Podcast | S2E3 Going Global & Bank of Japan: Yuko Kawai

Podcast | S2E3 Going Global & Bank of Japan: Yuko Kawai

Podcast | S2E3 Going Global & Bank of Japan: Yuko Kawai 1400 788 Risky Women

Join Yuko Kawai, General Manager for Europe at the Bank of Japan, as she discusses her international career.  You’ll hear about her journey across geographies from Japan to Europe and across functions from FX to FinTech. Kawai-san is a role model and inspiring leader offering interesting views and a global perspective on the developments the financial industry is seeing.

Points of Interest
  • 01:54 Career
  • 03:58 Most important lessons
  • 05:54 Gender diversity in Japan
  • 09:26 Working at the Bank of Japan
  • 12:22 Exciting innovations in FinTech & impact on financial industry
  • 16:26 Global perspectives
  • 18:23 Top things risk professional should monitor
  • 19:19 Rants and Revelations
  • 20:04 Rapid Fire Round

…you may be more influential than you would think…Be flexible and listen to the responsible people not necessarily the senior ones and hierarchy, but the ones who are close to you.


Kimberley Cole 0:01
This is Risky Women radio show to connect, celebrate and champion women in risk, regulation and compliance, sharing insight and perspective from the most influential members of our global Risky Women network. On the latest developments, we need to think about, the challenges we should all talk more about, and innovations we are most excited about in governance, risk and compliance. Bringing together the hundreds of senior women professionals already connected with a new emerging group of leading women and men. I’m Kimberley Cole, your Chief Risky Woman.

Kimberley Cole 0:39
Okay, welcome to Risky Women Radio. And today, we are thrilled to have you Yuko Kawai, the General Manager for Europe and the Chief Representative in London for the Bank of Japan. Welcome, Yuko.

Yuko Kawai 0:52
Thank you very much for having me.

Kimberley Cole 0:54
Okay, so Yuko Kawai an experienced director who’s worked in the banking industry, both in the private and public sectors. She began her career at Kyoto University, and she went on to Wharton for her MBA. She’s continued on a global journey working for Chemical Bank, JPMorgan Chase, before joining the Bank of Japan, where she’s held a range of roles of which we will hear more about today. She now leads the Bank of Japan’s European operation. Her coverage includes economics in the financial industry, and FinTech and risk management of the bank’s activities. I am thrilled to have her join Risky Women Radio because she was our first speaker at the Refinitiv Tokyo Summit, for a Risky Women event. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Yuko Kawai 1:45
Thank you very much for having me.

Kimberley Cole 1:47
So can you tell us a bit more about your career journey and what have been the highlights of your journey to date?

Yuko Kawai 1:54
Okay, in my career, it’s 30 some years old in finance, starting the private sector with an American bank operating in Tokyo and I moved on to the venture company for two years, then moved to the public sector, the central bank where I am now. Well, quite colourful, looking back, I must say – which I hadn’t intended at all at the beginning. So when I was thinking about what I should do after my graduation from university, I wanted something I can control. And I was looking for the job, which would give me the challenges and the excitement as an ambitious and overconfident young girl, of course. But at the same time, I wanted to become an expert in something legitimate, so that I would eventually be confident and lead a stable life. That’s what I thought. I also wanted to get married. Therefore trying to avoid the job which would move my locations around which Japanese big companies normally do. Therefore, I chose an American bank to work for, without being able to speak English actually. So believe it or not the satisfactory answer I could manage to make in one of the job interviews was only my name. I’m not quite sure why the interviewer consented to hire. Since then, things did not progress as I had planned, I became a rolling rock rather than a stable one and moved from one assignment to the other, one place to another. I have switched companies only twice, but I moved around, within the company frequently. It was a challenge to start a new role with almost zero background knowledge or experience. But all the stages have been the highlights to me I’d say.

Kimberley Cole 3:41
That is a fascinating story, I didn’t realise that you were interviewing for an American bank and you didn’t speak English. That’s very, very interesting. So what have been the sort of most important lessons that you’ve learned along the way?

Yuko Kawai 3:58
I have been working in various environments, with people with various backgrounds. So what I have learned is how to deal with the people – be thankful to the colleagues, bosses, families and the friends. It wasn’t quite easy for me, especially when I was young, and even today I can easily lose my temper, but I am trying to thank the counterpart later. So be mindful about the consequence of that issue, you may be more influential than you would think. Be flexible and listen to the responsible people not necessarily the senior ones and hierarchy, but the ones who are close to you. And lastly, but not the least, work hard or harder.

