PwC’s William Gee sheds light on Hong Kong’s business trends 

With digital identities and payments as well as technology enablers in place, he believes that businesses are ready to continue their digitalisation journey.

William Gee is an experienced Partner in PwC Mainland China and Hong Kong, with over 30 years’ experience in the accounting profession. William is a core team member at the Chief Digital Office, supporting the execution of the firm’s digitisation initiatives. Prior to taking up this role, William was responsible for innovation for the Risk Assurance practice. He also served as a member of PwC China Assurance Innovation Think-tank and the PwC Global Assurance Disruption Group. 

William is a member of the core leadership team at PwC China driving the adoption of blockchain technology, including the regulation and risk management of, and the accounting approach to, crypto currencies and digital assets. He participated in several studies relating to the regulation and risk management of crypto currencies and digital assets, as well as identity verification using blockchain. Being an advocate of the “Blockchain Audit Node” concept, he successfully led the development and deployment of a blockchain audit platform.  

Outside work, William is an avid archer and diver. He also plans to pick up his interest in fencing and teach it to his son. His work, however, takes up a huge portion of his time, as he is currently working on several initiatives to develop blockchain/distributed ledger technology platforms/solutions for industry deployment, as well as initiatives relating to the emerging digital economy. In addition to blockchain, William is also studying the combinatorial impact of emerging technologies, including IOT, AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies.

As one of the judges in this year’s HKB Technology Excellence Awards, William shares his insights about business recovery during the pandemic, digital transformation, technology adoption, and trends in Hong Kong’s business scene.

Can you share with us your work experience or a backstory that has contributed to your expertise? 

I started my career as an accountant in 1990, and in my third year as a trainee, I worked on an audit where the client had implemented a computerised accounting system. The audit approach at that time was still very manual: I had to use an electronic pocket calculator to add up the sub-account balances generated by the accounting system to check if the total was correct.  I asked my department head if there was a more efficient way to perform audits when the client uses a computer, and his advice was for me to join the firm’s “computer audit” team.  

The past 30 years have been the most exciting. I witnessed the growth of the Internet, tackled the Y2K problem, participated in the implementation of Public Key Infrastructure and related regulatory framework, involved in technical standards development, and more. The last five years in particular were most exciting, with the emergence of a new digital economy, the rise of blockchain and virtual assets, and concepts such as AI and robotics becoming a reality.  Expertise is a cumulation of experience over a period of time, and I have been particularly lucky to be in the right place and the right time and have the guidance and support from the right specialists.

Which trends do you think will define Hong Kong businesses in the years to come?

The first Digital 21 Strategy was published in 2008, setting out the blueprint for Hong Kong’s Information & Communication Technology (ICT) development. Thirteen years on, Hong Kong has a more matured and robust infrastructure that supports digitalisation, as well as having many incentive schemes encouraging innovation. With policy level support, and focus on building a Smart City, the environment is ideal for Hong Kong businesses to continue their digitalisation journey.  It is difficult to predict technology trends, but given today’s challenges, it is likely that there will be significant advancement in the following areas:

  • digital identities specifically iAM Smart and Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) for Hong Kong will find greater use, and not just for identity verification;
  • digital payment infrastructure will likely incorporate digital fiat currencies (e.g., e-HKD and e-RMB), with potential cross-border applications;
  • technology enablers for cross-border e-business within the Greater Bay Area, ensuring transactions conform to, and are protected by, respective legal and regulatory framework via mutual recognition schemes;
  • launch of a more robust ethics and governance framework relating to the acquisition, storage, use and sharing of data, beyond personal data privacy protection.

These trends will shape the way businesses adopt emerging technologies and transform their operations to create new values.

Almost all industries in Hong Kong have been severely affected by the pandemic. What's your advice to those who are in the early stages of recovery? 

The COVID pandemic accelerated the pace of digitalisation in many businesses, which in turn brought about greater acceptance for “contactless” service; this trend is likely to continue. For businesses that have adopted some form of digital initiatives as a response to the pandemic, it is likely that in a time of crisis, these initiatives were deployed within a relatively short period of time, and may not have undergone robust evaluation or assessment. Now perhaps is a good time to review the arrangements, including any reliance on third party service providers.

Many experts are espousing digital transformation as the key action that will keep businesses afloat during and after the pandemic. Is there a possibility that it can also be a hindrance much less an added problem to their survival and progress? 

Digital transformation is the focus of many of today’s business executives. Indeed, the measures that were taken in response to the COVID pandemic (such as social distancing, etc.) have been a catalyst for businesses to rely more on technology. That being said, digital transformation is not just about technology adoption; it is also necessary to address how such technologies are managed and integrated with business operations, with the ultimate objective to create new value and growth, as well as managing the risks and other aspects arising from technology adoption. It is not that digital transformation is becoming a hindrance or problem; the challenge to businesses is in building the ability to manage the infrastructure needed to deliver the intended objectives.

What key factors are you looking for when judging who should win? 

Two aspects. The first is context and relevance: innovation can never be measured in absolute terms; however unique the technology, the critical attribute is the impact on the business and the extent that the business can realise the transformative power of the technology solution.  The second is sustainability and adaptability: the fast pace of technological advancement means that one important consideration is “how long before the product reaches its sell-by date.”

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