Robin Chan, businessman and father of Hong Kong politician Bernard Chan, dies aged 90

·4 min read

Veteran financier and political leader Robin Chan Yau-hing, chairman of Asia Financial Holdings and father of Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan, has died at the age of 90.

His son, 57, a member of the cabinet of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, will take over the chairman role immediately while continuing as president of the company, according to an announcement on Wednesday.

Robin Chan, who died on Monday, was the eldest of six sons of Chin Sophonpanich, the founder of Bangkok Bank, one of the largest financial firms in Thailand.

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He was born in Shantou, Chaoyang, in the southern part of Guangdong province in 1932. He grew up and went to school in Hong Kong and then the US before beginning his banking career at Bangkok Bank.

Political unrest was behind Sophonpanich's decision to send Chan to Hong Kong in the 1950s; it was a way of diversifying the family's business risks. The family is still actively involved in politics and business in Thailand and Hong Kong, with a wide range of interests spanning banking, insurance, hospitals, rice and hotels.

Chan kept a low profile, avoiding media appearances, but was an active business and political leader in Hong Kong, playing an important role in the city's handover and the development of its insurance sector.

Chief Executive Lam described him as "an esteemed entrepreneur and philanthropist."

"In 2012, Dr Chan gave me a copy of his biography and I read it in detail. The stories about his growth and business career, as well as his deeds in serving the nation and the overseas Chinese, were deeply admirable," Lam said in a statement.

"The passing of Dr Chan is a great loss to the overseas Chinese and the business community.

"Over the years, he had been promoting the steady development of Hong Kong's insurance industry, commanding the respect of the business sector.

"Also, he wholeheartedly promoted the exchange and cohesion among the overseas Chinese, championed the Chinese culture and fostered the unity of clansmen, with dedicated and meritorious contributions made to the community."

He co-founded Asia Insurance with his father in 1959, and it went on to become one of the largest general insurers in Hong Kong. It listed on the city's stock exchange in 1990.

In the early 1980s Chan helped bring much-needed investment to mainland China by arranging for delegations of Chinese businessmen operating overseas to visit and explore opportunities in their home country. He also served as chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce.

On the political front, he was appointed as a National People's Congress deputy in 1988, a position he held for 20 years. He was also one of the 150 members of the Preparatory Committee for the Hong Kong Special Administration that was set up by Beijing in the 1990s to handle the handover of Hong Kong back to the mainland.

In his last chairman's speech, in the 2021 annual report released in March, he reported that Asia Financial earned a net profit of HK$665.4 million (US$85.19 million), almost double what it had made a year earlier. He cited solid investment returns and underwriting profits from the insurance business.

"Despite potential economic headwinds, we remain cautiously optimistic about the outlook for our businesses. We will continue with our conservative but flexible core investment approach in the pursuit of long-term growth in shareholder value," Chan said in the annual report.

Chan was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal - the top honour granted by the Hong Kong government - in 2018. He also received the Order of Commander of The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant from the King of Thailand.

His son, Bernard, has worked at Asia Financial for 32 years and has been active in both politics and business in Hong Kong. His public duties include chairing the Hong Kong-Thailand Business Council and the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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