Vivian Chan, the founding chairwoman of the Hong Kong PropTech Association (HKPTA), tells us about her journey with the organisation and shares her thoughts on building a PropTech ecosystem.
Many of this city’s family-owned real-estate businesses haven’t truly embraced technology and digital trends, perhaps because of traditional reliance on human resources. But to stay relevant in a fiercely competitive market, they must embrace innovation.
Growing up in a long-established family that owns and operates an office and hotel portfolio in Hong Kong, Vivian Chan understands that necessity all too clearly. Not only that — she’s also actively involved in bringing innovation to the broader real-estate sector.
Vivian Chan, Founding Chairwoman of the Hong Kong PropTech Association
A world traveller, lifelong learner and aspiring start-up investor, Vivian Chan was impressed by the rapid technological advances of the last few years. “The pace of change has been so fast that we need to be constantly on our toes,” she says. “I wanted Hong Kong and, in particular, the real estate industry to embrace more innovation and fresh perspectives.”
That led her to set up the Hong Kong PropTech Association (HKPTA) last year, an independent, non-profit organisation aiming to build a collaborative ecosystem that brings together real-estate technology stakeholders, from property developers and technology companies to investors and start-ups.
Proptech’s broad spectrum includes anything that’s digitised existing processes, from how a project is planned and built to the wide range of solutions for homebuyers and sellers, smart homes, property management, marketing, mortgages and even urban planning.
Chan also talks of its great potential to tackle climate change and contribute to sustainability, adding that the HKPTA is also driven by the goal to create an ecosystem that can nurture new technologies, which can benefit society and contribute to the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (UNSDGs).
Although she now has what she regards as a “dream team” leading her new association, Chan recalls that the early months weren’t easy — in fact, starting an industry body in early 2021 for people passionate about technology, entrepreneurship and driving substantive change in the real estate industry and the environment was a tough undertaking indeed.
In those first few months, she received polite refusals when reaching out to several established industry players. “With hindsight,” Chan admits, “their doubts are understandable, because of the short history of the organisation and a lack of understanding of the potentials of proptech.”
Yet in spite of the early rebuttals, she didn’t give up. In fact, Chan’s passion eventually impressed some of the industry’s most respected figures, who later joined the HKPTA as board members and advisors. “Without their support,” she says, “we wouldn’t have achieved what we have today. It’s been an amazing experience working with them because they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty time and time again. It’s an indication that they’re truly dedicated to the association’s success.”
The HKPTA board is made up of a diverse group of individuals, each with expertise in a different area. All, however, have been involved in the industry for years, and their experience and knowledge provide valuable insights. Among them is Charles To, a partner in the ELLALAN legal practice, whose particular focus is on the law as it relates to technology, intellectual property, entertainment, blockchain and data privacy.
Rainie Pan, the association’s managing director, comes from a management-consulting background, Akina Ho is head of digital transformation at Great Eagle, James Kwan is the executive director of Jumpstart, Ivan Ho serves as the Hong Kong CEO of the KaiLong Group and Wendy Law brings her experience as executive director of Park Capital Group.
The association can also draw on a group of honorary advisors, including Dr Winnie Tang, Christina Gaw, Dr Derrick Pang, Andrew Young and several more. A year after its founding, the HKPTA now comprises five committees, four of which are led by a board member. Each committee plays an influential role in its defined area, while all build upon each other in a systematic way.
The rationale behind this structure is to streamline the entire start-up journey, from proof of concept to matching with potential investors and partners, and exploring opportunities in the Greater Bay Area and beyond. “We’re committed to advocating for sustainability development in business strategies that ultimately create a greener environment, a more liveable city, and better wellbeing for us and future generations,” says Chan.
To support decarbonisation goals, property developers are increasingly exploring energy-saving solutions for green buildings, while taking into account the impact of buildings on the health and wellbeing of their occupants.
On the client-facing front, a new breed of technologies has improved customer experience in many ways. There are already many smart home devices that offer comfort, convenience and energy efficiency, all at the same time.
“I wanted Hong Kong and, in particular, the real estate industry to embrace more innovation and fresh perspectives.”
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual-reality (VR) solutions are gaining popularity. A property might be displayed in VR, enabling potential buyers to see not only what the interior design looks like but also what it feels like to live there. VR solutions can also be used in retail stores, enabling customers to explore different products before buying them.
The real-estate sector is ripe for innovation. As the industry evolves, there’s still plenty of room for creativity and new ideas. From planning, design and construction to facility management and the customer journey, proptech is able to improve operating efficiency, sustainability and revenue. Nevertheless, challenges remain, both for real-estate companies to adopt the technology and for tech companies to formulate solutions that address industry-specific pain points.
“That’s why the HKPTA has been established,” says Chan, “to raise awareness of the need for digital transformation among corporates, to nurture creativity and entrepreneurship among youngsters, and to support the proptech start-up ecosystem. The goal is to bridge the gap between traditional real-estate businesses and innovative tech companies.”
Mental health is especially important for entrepreneurs because it helps them stay focused on their goals and avoid burnout. Chan understands that her own mental well-being helps her stay motivated and focused on her goals, which are essential for success.
“As long as I’ve done everything possible to do the best I could with the day, tomorrow is a brand-new day full of possibilities and encounters. So work hard, play hard, and enjoy every moment we’ve got. Waking up every morning is a gift worth celebrating,” she says.
She also reveals a lesser-known side of her story. Most people know her as a go-getter, an entrepreneur. But as a trained counselling psychologist, she volunteers to provide counselling services to underprivileged families served by NGOs whenever she has spare time. She knows that many people are going through tough times, and she wants them to know that they are not alone.
Vivian Chan is a good listener. She wants people to feel they’re being heard and understood. And that’s where her charm — and her strength — lies.