It’s not often that you get to interview a chief executive officer at a major investment bank on the day after they have been given a new role. But Harshika Patel takes it in her stride. Over the past few months, she’s been appointed board chair of the Asia Securities and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) and, on October 30, the new CEO of J.P. Morgan’s Asia Private Bank, while keeping her existing job as CEO of J.P. Morgan Hong Kong. A 10-year veteran of J.P. Morgan, she has lived and worked in London, Singapore and Hong Kong, and during that time has been a champion of diversity and inclusion – exercising a natural talent for empathy. Harshika graduated from university in 1994 with degrees in computer science and accounting from the University of Manchester, is fluent in Gujarati, and arrived in Hong Kong in 2017.
Q. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
A. I was born in the UK, but my parents were actually immigrants from East Africa, Uganda and Kenya. They arrived in the UK in the late 1960s. Over the years, they went on to support 15 younger brothers and sisters, who were also arriving from East Africa, frankly with not very much in their bank accounts. That was my background growing up. We lived in an extended family for much of my early life, just outside of London, in Essex, and obviously education was clearly a very, very big thing. The mantra was really very simple. You can clearly lose money, because in the case of my parents, they did, but you can’t lose your education. Next was a life career choice, so I joined Touche Ross as it was known then, now Deloitte’s, to train as a chartered accountant.
Q. As a woman, and dark skinned, did you experience discrimination as you were growing up, and how did that affect you?
A. Being the one who comes from humble beginnings meant that when you’re not included, it’s an emotion that you become quite sensitive to. However, looking back I never thought of it in terms of inclusion. It’s only in the last 10 years that we’ve talked about DEI, and you start thinking, oh, I am this way because of this. I think in the early years of your career, you might be surrounded by people who come from more affluent families, but I think that as you progress , certainly as I changed companies you meet people from all walks of life. Also, when I think about diversity, it does not mean male-female, it does not mean Indian-English. To me it just means people from different walks of life and have different upbringings, because they’ve had different life experiences.
Q. What are some of the successful examples of DEI at JP Morgan?
A. When the importance of DEI became clear, that’s when we started educating people.
We started measuring it, and now we are broadening what we mean by diversity and ensuring that we include under-privileged communities or people with disabilities. We’ve got somebody in our Securities Services business, here in Hong Kong, who as a healthy teenager, developed very a severe heart problem, which means that he now has a mechanical heart. This was a hugely debilitating illness, but because it was his life’s passion to work in financial services, he went to a recruitment fair one day, where he met a very front-footed recruiter at J.P. Morgan who brought him on through an internship. Remember, he needs special concessions because he does have a mechanical heart but he now has a successful full-time career at the firm, and is a bit of a rock star as an advocate.
Another example is an apprenticeship program that we’ve piloted this year in Hong Kong. We have 11 apprentices, who have early stage diplomas. Actually, recently one of them said to me, he could never have imagined, in his wildest dreams that he’d have an opportunity to work at a bank, let alone a global bank like J.P. Morgan. And equally our folks are very humbled to work with these individuals.
Q. How did JP Morgan initiate change so that its corporate culture includes DEI?
A. DEI became a topic in the industry about 10 years ago We hired a head of DE&I who started rolling out programs. Some were educational in nature, while others measured what we were doing. He held us accountable through score cards, and people are actually really passionate about. And because we are such a diverse organization, our employees have embraced it, and are taking it forward every day.
Q. Why do you think JP Morgan succeeded in changing the corporate culture?
A. First of all, J.P. Morgan is a large, global organization with many businesses. Where you can spend your entire career. Also, our culture is a very strong one, and the notion of collaboration and team work is very strong. Together, with the fact that we have so many of these employee focus groups, we call them business resource groups, which bring people with shared passions together, people feel that they are part of a community.
A good example of how strong our corporate culture is would be to look at how many of our employees showed up at the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Employee Event we held in October for the first time in Hong Kong – 60% of our employee base participated. This was a 2.5km long run along the Central Harbourfront. This year, it was limited to employees because it was a trial run for the larger Corporate Challenge we will be hosting next year, with our clients.
This event demonstrates that Hong Kong is an important city for J.P. Morgan. We do not do this run in many cities, in fact Hong Kong will be city number 16. Also, we hope that it will showcase to the world how beautiful Hong Kong is.
Q. As JP Morgan approaches its 100th anniversary in Hong Kong next year, can you share your thoughts about what Hong Kong means to the firm?
A. J.P. Morgan has helped companies go from being very small to being very large global organizations and we were here when Hong Kong went from being a very small city to being a thriving international financial center, so it speaks to our strong commitment to both our clients and the city. And equally for us, as an American bank, which serves a lot of multinational corporations that have a footprint here in Asia, Hong Kong’s infrastructure serves as a great platform for us, to serve those multinational companies.
Q. How has the disruption of the last four years impacted Hong Kong as an international financial center?
A. I think that the macro landscape is one that’s affecting the entire world. It’s not just unique to Hong Kong. But what we’re seeing today within our own operations, and as we look around the city, is that Hong Kong is very resilient. While clients have had to diversify their footprint around the region, because of the pandemic, it has emphasized to everybody, that having a diverse location strategy is key. And it was the catalyst to remind everyone of the need for business resiliency planning.
Q. What were your takeaways from J.P. Morgan’s first in-person China summit in four years?
A. We ran a survey at the beginning of the conference and clearly, geopolitical concerns overshone all the other issues that we’re seeing in the world. Now admittedly, that was May 2023. I’m sure if we did it again, geopolitics would come up once again as the biggest concern, with inflation and interest rates not too far behind. Having said all of that, our clients have either capital to raise, or capital to invest. China is too big a market to ignore, and so for them, our China Summit gave them an opportunity to come, listen and learn. Many were traveling from overseas, to witness first hand what was taking place on the ground. The fact that we had overwhelming client attendance, three times what we expected, just reinforces the amount of interest people have in this key market..
Q. What do you do for fun in Hong Kong?
A. I have a 10-year-old, and a six-year-old, which means that when I’m actually not at work, I do have two boys to keep me highly entertained in my spare time. And I quickly realized about two years ago that I could either be the mum that sips a cup of tea while they’re taking an ice skating lesson, or I could be the mum that joins them in the class. So I’ve chosen the latter, at the Aberdeen Marina Club. The good news is that they let you participate in kids’ classes. Ice skating is actually really hard, but I’m determined to get better at it.
Q. On June 22, you served as drummer for the JPM women’s dragon boat team at the Stanley International Dragon Boat races. What was that like?
A. As for dragon boating, I had no idea how disciplined a sport it is, or how much practice goes into the teams looking so synchronized. One day, I received an email, saying that one of J.P. Morgan’s women’s team was looking for someone “short, light and loud”. So I put my hand up. The whole camaraderie of it was reinvigorating .I only did the drumming, but drumming is actually not that easy as I came to find out because shouting is hard. Shouting to the right pace is hard, drumming loudly is hard, but you do actually feel a real sense of responsibility when you’re the drummer, because you guide their pace. It was fun!
Q. What does Hong Kong mean to you?
A. Overall, home is where your family is, and for me, my family is here in Hong Kong. As a city to live in, I think it has an amazing energy, and it has a very unique sense of community. I think I’ve made more friends in Hong Kong in the six years I’ve been living here, than I did 14 years living in London. And then you’ve clearly got the amazing natural landscape, which is 20 minutes away from Central. Where else can you have that in the world?