Asia fintech panel: Baring the Soul

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Dianrong’s founder is the host with the most… interruptions.

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Hosting a panel on technology in financial services at the Asian Financial Forum in January should have been a walk in the park for Soul Htite.

All the ingredients were in place: a captive Hong Kong audience digesting a hearty lunch, and a solid set of speakers, including Nelson Chow, head of fintech at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Frederic Lau, CEO of Airstar Bank, a soon-to-launch digital lender controlled by Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi.

Alas, the founder of Shanghai peer-to-peer lender Dianrong didn’t see it that way. Instead, Soul presented delegates with a case study in how not to moderate a panel.

He asked questions, then interrupted, often to remind speakers where and when they met. He asked Chow what he did, broke in to ask how many banks Hong Kong had, then butted in once more, to go off on a tangent about boats.

The questions were scattergun rather than bad, and the host too keen on the sound of his voice. Topics became circular, the snake eating its tail.

Thus: a good, sharp question about how financial regulators oversee virtual banks was ruined when Soul, fidgeting in his seat, interrupted Chow to remind the audience how tricky it was to answer a good, sharp question about financial oversight.

Knowing glances

Before long, panellists were sharing knowing glances, particularly those at the other end of the plinth, far from Soul’s glow. Some barely spoke at all.

Finally permitted to enter the fray two-thirds of the way through the panel, he asked Lau if he needed more input from local regulators.

“Yes,” he replied, simply. But before he could draw breath, Soul cut him off, saying: “We don’t need to know about that.” Lau’s mask of geniality slipped a little, and he shot back with: “Let me finish.”

Soul let the conversation flow more as the hour progressed, but he was always on edge, always keen to dominate proceedings.

When Chow reminded the hall that we live in a fast-changing world, Soul added a resounding “Yes!”. At one point, apropos of nothing, he stared off into the middle distance and said: “Let me give you an example of myself. I studied and I studied hard.”

Before turning to the floor for a short Q&A, Soul took a deep breath and seemed to return to himself.

“We had a good discussion despite my attempts to interrupt,” he announced. It was at least an honest observation, but nobody laughed.