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Doctor CHAN Tak-lam Norman

92nd Congregation (2023)

Doctor CHAN Tak-lam Norman

Doctor of Social Science


Hong Kong’s financial services sector is pivotal to its strategic position, within China, the region and the world. Indeed, by 2020 it was contributing close to a quarter of the city’s Gross Domestic Product, nearly double that of two decades ago.

We can be proud that our city is now famed as a financial capital, with its 163 licensed banks and eight pioneering virtual banks. Among them, as many as 78 of the world’s top 100 banks call Hong Kong their home. In addition, over the last decade Hong Kong has come to host the largest pool of RMB outside mainland China, enhancing the city’s role as a springboard for foreign companies in accessing the China market, and for mainland firms to go global – one of its key roles in the Greater Bay Area. This financial infrastructure is vital oil for the wheels of our economy and makes our daily lives more convenient – tapping a card to make a payment, shopping on line, or using the Faster Payment System to transfer money in an instant, being some obvious examples. It also means skilled jobs, with the sector last year employing around 267,000 people – 7.5 per cent of the total employment in Hong Kong.

However, the strength and resilience of our financial services sector was only made possible by astute policies and bold leadership. It thus gives me great pleasure today to present as an honorand one of its key architects, Dr Chan Tak-lam Norman, the former Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (the HKMA) until he retired in 2019, and its Founding Executive Director in the 1990s.

Dr Chan’s journey from humble beginnings mirrors that of the city he was born into and the financial sector he would go on to lead. He grew up in a society without privilege in the post-war years, when squatter huts still covered Hong Kong’s hillsides. The territory had yet to provide basic housing for its rapidly increasing population.

His parents, who like many had recently migrated from the mainland, instilled in their family the principle that education was the way out of poverty. Through merit, Dr Chan secured a place at the prestigious government school, Queen’s College, when secondary schooling was not yet universally available. He thrived at school, in the arts stream, and from there was thrilled to pass the entrance exam for our university’s Chung Chi College.

Without a career plan, he chose sociology as his undergraduate subject, because it included more study in English. He experienced the wider world as an exchange student at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, USA, and graduated in 1976, becoming one of very few CUHK graduates at that time to join the government service as an Administrative Officer.

After rotations through various departments – honing his versatility in always being ready to learn new things, and ability to see the big picture – Dr Chan finally found himself in the world of finance. That was in 1991, when he was appointed Deputy Director of Monetary Management at the Office of the Exchange Fund. It quickly became clear that the time was ripe for Hong Kong to have its own specialist monetary authority and talent, independent of the Bank of England umbrella. His role would include helping to establish the HKMA, through a merger of the Office of the Exchange Fund and Office of the Commissioner of Banking. He left the administrative service in 1993 to become the new authority’s founding executive director. Working outside the civil service, he could use a market system to recruit and retain staff, and build the authority’s reputation.

During this period Dr Chan had his first experience of steadying a ship in times of tempest, intervening to protect Hong Kong in the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Working with the HKMA’s then Chief Executive, Joseph Yam, they directed an unorthodox and initially much criticised market intervention to drive away the speculators attacking the Hong Kong dollar. Without this intervention, the financial sector would have collapsed, setting the economy back at least a decade. Dr Chan has since staunchly defended the linked exchange rate system, which maintains the stability of the Hong Kong dollar.

Dr Chan remained with the HKMA until 2005, along with being executive director of the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation from its incorporation in 1997. He would return four years later, as Chief Executive, after a stint in the commercial sector, with Standard Chartered Bank, as its Vice Chairman, Asia, and then back in government, as Director of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR’s Office.

As the HKMA’s new chief executive he needed to steer Hong Kong through the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. Maintaining financial stability was his most important mission in the following years. For example, he sought to avert another dangerous property bubble through nine rounds of counter-cyclical marcroprudential measures to tighten the supply of mortgage finance by banks, thereby enhancing the resilience of the banking system to cope with the downward cycle of the property market.

With the foundations stable, he could lead the sector in its innovation. This combination has been the key that enabled Hong Kong to become Asia’s premier financial centre. At the policy level, closer cross-border collaboration paved the way for it to become a global hub for offshore Renminbi business. And as the digital revolution gathered apace, he took the daring view that Hong Kong had much more to gain by being an early adopter of the latest financial technology (or fintech), rather than waiting for others to lead. Standing still was never an option for him. Under his leadership, the HKMA launched smart banking initiatives such as the Faster Payment System. Meanwhile, his readiness to license eight virtual banks spurred digital innovation across the whole sector.

While Hong Kong had developed into a major banking centre, he did not forget that there were still some underprivileged citizens who did not have good access to the basic banking services. Reflecting his commitment to financial inclusion, he devised the “treat customers fairly charter” and persuaded retail banks to open or retain banking facilities in more isolated public housing estates, at a time when elsewhere in the world physical services were fast disappearing.

As a firm believer that businesses need to embrace technology to thrive in the fintech era, he continues to promote innovation. Since retiring from the HKMA he has founded two Fintech companies, RD Wallet Technologies Ltd and RD ezLink Limited, that support small and medium-sized enterprises in accessing banking services and cross-border payments, and the Hong Kong Acquisition Corporation, which he chairs. He is multi-tasking even further, by recently launching the Hong Kong Institute of Web3.0, a cross-sector and non-profit organisation to develop capacity in Web 3.0 – the third generation of web technologies Hong Kong needs to secure its leadership in the global digital economy of the future.

His contributions have been widely recognised. In 2012 he received the Gold Bauhinia Star, and in 2021 the William “Bill” Seidman Award for Lifetime Achievement in Leadership in the Financial Services Industry, among others.

We are particularly proud that Dr Chan is an alumnus of this university. And we are especially grateful for the services he is now giving back to us, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Chung Chi College since 2021, and, since April of this year, as Vice Chairman of the CUHK Council. He is also a member of the Global Alumni Advisory Board. Meanwhile, he passes on his expertise to the next generation of leaders in finance as an Honorary Professor in CUHK’s Faculty of Business Administration, and as senior adviser for the Hong Kong Academy of Finance. It is no wonder he has little time for the squash and golf he likes to play.

We thus have many reasons to honour Dr Chan, for his immense achievements in serving the community, within and beyond his career, always with an eye on the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong, and on the future. 

Mr Chairman, it is my honour and my pleasure to present Dr Chan Tak-lam Norman for the award of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.


Citation is presented by Professor Nick Rawlins, Pro-Vice-Chancellor / Vice-President (Student Experience) and Master of Morningside College