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Michael Ting is the general counsel (legal and compliance) of Manulife (International). In his role, he oversees the legal and compliance matters for Manulife Hong Kong and Macau's insurance businesses, working closely with senior management on building effective relationships with external partners, regulators, and the government. Ting joined Manulife in June 2014, prior to which he held roles at Asurion, Sun Life, Western Union, New York Life International, and MassMutual.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're a general counsel based in Asia who'd like to be featured in this series, please email mari.iwata@tr.com and ranajit.dam@tr.com.

 

ALB: Tell us about your legal career so far, and what led you to taking up this role.

Ting: I was trained up as a litigation lawyer after leaving my comfort zone as a pharmacist at a young age, and I subsequently qualified in three different jurisdictions (U.S., UK, and Hong Kong) to advise on law. Following this, I joined several financial institutions as an in-house lawyer before ultimately becoming Chief Legal and Compliance Officer at Manulife (International) Limited in 2014 (and currently holding the title of General Counsel (Legal & Compliance). 

My passion for jurisprudence and my desire to contribute to enabling our customers to make decisions easier and lives with a simpler, better, and faster approach, are what continue to inspire and motivate me every day in my role.

ALB: How would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team? 

Ting:  The change in the legislative and regulatory landscape is nothing less than rapid in recent years, especially for the insurance industry in Hong Kong and Macau. The most challenging part is not to manage the change within Manulife, but how to influence the regulator to create a doctrine that strives for a balance between regulation and practicality. So far, I think we have made a great leap forward in this area, and we are glad to have an open-minded government and regulators who see prosperity with orderly development as a virtue for the industry. 

On reflection, I’ve come to realise that in the past, having mere knowledge about subject matters in law would have sufficed for an average in-house lawyer. However, what I’ve learned over the years, sometimes through tough-love lessons, is that this has become just the basic requirement nowadays. As the top of legal, we cannot afford to rest here and must continue to evolve and stay ahead of the curve.

Indeed, the role of an in-house lawyer, whether a GC or a junior counsel, has changed significantly. In the “good old days,” an in-house counsel could survive by merely providing textbook advice. However, this is no longer the case. The new business world expects much more than a lawyer; it expects a genuine partner in business. A counsel has to provide legally sound and commercially viable options to the business to cope with the ever-changing market needs, often under fierce competition. The power to think big, the passion to drive changes necessary for the business, and the ability to step up and create value for the business seem to be the qualities we are expected to possess now. These may seem like challenges. But on second thought, isn’t this also a valuable opportunity for our, including my team’s, growth? So, “let’s be prepared and join our team if you are ready and desirous of becoming an in-house lawyer who shares our aspiration to excel together” is my attitude.

ALB: How would you rate the current standard of legal services available in your jurisdiction? What do law firms do well, and what could they do better of?

Ting: An external counsel brings invaluable insights to us. For instance, they have a competitive edge and can share their experiences from interacting with different clients, providing meaningful comparative analysis to enrich our understanding of issues and cover our blind spots. For me, the most critical aspects in evaluating an external counsel’s work are timeliness, practicality, and the ability to give KISS advice – “Keep It Short and Succinct.” I’m glad we are surrounded by many helping hands day in and day out. External lawyers who can provide handy legal tools to support my teams’ daily work are also valuable in contributing to a sustainable, long-term collaboration.

ALB: How important is the company’s culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster both within the team, as well as your business as a whole?

Ting: Our team is our future, Manulife’s future. I always enjoy growing with my team and being their mentor not only in their career but also in their personal development (including wine appreciation). At Manulife, we embrace a set of values that define us, and this lays the strategic foundation of our legal team – values such as “Do the Right Thing,” “Think Big,” and “Get it Done Together.” These values resonate with my repeated reminders for my team to be bold and creative, even when they are asked to give a complicated legal advice (but of course, making sure the law is right).

I encourage my team to always think of themselves as part of a bigger team, working towards a higher pursuit that benefits not just themselves, their team, and their firm, but also our customers and their families that they are making a difference for every day. I’d love to see our successors in the team step up and take the lead in the near future, and I would feel very proud to see an even brighter future being built by them, just like passing on the flame in the Olympics Torch.

 

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