How a Chinese bank adapted to COVID-19

Helen Kan, Executive Director and Alternate Chief Executive Officer, China CITIC Bank International Limited shares how a major international bank faced the challenges of the pandemic and what new skills will be needed in the workforce for organisations to thrive emerging from the pandemic. Helen’s experiences and observations fed into CEMS recently published guide to ‘Leadership in a Post Covid-19 World’.
Helen Kan, Executive Director and Alternate Chief Executive Officer, China CITIC Bank International Limited

Although the concept of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) was already familiar to many, COVID-19 has caused every leader to face up to it in their day-to-day operations.

In the first phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, the pressing issue was dealing with the imminent issue of staff, customer and business partner safety. Nothing was business as usual. Crisis management meetings were held regularly, as decisive actions had to be made quickly, such as whether to open or close outlets. There was no precedent to draw on or preparation, so this was an acid test of our agility and collectiveness.

Virtual communication and speedy reaction were essential. Throughout the whole of 2020, adaptability, agility, engagement, mutual support, care for people and anoptimistic attitude have been the crucial factors that have kept our organisation going.

COVID-19 has certainly brought about long-term implications for our business. Because customer behavior changed quickly and digital adoption was evident, maintaining engaging relationships with corporate and cross-border customers has called for new approaches. Virtual, compliant, communication platforms have been established for customers.

Changes in value chains also pose new opportunities and challenges. Business models have also had to be re-examined, as both diversification and strengthening of our core business foundation have become even more important. While this is a time for cost control, it is also an important time to invest in a focused way, as in our geographical area - the opening up of Greater Bay Area in the southern part of China still presents huge investment opportunities.

Organisational culture is a differentiator

Ultimately, organisational culture will differentiate those companies that can emerge stronger from those that don’t. It is important to think out of the box, to be quick on your feet and entrepreneurial, as the old way of working is simply not possible.  The correction, adjustment and transformation that COVID-19 brings about will be long-lasting.

Importantly, everyone can be a leader, in terms of making the best trade-offs, stepping up to judgment calls and solving issues resourcefully. New skills for the workforce will be innovative mindset, entrepreneurial attitude, resilience and agility. Leaders at all levels must create an environment where everyone can progress amidst uncertainty, through engagement and conviction of a better future.


For more insights from the CEMS Global Alliance on Leadership in a Post Covid-19 World, visit: