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GC Spotlight: Agnes Wong, Chief Legal Officer at AlipayHK.

We are talking to General Counsels from different industries to get some insights on how they're navigating their legal departments during tough times.

In this GC Spotlight, we are shedding light on the Fintech industry and featuring the fabulous Agnes Wong. She is the Chief Legal Officer at AlipayHK, an online payments provider by Alibaba Group, based in Hong Kong. 

1. What have been your biggest challenges over the last few months?

Keeping the team spirit up has been the biggest challenge in the last 9 months of COVID-19.  As coffee catch-ups, team lunches and gatherings are no longer possible, it has become more difficult to make staff members feel like they are part of a team.  This is the first time our team has worked remotely for such an extended period of time.  For some of us, this means having to balance between working from home, while taking care of their family.  As leader of the team, it is important to let the team know that you truly care about them as individuals, and that they have your trust and support.  With the whole team working from home, communication has become more important than ever. 

2. What are your key priorities for the next year?

Our business is relatively new, and so is our Legal & Compliance team.  In the first couple of years when we first started out, our team had to grow quickly together with the business.  Now that our team structure is substantially formed and stabilised, the priority for next year would be to strengthen our team.  One of the key priorities would be to maintain our collaborative and intercollegiate team culture, as our company becomes more established.  It is also important to bear in mind the development needs of each individual, while the team gets bigger.

3. Has your role in your organisation changed / is it changing? If yes, in what way?

My role itself has not changed.  But as we move into the “new normal”, the expectations for in-house counsel are constantly changing.  For example, business stakeholders often look to our lawyers for guidance outside of what’s strictly considered as legal advice.  Also, during this period of uncertainty, it is important for me as team leader to ensure that our team’s safety and mental health are well looked after.

4. What are your thoughts on, or experiences with, legal technology and how do you envisage it changing the way your legal team operates?

For a lot of companies, COVID-19 was the key driver to push everyone to think about what it means to “work remotely” from home.  AlipayHK has been very lucky to be well supported with all the relevant technology and infrastructure.  At a time of uncertainty, businesses need to give even more thoughts on how and where they spend their money.  My personal view is that they would also put pressure on legal technology providers to come up with solutions which are more affordable, especially for smaller companies which do not have a big legal tech budget.  In fact, legal technology does not need to be expensive, and it can always start small with shared drives and an excel spreadsheet!

5. How do you think about the use of data relating to your legal department’s activities (e.g. data relating to contracts, risk, tracking work flows, performance metrics, costs)?

Compared to law firms, which track lawyers’ productivity, it is generally harder to quantify the productivity and output of an in-house legal team.  For a sizeable legal department, I think data would be useful for tracking work flows and performance metrics.

6. Are there any specific changes, developments or trends that you expect (or hope) to see in the legal services industry?

I am happy to see that the legal services industry is becoming more versatile and adaptable in recent years.  There are currently a number of alternative legal services and legal technology providers in the market.  In addition, law firms are also catching up in the game in their services, with a broader offering beyond the traditional legal advisory services.  This is certainly great news for in-house lawyers!

7. As a woman, do you think you bring a different perspective or approach to the role of a GC, especially one in the usually more male-dominated FinTech and Tech sectors?

I think female leaders tend to be more empathetic than our male counterparts, and we focus more on connecting with people at a personal level. These attributes are key in the FinTech and Tech sectors, which place great emphasis on user experience and needs.  On top of the day-to-day legal work, I also try to coach and mentor my team, and help them build a career path. I believe this kind of leadership style is less common for male managers. I am very proud to say that AlipayHK has a gender balanced management team, including a female CEO!