Shenzhen finance security boss Hu Ke finds that the cashless society trend has dented his company’s business. He has turned to Hong Kong to help enterprises transport valuable goods. Lin Wenjie reports.
Hu Ke, president of Shenzhen Vpower Finance Security, says his extensive experience in the banking field is a big asset in his current job. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Ex-banker Hu Ke seems to have the whole world on his shoulders each day, making sure that all the astronomical loads of cash being transferred to and from banks in Shenzhen under his watch are safe and sound.
But, despite the growing popularity of electronic transactions on the Chinese mainland, which may appear to have taken some of the heat off him as cash shipments wane, he’s dead set on making up for the loss. Apart from cash, transporting valuables — gold, platinum, diamonds and jewelry — has become part and parcel of his company’s business.
Hu has been president of Shenzhen Vpower Finance Security — the first security designated by the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, in 1997 — for the past eight years.
If employees feel you’re determined to right what is wrong, they’ll budge and change for the better
Hu Ke, president of Shenzhen Vpower Finance Security
He sees the rapid advent of e-commerce having planted a deep dent in his company’s revenues which have been shrinking by the day. The natural response is to transform and expand Vpower’s operations to Hong Kong by providing armed escort services for enterprises or individuals in transporting valuables, taking full advantage of the escalating financial, trade and social links between the SAR and the mainland.
Founded in Shenzhen some two decades ago, Vpower has 18 investors drawn from the ranks of mainland banks and financial institutions. It now employs more than 3,000 people with a fleet of 600 armored vehicles in Shenzhen.
“We mainly provide cash escort services for banks in Shenzhen. But, with the rapid development of digital payments, cash transactions have been declining. Our business has since started to come down. So, we’ll be expanding our business to other places while transforming cash escort services to escort services for valuables,” Hu tells China Daily.
The former banking executive joined Vpower in 2010 as the electronic payment trend took hold in the market. He saw the drift and figured out ways to ride out the digital age.
Anticipating the vast opportunities that deepening cross-boundary links would bring, Vpower has invested HK$50 million taking its armored vehicles and high-tech security systems to Hong Kong to meet the high demand for the transportation of valuables, as well as cash, from Hong Kong to the mainland.
Vpower set up its Hong Kong unit — Vpower Finance Security (HK) — in September last year with an initial strength of 100 employees and 30 armored vehicles. With just more than a year in the city, the company has managed to make ends meet, raking in millions of Hong Kong dollars in revenue monthly.
Links fueling demand
“Hong Kong, as a collecting and distribution center for luxury goods, such as gold and silver jewelry, diamonds and luxury watches, has a huge demand for valuables transportation. Furthermore, the strengthened relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland means bigger demand for such services between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. This is where our advantage lies, aided by our years of experience in Shenzhen,” says Hu.
The most expensive item Vpower had ever escorted was a legendary luminous pearl worth 2 billion yuan (US$318 million) owned by a mainland businessman. The escort fee charged was based on the value of the goods, so “that’s not a small amount of money”, according to Hu.
With the Greater Bay Area taking shape, Vpower has jumped on the bandwagon, helping the Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society to deliver and safeguard gold bullion between Hong Kong and the Qianhai Free Trade Zone in Shenzhen.
“Hong Kong is just the first step in our global strategy,” Hu continues. “We want to expand to Southeast Asia and follow the Belt and Road route in future.”
Vpower has also stepped up cooperation with securities companies in Frankfurt, Dubai and Singapore, and intends to team up with US security company Brink’s to jointly develop the valuable goods escort business.
Vpower’s Hong Kong office is located in a rather inconspicuous building in Tsuen Wan — just a five-minute drive from two police stations. Its interior design resembles a perplexing maze surrounded by motion detectors and surveillance cameras. One needs to take a lift and use an access card to use all the automatic doors and walkways, and then pass the facial recognition system to reach the vault, taking approximately five minutes. So, in the event of a heist, the police could be at the scene in the nick of time.
There are also two armed security officers guarding and patrolling outside the vault, which provides custodial services for valuable items.
