Silvie Vermoote is the Head of European Desk – Corporate Banking at KBC Bank & Verzekering. In her 2021 Spotlight Series interview, she discusses her move to Hong Kong, her motivations this past year, and much more.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself
My husband and I moved to Hong Kong in 2013 from Belgium. I was able to transfer within the same firm to work at our European Desk in Hong Kong. I started as an assistant because Corporate Banking was a new part of the Finance industry for me. In the course of the next few years I was able to progress and currently, I lead the European Desk together with a great team of colleagues.
When we came to Hong Kong the intention was to stay for a year but obviously, we graciously failed. I was immediately enchanted by the hustle and bustle of this amazing city. We are also big fans of the outdoors and Hong Kong just has it all. There’s no fixed return date set in my mind. As long as we are happy here we will stay.
2. How do you stay on top of your professional game? Any tips on how you keep your competitive edge?
I try to keep a learning attitude at all times. The feeling that I am stretching myself to learn something new is highly motivating for me. After a few years in Hong Kong I decided to pursue my MBA which was something I always wanted to do at some point. It was a challenge as I was combining my studies with work but I enjoyed every bit of it. I am happy that I decided to choose courses that were sometimes totally new for me rather than using my studies to go deeper into finance. I would consider myself to be a generalist mostly, so I feel that this choice allowed me to make the most out of it.
A second very important thing is networking. It’s funny I mention this because when I had just moved here, I was a much more private person. If I could give my younger self advice it would definitely be to not be afraid to meet new people. Because this is how you broaden your network and your world. My career coach would say to me “Hong Kong is like a village. It will be rare to find any place in the world where you talk to someone and you’ll find you have at least 3 contacts in common. Use this to your advantage.” And she was right.
3. What has kept you motivated to succeed this past year?
Our HQ is located in Belgium. Normally I would travel there at least twice a year to see colleagues and clients. Business (and leisure) travel came to a complete stop. Everyone switched to working from home and meetings went online. In this kind of new normal, it can be easy to start feeling like a robot jumping from one meeting to the next. Therefore, I try to start every meeting with “How are you?” instead of diving straight into it. Asking about someone’s day or family is not a waste of time. What is important though is that when you ask a question you also genuinely care about the answer, because it shows. When you create space for a bit of human touch it will benefit the rest of the meeting.
4. Aside from work, what are your other passions?
Travel is my oxygen. New sceneries, new people, new smells, and other types of food… When Covid hit, I felt like I lost something very vital. Travel literally keeps me sane. So I had to find other things to do. We became members of our local paddle club and now you can find us on the water a few times a week. Being quite avid hikers, more time in Hong Kong has allowed us to discover even more of the beautiful trails that the city has to offer. Our 2 dogs are probably the ones who like it the most. They love to join us on our local outings. That being said, I can’t wait to start planning some trips again.