Hong Kong Stock Exchange

Victory Financial’s managing director a role model for women seeking careers among middle-sized brokerages

Victory Financial Group’s Katerine Kou Kuen says local brokerages are expanding, gaining on bigger rivals by leveraging personalised services and a life-long client relationship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 8:57pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 10:48pm

In a local financial industry dominated by men, Katerine Kou Kuen stands out as among the few women at the helm of a mid-sized brokerage, overseeing Victory Financial Group, the trading house established by her father 45 years ago.

“The brokerage business involves a lot of networking activities, including gatherings with customers and other brokers. Women, who are a minority in this industry, may find it hard to mingle,” Kou, who is managing director at Victory Financial, said.

Hong Kong’s stock market has never had a female chairman or CEO during its 125-year history. Moreover, of the directors representing listed companies, only 11 per cent are women. No official statistics are compiled for the number of female stock brokers in the city, but anecdotal evidence suggests they are relatively few. And at senior management levels, the situation isn’t any better.

However, Kou believes things are changing, as there are many young women joining the industry these days. Down the road she believes it’s inevitable that women take up a bigger proportion of the top jobs at securities firms.

“No matter whether they are male or female, if they are willing to learn, to improve themselves, they will have a opportunity to rise to the top of the securities industry,” Kou, 58, said in an interview with the Post in her office in Sheung Wan.

Kou’s father founded Victory Financial Group 45 years ago with two friends at a cost of about HK$200,000. It has since expanded into a company with 80 staff serving more than 10,000 clients.

Katerine, the younger of the founder’s two daughter, joined the firm in 1990 after completing her business studies and gaining work experience in other companies. She started at the company as a trainee, gaining work experience in departments ranging from trading, settlement and customer services.

She later led the push towards computerisation in an effort tot meet new trading regulations in Hong Kong.

Kou became managing director in 2000, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company while her father continued to work at the firm until 2012. He passed away aged 98 last year.

Kou says her father backed her career aspirations and was also understanding of the hardships she’d face while raising a family as a working mom.

“My father supported me and taught me how to run the business. He also offered support to enable me to work while I raised two children,” she said.

Kou said her 26-year old son is joining the firm to learn the basis. She also has a 22 year daughter. Contrary to popular belief, Kou said the brokerage business is not a sunset industry, and in fact, it’s growing. She noted that brokerage firms in Hong Kong will number more than 500 this year, compared to around 400 some years ago.

“It depends on how you run your business. If you have the right business model and hire the right people, the customers will still come to you,” she said.

She said small brokerages have an edge over larger companies in being able to provide more personal services.

“Our oldest client is now 90 years old. He has been a customer since the firm was set up. Many of our staff have been with us for 30 or 40 years and they have close relationship with customers,” she said.

Kou said her company also offers a broad portfolio of services, providing trading in Hong Kong and US stocks and futures. Other services include asset management, retirement planning, life insurance, and advisory services on overseas education for children.

“At the end of the day, we need to provide the services the customers want,” she said. “I will make sure my company can provide all round financial services for the whole lifespan of our customers,” Kou said.

Mainland clients make up about 30 per cent of the company’s trading business related to Hong Kong equities, she said.

While big investment banks such as Goldman Sachs have unveiled staff reduction plans in Asia, Kou says she has no plans to streamline headcount.

“My father taught me that big business does not rely on cost cutting. I would also try to find new income sources before trying to reduce costs,” she said.

Kou says she is upgrading the company’s IT systems to meet the requirements necessary for the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock connect, which is to be launched next month. The system will further lower cross border trade barriers, allowing international investors to trade Shenzhen stocks and for mainlanders to trade Hong Kong stocks. This will be the second programme of its kind, after the 2014 launch of the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock connect

“The stock connects have not brought in significant business, but these schemes will likely be important for the longer term. The launch of the new connect scheme will also help improve the overall market sentiment,” she said.