Editorial Board Spotlight: Candid Q&A with Shiuan Ting van Vuuren

We showcase Shiuan Ting van Vuuren, CIO for Sun Life International HuBS, and a member of AsianInvestor's Editorial Advisory Board. We uncover the various facets that define van Vuuren - a leader, mother, and her authentic self.
Editorial Board Spotlight: Candid Q&A with Shiuan Ting van Vuuren

Shiuan Ting van Vuuren is a well-known name in Hong Kong's financial industry.

Van Vuuren started as an actuary in London, but found her true passion in investment a little over a decade ago.

Today, she helms the general account investment of Sun Life International HuBS, the global high-net-worth life insurance operations in Hong Kong, Bermuda and Singapore under Sun Life Financial.

Beyond her professional role, van Vuuren is also a devoted mother with two children. She likes to watch tennis, practice yoga and learn about history.

Shiuan Ting van Vuuren

In the first of a two-part series, we attempt to uncover the personality behind the title.

1. What does a typical morning look like for you? What’s the first thing you do? Do you have any rituals?

I try to sleep at least seven hours a day and my alarm goes off at 6:15 am.

I will wake up my kids and the family will have breakfast together because this is the only meal during the week that we have together, even if it’s just 10 minutes.

It's a very important part of the family routine in the morning.

2. What's the most unconventional piece of advice you've ever received that worked?

I wouldn't say this is unconventional, but it's a very profound piece of advice: A CEO at Sun Life once said to me that the most powerful thing is to say no. Don’t abuse it. Your energy is very finite, so you really have to be quite clever about using it.

I always joke that you can really do no more than three big things at any one time.

And I can assure you the requests that come to you are more than three. So, you have to learn to say no. You're better off delivering those three than trying to do 10 things that you wont' do well.

3. Do you play any sports?

I'm very interested in watching sports but not very good at playing them. During COVID-19, I picked up yoga and pilates, by following free YouTube videos.

My routine now is trying to practice them three or four times a week by following an app.

I don’t like the additional pressure of going to paid classes. I need a lot of flexibility in my life with both work and kids to manage.

4. If you could have lunch with any celebrities, who would they be and what would you ask them?

I would have lunch with Kate Middleton and Roger Federer. I’d like to know about their life when they are not in the public limelight and the efforts they make behind the scenes.

I like Kate Middleton’s elegance. I would like to know how she handles the pressure of being a Royal member and manages to look elegant every time she makes a public appearance.

I also want to know more about her charity and philanthropic work. It is something I want to contribute more time to as well.

Kate Middleton and Roger Federer

I like watching tennis and enjoyed Roger Federer’s games before his retirement. I want to know exactly how he trains, whether he has any routines and everything else that led to his outstanding performances.

5. What’s your favorite book?

Outside of work, I prefer to read historical fiction. I like history but not textbooks. 

My favourite book is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. The book I’m reading now is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett about medieval Europe.

Sometimes, when I want lighter stuff, I prefer page-turners like psychological thrillers.

6. What do you think will be the biggest challenge for asset managers in the next decade?

Digitalisation and fee pressure. There are significant opportunities, but it takes a lot of investment and time to harness artificial intelligence and anything around it.

I do think that asset managers are being squeezed and always have the pressure of reducing fees while expenses are going up. How do you maintain profitability and ensure your model is sustainable? Digitalisation is one way.

By putting those two together, you are ultimately ensuring the business is profitable and sustainable.

7. What advice would you give to someone considering a career shift into asset management or life insurance?

I started as an actuary, and I never thought I would to go into investments. But sometimes opportunity changes your career path. So, my best advice would be to just go for it.

It’s okay to not always know what you are going to do next.

8. How about advice to women who just start their careers in the financial industry?

This is a topic very close to my heart. I think it’s to make sure you have your support system around you. It could be from family, your employer, or from domestic helpers.

You have to be clever about dividing your time and energy between work and life.

9. Describe a time when your company had to adapt quickly to a changing market condition. How did you navigate it?

We are adapting to new regulations for life insurance companies in Hong Kong -- the risk-based capital (RBC) regime. It involves at least four to five teams, including investment, legal, compliance, etc.

I think the main thing is making sure there is top-to-bottom and then bottom-to-top alignment, as well as inter-department coordination.

In a big organisation it’s critical to have a clear decision matrix so you can move projects forward in a timely manner.

10. How do you stay informed and adapt to rapidly evolving financial regulations?

Three words – read, read, read – to understand what is evolving. And then quick and clean execution comes after that to adapt.

11. What personal attributes do you look for when hiring for your team?

To me, the most important attribute of a team member is that he/she ‘gets it’. Most of the time, it’s the softer skills that are more valuable than the technical skills.

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