Business Success Formula: Embrace Diversity, Operate with Integrity

A finance visionary leads J.P. Morgan Singapore into the age of blockchain and robotics.

The world of banking is changing by the day, thanks to fast-evolving technologies, from blockchain to artificial intelligence.

Edmund Lee, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s senior country officer for Singapore, views that transformation as an opportunity for the bank to gain an edge in serving customers and bring new efficiencies to its work. Under his leadership, the Singapore franchise has invested heavily in innovation. “Our goal is simple: to provide faster, cheaper and better products and solutions to our clients,” he says.

Lee came on board at J.P. Morgan in 2013 and has led the strategic development of the company’s presence in Singapore. He has built a reputation for forging strong relationships with the local business community.

In his previous position, Lee was CEO of DBS Vickers Securities (Singapore). He earned a BA in economics from University of California at Los Angeles.

Lee comes from a family where working in finance is a tradition. His late father Freddy Lee was a well-known stockbroker whom, he says, inspired him with his commitment to integrity.

Associations Now Brand Voice spoke recently with Lee about his career, Singapore’s role in the global financial sector and his passions outside of work.

The world of finance has been changing rapidly due to trends such as digital transformation and increasing globalization. What developments do you find the most intriguing and how are they taking shape in your business?

Edmund Lee: Digitalization is reshaping the way that the world does business, with innovations including blockchain and robotics opening tremendous new opportunities for J.P. Morgan and our clients.

Blockchain paves the way for global transaction processing systems with near-instant value transfers, improved data transparency, and clear audit trails, all with a reduced need for a trusted third-party or central authority. We’ve incorporated this into Quorum, our proprietary enterprise-ready distributed ledger platform, which addresses specific challenges to the adoption of blockchain within the financial industry.

Through robotic processing automation we have round-the-clock automated solutions that ensure accuracy in repeatable transactions, while being scalable and significantly reducing data entry costs.

To stay ahead of the financial technology curve, we continue to invest. We have invested about $9 billion in technology globally, of which a significant amount is invested in emerging fintech solutions.

We also believe in investing in people who will ensure that J.P. Morgan continues to innovate. We’re focused on hiring graduates and professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds so we are able to draw from the full spectrum of knowledge and experience. In fact, the tagline for our current campus-based recruitment campaign globally is “All Minds Wanted,” as we want to attract students across all disciplines and majors, not just finance.

You made the transition from DBS Vickers Securities to running the JP Morgan office franchise in Singapore. What has it been like to transition to working in a US bank in Singapore?

Edmund Lee: J.P. Morgan is among the world’s leading financial institutions. We have an incredibly strong global presence and work with a diverse range of organizations, many of which are shaping the world. For me, it was a transition from a smaller, respectable Asia-focused financial institution to a global financial powerhouse.

Our Singapore office is of strategic importance to the firm. It is the headquarters for the Southeast Asian market, as well as Asia’s hub for foreign, commodities and ecommerce operations. Singapore is also a “Center of Excellence” for its global and regional operations. Our Global Incident Command Center, which ensures efficient technology incident monitoring around the clock, is one of four globally. Our Cybersecurity Operations Center, which defends the firm against cyber threats and addresses operational cyber concerns for our business, is one of three globally.

J.P. Morgan’s workplace culture is one of collaboration and diversity; both are values that I share. A strong collaborative culture will lead to increased efficiency. With diversity in teams, everyone brings along different ideas and strengths to the table, creating innovation in the process. We are also big champions of internal mobility within the firm across locations and roles as we recognize the importance of keeping our best and brightest. In Singapore, nearly half of J.P. Morgan’s open positions are filled through internal mobility.

We’ve witnessed strong growth from Southeast Asia over the past few years. What role has Singapore, or Singapore’s finance sector, played in that growth? What do you think are Singapore’s strengths as a financial hub in Asia and the world?

Edmund Lee: Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world – an amalgam of different cultures, resources, and industries. Singapore is a strong contributor to growth in this region, providing a platform for trade, finance, transport, and education.

Singapore is among the world’s leading financial hubs, thanks to political stability, a robust macroeconomic environment and a competitive cost and tax environment. The financial sector is advanced, with an abundance of available capital, solid economic output, market liquidity, and a depth and breadth of industry clusters. We also benefit from a good reputation and well-built infrastructure.

The Singapore central bank, or the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), is focused on making sure the financial sector remains relevant and competitive as technology transforms the way that financial services are produced, delivered and consumed. Last year, the MAS unveiled a roadmap to strengthen its status as a financial hub in Asia, with plans to collaborate with financial institutions on new initiatives, invest in research, and undertake efforts to make Singapore a more attractive base for foreign fintech startups.

This progressive, strategic approach reinforces Singapore’s status as a financial hub.

You are known for your deep connections to the local business community. How did these strong ties come into play in achieving your vision for the J.P. Morgan franchise in Singapore?

Edmund Lee: At J.P. Morgan, we have a relentless focus on clients. Because of this, we have been able to build very strong connections with the business community in Singapore.

Across the Asia-Pacific markets, J.P. Morgan’s institutional strength and global footprint are being complemented by our strong on-the-ground presence. In Singapore, we have 3,000 employees, across front to back offices, ensuring that we are able to provide full service to clients. J.P. Morgan remains very committed to the Singapore market and will continue to invest in our operations and talent here.

Your father Freddy Lee was a well-known stockbroker. What lessons did he teach you that have stayed with you as a business leader?

Edmund Lee: My father taught me the importance of integrity. Regardless of what line of work you’re in, what hobbies you keep, or however else you spend your time, the only way you can truly earn respect is to operate with integrity. I bring that to every area of my life.

We’ve read that you’re a recreational cyclist. Where are your favorite places to cycle in Singapore?

Edmund Lee: I’m a man of many bikes – mountain bikes, racing bikes, folding bikes. I am a fan of Singapore’s park connector network. It showcases Singapore’s greenery and one of the city/state’s unique attributes: an urban metropolis balanced with the benefits of easy-to-access parks and trails.

When you are entertaining business clients in Singapore, what are your favorite places to go?

Edmund Lee: Singapore is known for its incredible food. For me, it’s not about a particular place, it’s simply about seafood. We have some of the best seafood in the world. Whenever I have a meeting, I seek out the nearest seafood restaurant and dig in.

This profile of Edmund Lee, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s senior country officer for Singapore, is part of Singapore: Passion Personified. It is the eighth in a series of eight profiles of individuals who embody the country’s entrepreneurial drive and “passion made possible” spirit, which shares stories to inspire the business leaders of today and tomorrow.

(Handout photo)