Chan Chart-man (陳策文) – Developer and King of Pawnshops

York Lo: Chan Chart-man (陳策文) – Developer and King of Pawnshops

In March 2013, Oi Wah Pawnshop Credit Holdings became the first operator of pawnshops to go public in HK. Its founder Chan Chart-man had been involved in property development since the 1960s and although a relative newcomer in the centuries-old pawnshop industry, he and his family built the largest chain of pawnshops in HK coming out of the economic downturn of the early 2000s through innovation and aggressive expansion.

Kwan Chart Holding: Property Development

Chan Chart Man Image 1 York Lo

Left: Chan Chart-man; Right: Ad for Chan Chart-man’s Chun Wah Commercial Building and Luxury Court in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1985 (TKP, 1985-4-17)

A native of Toishan in Guangdong province, Chan was born in 1932 and started working in Canton after completing primary school. In 1953, Chan left Canton for Hong Kong where he worked for his distant uncle Chan Oi-tong (陳靄堂) and fellow Toishan native Chan Bock-hing (陳伯興, to be covered), who were major figures in the property, banking and restaurant business in HK at the time through their Sun Ya Hotel & Restaurant on Nathan Road and Canton Trust and Commercial Bank. By the late 1960s, he had started his own construction firm – Chart Keung Building Contractors (策強建築, although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1995)which operated out of 803 Yung Hing Building at 610 Nathan Road. (HK Government Gazette, 1969)

In the 1970s, Chan Chart-man established a string of companies to engage in property development (in chronological order of incorporation): Oi Wah Investment (靄華置業, incorporated in 1971),Hung Chart Estate (鴻茦置業, incorporated in 1972, dissolved in 1984) Hung Chart Investment (鴻策投資, incorporated in 1972 and dissolved in 1998), Chart Man Development (策文發展, incorporated in 1975), Man Tseuk Development (萬爵發展, incorporated in 1976, dissolved in 2005), Kwan Chart Estate (群策置業, incorporated in 1976),Hoo Chart Enterprises (浩策企業, incorporated in 1978) andBeaubien Ltd (寶必興有限公司, incorporated in 1979, dissolved in 2000). All these firms were operating under the umbrella of Kwan Chart (Holding) Co Ltd (羣策集團, incorporated in 1980) and shared its office out of Tak Cheong Commercial Building at 215 Portland Street in Mongkok in the early 1980s.

In 1979, Chart Man developed the residential building Mandarin Court (文華閣) at 28-36 Flower Market Road. This was followed byChun Wah Commercial Building (振華商業大廈) at 28-30 Minden Avenue and Luxury Court (豪華閣) at 9 Hau Fook Street in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1985.

Chan Chart Man Image 2 York Lo

Left: Chart Man’s ad for Mandarin Court in Kowloon in 1979 (Toishan First Middle School 70th anniversary booklet); Right: Kwan Chart Tower in Wanchai

In 1992, Kwan Chart Estate completed the 26-story Kwan Chart Tower (群策大厦) at 6 Tonnochy Road in Wanchai. Designed by the architectural firm of Ng Kam-shing, the building featured Ginza style shopping/restaurant space from the ground floor to the ninth floor, while the 10th to 26th floors are harbor view office space. (TKP, 1991-12-20)

Oi Wah Pawnshop Credit Holdings (靄華押業集)

The pawnbroking business, the oldest form of credit, has been in existence in HK for over two centuries and even before 1841, there were already 16 pawnbrokers in HK in 1821 according to the Guangdong Annals. Most of the pawnshop operators in HK traced their roots to before the War and many of them such as the family of Ko Ho-neng, Lo Siu-tong and David Sin Wai-kin had gone big into properties with their pawnshop profits while downplaying their pawnshop roots. The family of Chan Chart-man on the other hand had gone the other direction and moved aggressively from real estate into the pawn shop business over the past two decades.

In 1975, Chan Chart-man and his wifeMui Hang-sin (梅杏仙)opened their first pawn shop – the Wai Wah Pawnshop (偉華押) in Mongkokwith 4 staff members.In 1986, he established his second pawnshop Hing Wah Pawnshop (興華押)on Nathan Road as a sole proprietorship.

Chan Chart-man andhis wifehas 2 sons and 4 daughters. Their eldest son Macksion Chan Kai-kow (陳啟球) has been a practicing solicitor in HK since 1984. In the late 1990s, their second son Edward Chan Kai-ho (陳啟豪) joined the family business after graduating from City University in London with a civil engineering degree and saw pawnshop as a resilient business in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. The family decided to go big in the pawnshop business with Edward as CEO and his older sister Mei-fong as COO.

Chan Chart Man Image 3 York Lo

Left: One of Oi Wah’s pawn shops – Tak Wah at the Heung Lam Building (see article on Blood Protection Co) in Central; Right: Chan Chart-man (fifth from the right) and family at the listing ceremony of Oi Wah Pawnshop Credit Holdings at the HK Exchange in 2013.

In 2000, the family organized its pawn shops under “Oi Wah” brand and launched four pawn shops in one year, all in the historically underserved market of New Territories – Ho Wah (豪華大押) in Tsuen Wan, Sung Wah (崇華大押) in Tuen Mun, Chun Wah (振華大押) and Po Wah (寶華大押) in Sheung Shui.The next three years, Oi Wah added one pawn shop per year -Tak Wah(德華大押) in Central in 2001, Hung Wah (鴻華大押) in Tai Po in 2002, Kwong Wah (光華大押) in Yuen Long in 2003. In 2004, Oi Wah launched three pawn shops in one year -Heng Wah (恆華大押) in Sheung Shui, Cheung Wah (祥華大押) in Shatin and Kei Wah (基華大押) in Central. In 2009, Oi Wah expanded its business to mortgage loans and opened its first customer service center at its Central location in 2011. By 2012, Oi Wah recorded profits of $33 million on revenues of $66 million and with 12 pawnshopshad emerged as the largest chain in HK and its CEO Edward Chan was elected chairman of the HK & Kowloon Pawnbrokers Association. The firm differentiated itself from its lowkey traditional competitors by aggressively promoting its group brand of “Oiwahpawn”, enhancing customer service with hotlines, trilingual materials and website (Chinese, English and Filipino) and service centers and maintaining a high profile through a column in Headline Daily and its public listing raising $98 million in 2013 which was 1000 times oversubscribed in its retail tranche.

Outside of business, Chan Chart-man has been active in philanthropy and has donated generously to his native Toishan since 1972 where he has built schools, hospitals, bridges and roads, some of them are named after him. In Hong Kong, he had served as a director of the Pok Oi Hospital and donated the Buddhist Mr.& Mrs. Chan Chart Man Kindergarten.

Sources (other than what’s cited above):

This article was first posted on 18th September 2020.

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