Kimberley Cole 4:45
It’s interesting, that sort of the shadow of your leadership is a very important lesson. Who are some of the role models that have inspired you?

Yuko Kawai 4:55
So I had great female bosses in my early days when I was working for an American company, who taught me all the lessons I indicated. I have not copied hundred percent of any of them. Because I had my own considerations, but the ways of my thinking have been greatly influenced by those great ladies.

Kimberley Cole 5:21
Oh, that’s very interesting, as well. And it’s an interesting comparison to Japan, where we see still very few women in leadership positions. And so therefore, I’m sure you are a role model for many. There’s been a focus on womenomics, what is your experience been of being both a woman in Japan in senior positions, but now also more globally?

Yuko Kawai 5:45
So I worked in Japan, US, non-Japan, Asia, and now in Europe, physically, and societies not perfectly, perfectly natural, embracing the diversity. So I say the problems of Japan, which we’re facing now are not necessarily Japan specific. Now, having said that, there’s also a social norm – people’s perception is a bit different across the countries that make women easier or more difficult to focus on working in one country from the other. In my case, I don’t have kids, which made me easier to focus on my professional career, I’d say, and I was lucky that, I was lucky enough that I have not encountered any serious setbacks because of my gender. While, on the contrary, very interesting, on the contrary, I experienced the pulls, or raised up by itself, the consideration of raising a minority. So I got the support from that. So as one, there are two occasions and once when I was at the American company, as an Asian female. Now with Bank of Japan as a female mid-career. So in both cases, I was and am a double minority in category. And of course, I’m not quite comfortable attracting so much attention for non-business reasons, like my minority feature, but I should not complain, I think, because I feel I have been given great chances to prove myself.

Kimberley Cole 7:21
Yes, that’s interesting, but obviously still proving yourself at the business level as well, but then people at least recognising that maybe to get more women into senior management, we need to take different actions.

Yuko Kawai 7:34

Kimberley Cole 7:35
Very interesting. What would you like to see? Maybe change? Or What else do you think would help women’s advancement in Japan?

Yuko Kawai 7:44
Currently in Japan, or finally Japan is changing. The national and local governments are now clearly focused on strengthening the support to raise children and this must continue, of course. Gender bias, is of course, is not quite easy to change but at least we can promote diversity in promoting the education about diversity more, firstly, get to know what diversity is – and that will like bring us to the right direction. So I’d say that in Japan, overall good initiatives are being made and we’re moving into the right direction. And once we exceed the tipping point of the population, the minorities who are acting in the society, I think we’ll get there.

Kimberley Cole 8:34
Just a quick break in the show. If you would like to be a sponsor of our podcast, and help celebrate the many fabulous femmes in governance, risk and compliance, please get in touch with Risky Women, you can contact us via our website at www.riskywomen.org. Thanks for listening and being part of Risky Women Radio. Now a word from one of our sponsors, Refinitiv, already trusted by customers worldwide. Refinitiv provides the data, technologies and expertise to help shape the way financial markets work. Help protect your business from financial crime and reduce risk with World-Check. World-Check delivers trusted risk intelligence to help meet your regulatory obligations and make informed decisions. Refinitiv data is just the beginning.

Kimberley Cole 9:22
So can you tell us a bit more about your role now? And what are your key responsibilities?

Yuko Kawai 9:26
Sure. So my current title is General Manager for Europe. But in fact, my coverage includes Middle East and Africa as well. So it’s Europe, Middle East and Africa. I do research on economic developments, financial markets and industry. And also, the front edge developments such as FinTech, sustainable finance, relationship management with outside counterparts is an important pillar of my job. And so is the management of the three offices under me, that’s the London, Paris and Frankfurt. This is the very first time for me to live in Europe, or even to focus on Europe while my career has been reasonably international, I’ve never come to this part of the world, which is full of history, historical nuances, details and the complexity. This is a splendid place to gain the understanding and the respect for diversity.

Kimberley Cole 10:22
That’s very interesting and obviously a very broad role. So let’s get into even more about your global responsibility and and how you’ve really developed this global career. You’ve worked across a range of functions, everything from FX to risk, you led the FinTech Centre in Bank of Japan. And can you tell us a bit more about the the FinTech Centre itself and why it was established?

