As Senior Director at an American Express joint venture, Ronald Tsang has been busy helping to expand the company’s reach within Mainland China. He tells A Plus what he finds most fulfilling about working at a growing payment network in the heart of Shanghai
What is your current role and responsibilities? How is it going so far?
I’m the Senior Director at an American Express joint venture. My two main roles involve helping with pricing and finance systems optimization. In terms of pricing, I help determine how much we are able to charge as a payment network each time a transaction goes through our network. This requires me to have a firm understanding of the market and the position of our products among our competitors who are China UnionPay, Visa and Mastercard. As for finance systems optimization, I have to ensure that financial data is properly captured in our enterprise resource planning systems. Whenever we build a new system, we have to understand how this affects the tracking of our accounting, tax and cash flow management. For example, we have built a card settlement system with the banks we work with. There are a lot of miscellaneous fees, so I have to design a system that, from our side, is able to automatically send out daily reconciliation reports to these banks. This is also linked to our accounting and tax system, enabling us to automatically keep records of both. I work with the internal controls team to make sure all relevant controls are in place and to find the most financially viable and efficient ways of using these systems. I moved to Shanghai in January 2019 to work. We only received our license to operate as a network in China in August 2020, so we are kind of a start-up figuring our way forward. Everyone does their best and is very motivated, so in general, it’s a very dynamic environment, which I really like.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your role, and why?
What’s most challenging is knowing how to make decisions balancing the quantifiable and non-quantifiable aspects. Some decisions are backed by numbers, such as the number of customers to be brought in and transaction volumes, but others are more intangible, involving factors such as brand value and relationships. During discussions and negotiations with our partners, many of whom are tech giants in China, sometimes you need a bit of faith that an investment of a certain amount of money would result in a certain outcome. The most rewarding aspects about the role is the people and the industry. It’s rewarding to work within a team of people who are highly engaged, motivated and curious to seek and share knowledge. I also enjoy working in the payments sector. I started working at American Express in 2013 and have worked in cities including Hong Kong, Shanghai and New York. With platforms such as WeChat Pay and AliPay – which can also be used with American Express – the payments industry in China moves at a very fast pace. It’s been a great learning experience and it’s very exciting to build something from scratch.
Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years in your career? Which field do you plan on specializing in, and why?
I enjoy working in the payments industry and would like to work here for two or three more years. I’ve been in this sector since 2013, so it would be a waste if I left and couldn’t put my industry knowledge to use. At the same time, I enjoy the flexibility that comes with being a CPA, as the qualification also allows me to work anywhere. In my case, I went from being a traditional management accountant to taking on a more business advisory role. If you had told me five years ago that I would be working in Shanghai, I wouldn’t have believed you! Shanghai is a truly diverse city. In addition to the expats you see from a lot of different countries, you meet a lot of people from different provinces in China too, such as Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian. It’s a truly multicultural place. I love the mix – that’s what I enjoy the most. I also love the local delicacies such as xiao long bao, but I always miss the food back in Hong Kong.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far and how did you overcome it?
It would have to be going from being a sole contributor to managing a team. A sole contributor mainly focuses on completing tasks and making sure they are done in a logical and timely manner. But when you start managing, you have to understand your team’s career aspirations, strengths and make sure they are able to function together as a team in order to meet the company’s goals. So as a leader, you have to understand how to fulfil the company’s goals and meet people’s needs as well. That’s the most challenging part.
How do you think the Qualification Programme (QP) has helped you in your career so far, or prepared you for your current role?
I loved the management accounting module. This one helped me in my career the most. It logically explains how to look at a company’s revenue, expenses, and how we can make key decisions in terms of cost-based accounting. The QP was all new to me – I only took an introduction to accounting course as part of my undergraduate degree as a biochemistry student – so I really enjoyed the formal training. It helped me to look at things in a more structured way.