After two years as China head, Michael Cheung has been promoted to head of North Asia at the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (Swift), a financial messaging firm that enables its customers to automate and standardise financial transactions. He takes over from Neil Stevens who is moving to Europe.
Cheung's new responsibilities, which he assumed on June 1, include all commercial activities in Greater China, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam. He will also retain his duties as head of China, and will now report directly to Swift's Asia-Pacific chief executive Ian Johnston.
As head of North Asia, Cheung said he hopes to "first, extend our success in the market infrastructure space across all countries in the region. Second, establish Swift as the de-facto standard and platform for domestic and inter-regional financial communication. Third, facilitate the Swift community as a platform for establishing best practice that helps the industry reduce cost and risk".
Cheung has worked for Swift in Asia since 1992. Before taking over as head of China, he worked on various payment systems projects, including the Hong Kong real-time gross settlement system that went live in May. He also opened Swift's Beijing office in 1998 and worked in various sales and commercial roles.
"I have long and well-established relationships with many financial institutions and central banks and extensive exposure to various payment and securities market infrastructure projects," he said with regard to why he is the most qualified for the position. "My focus and commitment is on having a deep understanding of customers' requirements, especially in Greater China, and to ensure that we provide truly customer-centric solutions for the region."
Swift's presence in China has grown steadily. From 2006 to 2008, the number of locally sent FIN messages, Swift's financial messaging format, increased by 36% to 20,966 and the number of local Swift member banks grew by 8% to 40 (institutions connected only to FIN increased by 40% to 236).
In February, the firm inaugurated its first interbank direct connection between the Bank of China and the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ over its trade services utility (TSU). The TSU is an open account trade transaction solution that, when directly connected, allows financial institutions to provide end-to-end supply chain solutions to their customers instead of just bank-to-bank.
Cheung, who worked on the deal, called it "a milestone in Asia".
Currently, 11 Chinese banks are part of the TSU community, which is the most in any one country according to Swift.
Stevens remains with Swift and will join the firm's team in Belgium (Swift's global headquarters) where he will manage a company-wide programme to increase operational and organisational efficiency on a sustainable business. He had been North Asia head since August 2006.
From 2006 to 2008, Stevens oversaw a nearly 30% increase -- to 136.9 million -- in the number of FIN messages sent from his region. New product launches during the period included Swift's Accord for securities, Alliance Lite and trade services utility solutions.