Brokerage boss from Taiwan shares about journey in Vietnam

Chen Chia Ken (Jacky), CEO of Phu Hung Securities, talked about his decision to move to Vietnam and the future of Vietnam’s capital market.

A bold move

As he began the conversation, Jacky said with a smile that he could not believe seven years has passed since the day he packed his bags and left Taiwan for Vietnam. Back in 2012, Jacky was a senior executive at a top-three securities firm in Taiwan, and his work there provided him with stability and good pay.

However, Jacky realised that his chances to become a CEO at that firm were very slim, due to the somewhat ageist practice in Taiwan – most CEOs are older than 55 years while Jacky was only 40 at the time. This prompted Jacky to relocate to Vietnam, despite having very little knowledge of the market.

The securities specialist joined Phu Hung Securities (PHS) as CEO. It was a tough time for both Jacky and PHS, as the small firm was struggling with losses and very low revenue. This was both a challenge and an opportunity for the ambitious new CEO, who believed that he could revive the business.

“My Vietnamese colleagues at PHS are so young, talented, and driven, and I want to create a better work environment for them,” said Jacky. Altogether, the PHS team has managed to improve the business, expand the client network, and raise the outstanding margin from VND37 billion ($1.61 million) to VND1 trillion ($43.48 million).

When asked about his “secret for success”, Jacky replied that he took lessons from what happened in China and Taiwan. A domestic stock market can only expand if the average income level grows. When the locals have more disposable income, they are much more likely to invest in the stock market. However, this also requires brokers to have a long-term mindset of at least ten years.

In the case of Vietnam, an average person now earns $2,500 annually, which means they are above the poverty level. In the next decade, this number might double, giving the local Vietnamese more options to invest their spare income.

“The chosen type of investment might be different – from real estate and insurance to other assets and equities. However, the key point here is the sustainable growth in wage, which builds a strong foundation for the stock market in Vietnam,” said Jacky.

Building client relationships

Another challenge came to PHS last year, in the form of AI and other Industry 4.0 technologies, together with steep discounts on brokers’ service fees. This market trend put Jacky at a difficult position: should he follow the lead of competitors by slashing service fees at PHS and building AI into the day-to-day business?

At the time, PHS’ business was going well: the firm had 4,750 new customer accounts, up by 109 per cent from last year. Besides traditional customers from Taiwan and China, more domestic investors are choosing PHS’ services.

After a lot of thinking and discussions with the team, Jacky decided not to automate the entire client service process, nor to cut service fees. The CEO believed that free services cannot foster a sustainable future for any brokerage. In terms of technology, he admitted that machines can replace some of the technical aspects of brokerage, but the human touch is still key.

“Customers come to us because they want someone to talk to – not a machine. Service is a human-to-human business, and technology can never replace that,” said Jacky.

With this in mind, the CEO asked his staff members to take care of clients as if they were personal friends, putting clients’ financial health and success as important as their own. Employees are told that no matter how developed the technology might be, it cannot erase the benefits of a friendly smile and a caring heart.

One can easily see how Jacky followed this philosophy in his business – the CEO has a warm smile, a calm tone, and a sparkle of hope and excitement in his eyes. Jacky said he strongly believes in the motto of Phu My Hung Corporation, which was founded by fellow Taiwanese businessman Lawrence S.Ting more than 30 years ago.

“Lawrence S.Ting built the entire Phu My Hung residential area because he wanted to give local residents and expatriates a great place to live, study, and relax. I also aspire to do the same for the brokerage sector – that means to prioritise the positive impact we leave on the local community,” said Jacky.

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