An internship at the New York headquarters of American Express (Amex) in 2000 helped Walter Liu identify his career path. Over the past 10 years, the 32-year-old has moved from manager and director positions in New York to the company's offices in Singapore. He is now vice-president and chief credit officer, Greater China, for consumer and small business services risk management at Amex International in Hong Kong.
How did you get into financial services after completing your master's degree in industrial operations engineering at the University of Michigan? My programme was linked to both the engineering and business school, and that was how I drew the link between business and engineering. I interned at Amex in New York one summer, and enjoyed working there because of the people and the culture. I got a job in the new accounts underwriting division after my graduation in 2001.
How did you end up in Singapore? I always wanted to gain working experience internationally. I discussed this aspiration with my leader and mentor and he supported me. Amex foresaw huge growth potential in Asia and was identifying talents in the United States to help develop its global business. Six months later I was offered a job at Amex in Singapore.
The business needs in Asia drove me to launch 30 new products in two years. The new products were primarily credit cards and loan businesses. It was an exciting time in Asia as the culture and mindset of risk management was not as prominent.
What motivates you after 10 years with the company? It is the opportunity to grow personally and professionally in Asia. There is still a lot of potential for the company in Greater China. I want to be part of it. After several years in Singapore, I wanted to move to Hong Kong because of my wife's banking career. Amex has been supportive. I have also learned a lot from the very smart people I work with. The amount of innovation coming out makes it so interesting for me to be part of it. From which areas of your daily work do you derive the most satisfaction? It is the freedom that I have to think about how to grow the business as part of a team. The corporate culture of Amex values opinions of individuals. We are encouraged to openly express our ideas on how to grow the business, regardless of ranks and lines of business. I also get immense satisfaction when I see the launch of products I have helped develop. My friends and family say I have the ‘blue blood’ in me (blue being Amex’s corporate colour). I am proud of the products.
Who has made the biggest impact on your career? The biggest influence on my career and the way I lead my life is from my parents who have the traditional hardworking Chinese mentality. They emigrated to the US and opened a restaurant in Florida in the 1970s. My upbringing combining traditional Chinese values and American education has helped me bridge the gap when I moved from the US to Asia.
What are your career goals? I aspire to move up to the next level, but there is no race for me to climb the corporate ladder. [A promotion] would recognise my contribution and I hope it comes naturally.
What's your advice for young people? To know exactly what you want and plan the next move to be where you want to see yourself in one or two years. Be straightforward and open with your supervisors about your personal and career growth desires. If your company embraces open communication, take advantage of it.
Path to the top
Walter Liu started his career with Amex in New York in 2001
He was transferred to Singapore where he headed underwriting and new product development for Asia in 2004
In Hong Kong, Liu focuses on credit risk management for Greater China, and develops policies for consumer card and small business services