Yuko Kawai 10:49
Okay. So, just prior to coming to London, that was a year ago, I was heading so called FinTech Centre at the Bank of Japan. The FinTech Centre is our new group, a new division at Bank of Japan. The purpose of the establishment of that centre is very well summarised the governor’s speech which is printed on our website. So let me just quote some of some of the sentences, “The Bank aims to reinforce its efforts in which the developments of FinTech will contribute to enhancing financial services…The Bank will also endeavor to play an active role as a catalyst for promoting interaction among financial practices and innovative technologies…The Centre will serve as a hub for such interaction.” So in my words, the central bank, not only the Bank of Japan, by sitting at the heart of the financial system, always wants to do things to improve the system and FinTech is one avenue.

Kimberley Cole 11:56
That’s interesting. And obviously, there’s a lot of focus across the industry in general on FinTech. So it’s interesting to see how all elements of the industry are looking at what’s the innovation, and I like that “catalyst” of how they’re driving change. So I mean, just generally, from your experience, what some of the most exciting the more interesting things that you’re seeing from a FinTech perspective?

Yuko Kawai 12:22
There are too many interesting, very hard to choose one or two. But let me say, let me pick one or two. Okay, so one of them is, of course, the cross-border, cross-segment, coordination with the payments, by sharing broader range of information. Typically it’s trade finance using blockchain technology. I would not say the current version of the blockchain technology is mature enough to embed large scale practical applications. However, the core concepts of shared ledger and or the irrevocable timestamps will certainly benefit in modifying the existing incumbent system. So we may not need to directly apply the blockchain technology per se by using blockchain codes. But the concepts of the blockchain by itself can change the current setup and can make the current setup, the payment system, or whatever, much more efficient and much more reliable. The other one I can think of is the customisation and or the aggregation of the financial services and non-financial services to, especially to the retail, in the retail sector, to the individual, individuals and or to the very small and small organisations. The most famous example, this is the mobile phone service platform offered in China, which embeds like hundreds of applications to individuals just like one touch smartphone, the smartphone, the platform, so there are many variations of this concept which should greatly improve economic and social efficiency in many countries.

Kimberley Cole 14:09
Yeah, interesting, because both at the consumer and as well as actually for the banks and the industry overall. So yeah, it’s fascinating area. And I’m hoping to do a lot more focus this season on RegTech and FinTech. So thank you for that overview. I mean, given the rise of technology, given the changes, what do you think is going to be the impact of that on the financial industry?

Yuko Kawai 14:33
Well, changes are already happening – the rise of FinTech. You may say that there are so many like applications on the smartphone, which are usable by individuals or by the corporations, but it’s more important, I think that the core of the thinking is changing in the finance industry. So, for example, like many banks are now claiming themselves to be customer oriented, agile, open, and unprejudiced. Well, it’s not only the private sector banks, but central banks and governments are trying to change as well. So, technically, the financial services will become more customised and more integrated with non-financial services, possibly leading to the creation of service platforms, as I mentioned, in China’s case, or like broader corporations beyond industry silos, or the country borders. Some regulators also moving forward to promote the competition for better services to the people. Hardware-wise, technology-wise, the smartphone was an absolute game changer. And AIs and the clouds follow. But the most important thing is not how to use these technologies, as I said, rather, why you want to use these technologies and the finance industry must and will transform itself into finally a customer oriented industry focusing on consumer pain points.

Kimberley Cole 15:57
Interesting. I think, you know, customer trust is another sort of key element around, for the service experience, but also building or maybe rebuilding trust after the global financial crisis. And so given your experience across the globe, because you’ve now worked across in multiple regions, and also for companies from multiple regions, how does it compare what sort of knowledge or learning to be gained through the experiences?

Yuko Kawai 16:26
In terms of the difference and gaps across regions, the notable thing is that demography plays a very, very important role. It isn’t a secret at all that Asia will gain its significance by the number of the people, to be followed by Africa someday. On the other hand, Japan is the front edge, but many or Asian countries will suffer from the aging population in a short period of time – Japan is already suffering. The other aspect is that the infrastructure like unstructured in intangible infrastructure, like such as the underdeveloped the banking sector, is no more as important as before. Because technology can leap-frog, so where there is no, where there was insufficient banking system, the mobile home payment system can replace it. On the other hand, the tangible infrastructures such as transportations or the mobile communication networks, do still matter. Looking across the regions, I think I’m willing to think about what is the necessity for the, the economy to grow, or the economy to develop, and that could be different from before. We should always start analysis with the data, based on the data, is my strong belief, in order to understand similarities and differences. You need to ask for an expert’s opinions in the region, the qualitative analysis, whatever. But always, you really need to think on the data.

