and more business is transacted online. This is an important piece of what I am doing now for the Group.

SN: You mentioned that you joined the Group as an in-house counsel. How did you get your start in risk management?

RC: I started as a solicitor in a UK firm and focused on marine litigation. When I joined The Fung Group, I wanted to try something different. And (risk management) was not something I suddenly decided I would like to do. It was more like a progression and asking myself how I can provide more value across the Group. It started when my boss, the General Counsel, gave me a file and said, 'This is a claim we have with the insurers, and it isn't going anywhere. Can you have a look at it'? I was pretty frank and said, 'I do marine litigation, but I can have a go'.

So, I picked up the files, and one thing lead to another. I looked at the correspondence with the insurers. And I started to understand that this is a coverage issue, so I read the policy. Then, because some things were unclear, I talked to our brokers. And our brokers introduced me to our insurers. In the end, we figured it out, the claim was resolved, and everyone was happy with the result.

I realised that I enjoyed that kind of problem-solving, and after a year or two, I became the unofficial person within the Group who handled insurance matters. The brokers, who helped get me up-to-speed, also saw me as someone within the Group who was around to do insurance. That's when I started advocating for a centralised function to handle risk and insurance and the other matters I mentioned. 

SN: I think it was unique how you built the risk and insurance team at The Fung Group. Can you tell us a bit more about how that came about?

RC: A lot of things happened by chance. In building up the team, I drew on my experiences dealing with different people. My two assistants came from different business units; one is an accountant and the other is a barrister. They work with me on different things. It might be a renewal, a claim or an investigation. What makes us effective is our knowledge of the business. The Fung Group is a big, complex organisation. We know the structure of the company and the people; who to go to when we need help or attention from management.

So, even though this is a very traditional company, they were also very open-minded when they allowed me to set up this new function.

SN: The risk manager role requires a diverse skillset. What skillset or competency is most important for you?

RC: If I were to over-generalise communications skills. When you are in front of senior managers, you often won't have the time to explain complex insurance and risk management issues. You have to be very clear and concise. You have to make the most out of the time available to you.

You also have to know your audience and what he or she needs to know. You may be talking to a CFO one day where the focus will be on the implications on cash flows or the P&L; that is what they care about. But when I'm talking to a business unit COO or CEO, my approach will be slightly different because they have other concerns and priorities.

So, interacting effectively with people in different positions and at different levels is very important. To be able to say what you want to say and get what you want in the end.

Risk managers also have to be proactive in anticipating future issues and risks. You have to be curious and be prepared to interact regularly with people in different parts of the business to get a sense of what the future holds in store. Or, to use a soccer analogy, you want to be where the ball is going and not where it has been.

SN: What characteristics do you look for in the perfect insurer?

RC: Our company has been around for a long time, and we are looking for a strong partner that will be with us for the long run. I am certainly not a big fan of switching carriers every year. The longer we work together, the better. That benefits both sides because the insurer understands how we do things, and I understand what kinds of risks it can help us with as well as the ones it isn't comfortable with.

We also need strong track records in global programmes and claims management. Those two are extremely important.

There are always risks in business, and there are bound to be claims. When there is a claim I don't necessarily say, 'this is a bad situation or bad timing'. Instead, it's a chance for us to show what we are capable of and what our character is like. 

So, we most appreciate that long-term trust and that you're willing to stay in the journey and grow with the company and transform with the company. I think that is key.

SN: How has the corporate risk manager's role changed since you have been in the business, and how do you see this role evolving?

RC: This is a tough question because, let's face it, the world is changing. In our business, particularly within the trade business, it has been challenging for two-three years because of the political tensions between West and East. And I'm not shy about talking about that because that is reality. And everyone has to be prepared to change the way they do things to survive and remain relevant.

Risk management teams also have to be very responsive to changes in businesses around the world. Here, I find it helpful to share experiences with other risk managers in the region to avoid tunnel vision on my issues.

There is also the question about how much time you spend on what you have to do today and how much you spend preparing yourself for the future. It's a fine balance. And sometimes you can do both. You're doing something to deal with the issues you face today and, at the same time, creating something valuable for the company's future development.

Risk managers also need to understand that different businesses have different plans, and they don't all operate at the same pace; it is a balancing act. One of the questions I regularly ask is whether it is better to make sweeping changes to a policy or target those who are more receptive to it first. We let a business unit try it out, and, hopefully, they see its value and then pass along their experiences to other business units. That makes my life easier because I don't have to promote something very actively. They're promoting it for me.

SN: Any closing comments?

RC: Don't be shy. Just talk to people. A lot of people might have different experiences or viewpoints about the same matter. But, in the end, their experiences and opinions are all worth something. And one of the most critical ways risk managers can add value is by connecting the dots and using these different inputs to help us learn how to avoid risk or improve how we are doing certain things.

Watch the full interview here

About The Fung Group: https://funggroup.com/en/home

About PARIMA
PARIMA is the Pan-Asia Risk and Insurance Management Association. It is a not-for-profit professional association dedicated to developing the risk management profession and providing a platform for risk and insurance managers to connect. We aim to strengthen and enhance the culture of risk management by creating opportunities for education and dialogue within the community. It currently has more than 2,200 members representing more than 1,130 companies across the Asia-Pacific region. For more information on PARIMA and its activities, please visit http://parima.org/ or contact info@parima.org.

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