With ever more people relying on the Internet for shopping and banking services, there is growing concern about the possibility of "cybercrime" and the need for tighter security and better risk management.
At the centre of these developments is Barry Wong, senior business leader and head of security and risk services for MasterCard International in the Asia-Pacific region. In his current role, he is responsible for developing new technologies and innovative solutions to help member financial institutions manage risk and enhance controls to mitigate fraud. In doing this, Mr Wong works closely with law enforcement agencies and government institutions whose objective is to combat payment card crime.
His first position with MasterCard was in 2002 as director of regional support for security and risk services. This entailed duties in a variety of operational areas, as well as in project management, training, visiting card issuers and acquirers to ensure they complied with required standards in the process of card issuance or acceptance, and investigating suspicious cases.
Before that, Mr Wong had gained extensive experience as regional security adviser for a multinational oil company and as a security consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He had also served for 13 years in the Hong Kong Police, handling criminal investigations and, for six years, fighting commercial crime.
Management expect to see accurate and significant findings
Moving from the public to the private sector was by no means an easy decision. "I thought about it almost non-stop for six weeks and lost a lot of sleep," he recalls. "It was a big decision and a career turning point which affected my whole family." He explains that accepting the new job meant being based in Beijing, so his wife had to quit her job and his one-year-old daughter had to get used to a completely new environment.
However, Mr Wong saw that initial offer from the oil company as a golden opportunity to broaden his horizons and face a new set of challenges. It obviously helped that he was also offered an accommodating expatriate package with corresponding benefits.
Among the challenges he had to face were language and cultural differences. "In the mainland, people also have a very different concept of security," he notes.
He also realised that in the private sector he was under constant pressure to prove himself. "It is necessary to respond to management demands very quickly, and they expect to see accurate and significant findings," he explains.
Though this can make the work more difficult, it also means it can be more rewarding in terms of job satisfaction. Since the police have to follow many rules and regulations, they are schooled to proceed more conservatively in any investigation. In contrast, methods and procedures can be more flexible in the private sector, which sometimes makes it possible to act more quickly and achieve better results.
According to Mr Wong, it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to think they can get into the profession of providing security and risk services in the banking and finance sector. The role requires a high degree of maturity, analytical ability and experience either in law enforcement or banking and finance. Without that, it is impossible to identify potential risks and carry out wide-ranging investigations.
However, candidates do require a degree in any discipline. Mr Wong studied mathematics, which he believes has helped in approaching problems logically, and he later took a law degree with a more direct link to his work.
Other essential qualities for anyone interested in entering the security and risk management business include common sense, as well as being observant and curious about one's surroundings.
"If you have more all-round exposure to different situations and different types of people, you will learn more and be able to do the job better," he says.
Mr Wong predicts increasing demand for security professionals in China, where the concept of risk management is underdeveloped and still focuses mainly on aspects of physical security.
Companies requiring assistance tend to source professional expertise from Hong Kong and Singapore. Mr Wong says that expatriates can expect good compensation packages, in some cases better than they would receive in Hong Kong.