Kimberley Cole 18:11
So when you look around the world, what are the top issues that you think that risk professionals really need to have on their list to monitor and that their businesses need to be thinking about how to manage?

Yuko Kawai 18:23
As I said, data analytics, and the data analysis is an absolute necessity. And it’s even more important than before. And given the enourmous amount of data we have in our hands and our exposure to many unstructured data, as well as a structured numerical data, we really, really need to fully utilise the modern technologies, including machine learnings, and also other types of traditional data analytics skills. So even though I’m not myself a specialist, a technically trained data scientist, I think we all need to think as the data scientists do and even though I may not need to be able to write course, by myself, I really need to understand how the data analysis is being done and how it can be used by myself.

Kimberley Cole 19:19
Yes, it’s interesting the number of businesses now that you see hiring data scientists and how crucial that’s becoming. Okay, our next section is our rants and revelations. So what is the top piece of advice that you have been given? That’s really helped you in your career?

Yuko Kawai 19:39
Be mindful to others. Go back to the principles when in doubt.

Kimberley Cole 19:45
And what’s your rant? So if you were the ruler of the world for the day, what would you wave your magic wand and change?

Yuko Kawai 19:54
Eliminate wars.

Kimberley Cole 19:56
That’s a good one.

Yuko Kawai 19:57
So make the peace as the absolute norm in everybody’s mind. That’s my ambition.

Kimberley Cole 20:04
That’s very, very good ambition. Okay, our rapid fire round.

Yuko Kawai 20:09

Kimberley Cole 20:10

Yuko Kawai 20:11

Kimberley Cole 20:12
One word to describe the world of governance, risk and compliance?

Yuko Kawai 20:17

Kimberley Cole 20:18
Discipline. And your cure for the cost of compliance or the wave of regulatory change?

Yuko Kawai 20:27
Very difficult one, say coordination and information sharing.

Kimberley Cole 20:32
And are you optimistic, pessimistic or neutral for your outlook for the year ahead?

Yuko Kawai 20:39
Optimistic in the sense that the world will never collapse tomorrow.

Kimberley Cole 20:46
And a bit more fun now, a book that you would recommend that everyone should read.

Yuko Kawai 20:53
I say 1984 by George Orwell. Very interesting.

Kimberley Cole 21:00
Something to watch.

Yuko Kawai 21:03
I’m not the TV watcher – I mean, if I were asked for movies, they are too many but I would vote for Star Wars, Harry Potter types. That’s a great example of great UX to the customer.

Kimberley Cole 21:18
Very true. And what’s your favorite podcast?

Yuko Kawai 21:22
Okay. This is very true, necessarily true. The Risky Women or TED type are the podcasts always inspire me. And also for my fun part, and fun part of my life? I always use the podcast for the language learning. So those are the two my favorite categories. But I’m not expending enough time on those two categories – more listening to news podcasts. Trying. It’s just not part of my business. But the favorite ones are the first two categories.

Kimberley Cole 22:00
Well, I thank you very much. I love a podcast myself. And I’m very happy that you are risky woman, and you listen to Risky Women. So thank you very much you for for joining us today. And it’s been a pleasure.

Yuko Kawai 22:12
Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.

Kimberley Cole 22:14
Thank you.

Kimberley Cole 22:16
This episode is brought to you by our founding sponsor Refinitiv. Refinitiv serves more than 40,000 institutions in over 190 countries. Refinitiv provides information insights and technology that drive innovation and performance in global financial markets. Refinitiv enables the financial community to trade smarter and faster, overcome regulatory challenges and scale intelligently.

Kimberley Cole 22:41
Thank you for listening to this exciting episode of Risky Women Radio to connect, champion and celebrate women in risk, regulation and compliance. I’m Kimberley Cole, based in Hong Kong. For more information on the Risky Women global network, head to our website in the episode notes and please be part of the ongoing conversation by subscribing to this podcast, connecting with us @RiskyWomen on Twitter or even reaching out to me directly by email.

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