Lavanya Chari’s childhood dream of becoming a pilot led her to delve into aerospace engineering but later discovered her true passion when a trading floor internship exposed her to the exciting world of financial markets.
In an exclusive interview, the mastermind behind HSBC’s investments and wealth solutions (IWS) business shares her story with Asian Private Banker.
Chari spent four years studying aerospace engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, and recalls the experience as “absolutely wonderful”. However, she also realised that her passion for the field didn’t match that of her classmates.
“In fact, I was initially accepted by Stanford to pursue a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering, but I decided to do an MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore instead because I wanted to keep my options open at that stage,” the global head of IWS for private banking and wealth management shared.
“I successfully applied for an internship with Lehman Brothers in Tokyo and spent a couple of months there, which was a very interesting experience in itself. I loved the buzz of the trading floor and the excitement of the markets and felt a real connection to the industry I was just starting in,” she said.
After completing her MBA, Chari moved to London to join Deutsche Bank where she spent about 15 years and held various roles, including running the commodities asset structuring business globally and the rates structuring business for institutional and private banking clients in Europe.
“Deutsche Bank was where I built the foundations for understanding how complex products are structured and sold to clients,” Chari said. “My engineering background’s analytical and mathematical mindset particularly helped with the structuring aspects of the business.”
Subsequently, Chari relocated to Asia in 2011 becoming a part of global markets in Deutsche with responsibilities for structured investor solutions and asset structuring for Asia. Prior to joining HSBC in 2020, she was running Deutsche’s products and solutions globally for wealth management.
“A year after I joined HSBC in 2020, during Covid, we launched the IWS department… What we did was to bring everyone together to form a single unit.”
“I spent a decade in a European role, travelling across various countries to understand the needs of clients. My career started in Europe but I didn’t have much experience of Asian markets until 2011. Sensing Asia’s growth trajectory, I had a strong desire to explore the region more thoroughly,” she continued.
“The move has helped me, because having an understanding of two completely different continents has genuinely helped me in my career. And it is of course crucial now I perform a global role at HSBC.”
Today, the mother of two heads HSBC’s 1,200-member IWS team and is responsible for driving HSBC’s global private banking and wealth product strategy, and leads the global investment products team serving the needs of private banking clients and personal banking customers.
Before joining the second-largest wealth manager in Asia, Chari had already recognised the potential of the bank to innovate and create cutting-edge solutions, which led to taking the lead in launching IWS: “So, a year after I joined HSBC in 2020, during Covid, we launched the IWS department to provide digitally empowered solutions for our clients across the wealth continuum locally and globally, which to me is very powerful.”
“What we did was to bring everyone together to form a single unit. For example, we combined the CIO office and merged the mutual funds team into a single fund selection unit. Previously, they were distinct teams with very separate processes across personal and premier, and private banking,” she explained.
The integration has helped to move clients from personal to premier to private banking, with premier clients now having access to more advanced private banking services, and private banking clients gaining exclusive transaction banking capabilities.
“People are the biggest asset for our business. I genuinely spend a lot of time with my team. I really care about them and empathy is a big part of my core values.”
The new IWS unit also meant the development of a cohesive sustainable investment programme, which saw HSBC’s sustainable investment AUM more than double over a twelve-month period. The bank’s wealth management sustainable investment AUM stood at US$21 billion, according to APB estimates.
As part of this programme, HSBC has implemented new digital analytics to help their clients understand the ESG impact of their investment portfolios better, including the launch of ESG ratings and ESG and sustainable investing classifications for customers in Hong Kong and Singapore.
“We are seeing growing interest from clients, but they aren’t compromising on returns. So, this is where the importance of thought leadership and education becomes evident. It is our duty to explain to clients how ESG considerations do not need to detract from performance.”
Another addition is the launch of the Prism Advisory platform which uses portfolio analytics to lure clients by helping them to make improved investment decisions. Additionally, IWS has delivered a discretionary digital platform that provides clients with 24/7 access to their portfolios.
“We’re also actively working on enhancements, including a carbon intensity score, and will continue to introduce more as well as offering the best range of products for our clients.”
Chari believes people are IWS’s biggest asset, and as a result, launched a few programmes focused on personal growth. One of which is the IWS Women’s Network to empower women. Chari also launched a mentoring programme across IWS as well as an IWS Extended Leadership team to empower the next generation of leaders across IWS.
“People are the biggest asset for our business. I genuinely spend a lot of time with my team. I really care about them and empathy is a big part of my core values. I very much welcome different points of view but at the same time, I am decisive when decisions need to be made,” she concluded.