“I always put myself in a position where I’m little bit uncomfortable,” said Venetia Lee, Ant Financial’s general manager for Alipay in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. “I always want to do something interesting, something I haven’t done before.”
Lee studied computer science in the U.S., but always wanted to put tech to work in a job that allowed her to interact with people. After college she worked as a software engineer at Sun Microsystems, but she wanted to do more than programming. “I like the applications side because you can see how your work has an impact on people’s lives,” she said.
She moved to consulting with Ernst & Young to help clients solve problems, and along the way learned business analysis and project management. She then took on the first of several substantial projects: leading PayPal’s launch in China, in 2005, which saw her move to Shanghai to run it as a product manager.
Lee wanted to return to her native Hong Kong, but for internet businesses, the city lacked the same opportunities, but it remains important for financial services. “I’d done digital payments, but not banking,” she said.
She joined DBS in Hong Kong to run its new business in consumer digital banking, which involved a lot of internal lobbying for putting budgets behind things like customer experience. Although banks remain conservative when it comes to adapting to digital, she learned they are good at business, partly because they understand regulation. Those insights helped her take the lead on big fintech initiatives.
She launched ApplePay into Hong Kong and Singapore. Then Ant came knocking, with a much broader set of products and a strategic interest in Hong Kong, as a stepping stone for the company’s international ambitions. “There’s a lot here I can do,” she said.
Her role has several dimensions: to run Alipay in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, driving merchant and consumer acceptance, which in turn should lead to new services that Ant offers in mainland China. She also represents Ant to work with Alipay H.K., a joint venture with Hutchison. She also coordinates the Hong Kong business with other arms of parent Alibaba where they operate in the region.