According to Hu, Vpower adopts a unified three-tier operational strategy — unified management of its regional bank vault, unified dispatch and control of armored transportation vehicles, and unified training and management of security guards.
“This strategy helps us perform smoothly and efficiently, especially through unified training and management. By implementing semi-military management, our armored security guards work and live together. We have strict rules for them. We make a roll call every night and evaluate their performance every quarter. Under an elimination mechanism, 30 percent of the lowest-rated employees will be retrenched every year.”
To ensure every staff member stays alert while on duty, Vpower has a set of rigid rules to restrain their behavior when they are out or in vehicles, including their standing position, gun-holding pose and the length of time they take for lunch. The control room is in contact with the guards by walkie-talkie every five minutes to make sure that everything is under control.
Strict rules may be just one of the measures to guarantee staff discipline. Vpower also wants its staff to feel the company’s warmth by offering various opportunities to help them develop their interests and hobbies, such as setting up hiking and chess clubs and organizing travel for employees annually.
One of the biggest challenges Vpower faces is the lack of talents, says Hu, with the company developing at a rapid pace.
“We need to maintain sufficient mobility in our company because the job’s nature requires strong and energetic young people. But, every year, we can only have half of our headcount filled in Shenzhen. The situation in Hong Kong is much better. We’re providing better-than-average wages and benefits in the industry, as well as a comprehensive promotion system to attract young talents. But, young people nowadays find it difficult to bear hardships,” he says.
Applying the carrot and stick — it can really work
Armed with a quarter-of-a-century’s background in the banking profession, Hu Ke, president of Shenzhen Vpower Finance Security, has scored well when it comes to running a business that’s cheek by jowl with security services for financial institutions.
The vast pool of expertise he had accumulated — from handling massive amounts of cash to managing operations — saw him stand out when he joined Vpower eight years ago.
“When I came to Vpower, my role suddenly switched from a service receiver — the bank — to service provider. Basically, we’re now serving the bank. I understand what the bank needs, so I wasted no time accepting the job,” he recalls.
The first thing Hu did was to improve the quality of Vpower’s service in response to the company’s unflattering “honor” of having been at the receiving end of up to 70 complaints each week in the first month of him taking up the post — grudges like the cash trucks not arriving on time on assignments, security guards being rude to customers, and employees caught lazing around at work.
Hu decided it was time to crack the whip, opting to show wrongdoers the door with a two-fold goal of healing the company’s tarnished image and serving as a wake-up call to others who still refuse to toe the line.
He was at pains telling China Daily he wasn’t being harsh to employees but only meant to guide them along the rules of etiquette, and not by merely using the stick.
“Punishment, I think, isn’t a very effective way to discipline staff because it may force them to harbor resentment against management. A leader should do everything that’s good for the company, and which is within the scope of the whole enterprise. If employees feel you’re determined to right what is wrong, they’ll budge and change for the better. A powerful leader also needs to motivate staff, listen to them and spend time communicating with them,” he says.
For the younger generation aiming to climb the career ladder fast, Hu believes one has to embrace the challenges at work to achieve self-development and learn from one’s experience.
“When I was still a credit manager at a subbranch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Shenzhen, my leader one day told me he would like to recommend me to be an office director in an associate company, meaning I had to leave the bank. I declined the offer in the belief that I had little skill in managing an office, and I was quite satisfied with my bank job. But the leader managed to convince me to take up the offer, saying ‘if you know how to manage an office, you’ll know how to manage a bank’.”
Hu ultimately accepted the challenge and, after spending two years managing the office, he was transferred back to the bank and promoted to vice-president in the subbranch before ascending to a regional bank.
“If I had not given myself the chance, I wouldn’t have grown stronger and would not be capable of managing a bank. As the saying goes, the greater the effort, the sweeter the reward. My leader then again recommended me to Vpower as ICBC is one of the shareholders in the company. I gladly accepted it, confident that I can do it well.”
Hu sees himself as extremely lucky to have good leaders guiding him along, and he would give young people as many chances as he could.
“Giving your staff opportunities is a recipe for encouraging them to perform better. One young man I had helped promote has done well and is now a president with a regional bank.”
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