Andrew Au

12 years ago, Andrew tried to run after his 3-year old son and almost collapsed, his heart weakened by nearly two decades of inactivity. After that, water became his lifeline. He turned to swimming to reclaim his health. What he got back was so much more.

A competitive swimmer in his teens, Andrew used to train daily, reaping impressive results in the 50m freestyle front crawl, a discipline that requires tremendous strength and power with very little to time breathe. But then university started, followed by a career in finance, Andrew got married and started a family, “I found myself lots of excuses which ultimately led to an 18-year exercise hiatus”.

Over time, his daily routine had turned into a perpetual cycle: work, eat, sleep, repeat. Despite his parents’ advice to get moving again, Andrew’s sedentary habits had become deeply ingrained and his health deteriorated. “One day, back in 2010, I jumped up to run after my son who was only three. Suddenly, my heart was racing and my chest was burning, I got really scared.’’ His doctor’s diagnosis was crystal clear. ‘’The only way I would see my kids grow up was to start exercising again’’. He started slowly with gentle exercise twice a week. “It took me three years to be able to swim multiple times a week again.” The sense of freedom in the water revived his competitive spirit. Andrew started training again for 50m races. His 3-time Olympian coach also introduced him to performance enhancing techniques like breath work and visualisation. At 45 years old, he beat his teenage record, covering the Olympic pool in 26.4 seconds, 5 milliseconds faster than when he was 18.

The impact on Andrew’s life went far beyond getting in shape. “I didn’t just get my health back, I also met a lot of inspiring people along the way.” The encounters and relationships formed in his spare time have since filtered into Andrew’s professional life and fostered his engagement with charitable organisations in Hong Kong. A private banker by profession, he has met some of his future clients far away from the office. “In a way, swimming, running and cycling are the new golf.”

Andrew’s interest in social impact started a few years ago, when one of his sons had a serious issue with a teacher. “We had to ask an NGO to act as mediator between us and the school.” This challenging experience inspired Andrew to give back to society. “You can do it in different ways: time, network, money and skills.” Andrew has given back in all four. Firstly leveraging his network. “As wealth transitions to the next generation, investors are wanting to impact society more than ever. In my job as a relationship manager, I have often made the initial introductions between my network and local charities.”

“In winter the wind can pick up and the seas around Hong Kong Island can get very choppy. In 2015, we battled force 6 winds, swimming through waves over 2 metres high.”

Andrew also gives back in time and money. His face lights up when he recalls his best moments in the water. “The charity swims I did with my sons united us as a family and gave us a sense of purpose. Before the pandemic, we joined to raise money for underprivileged families in Hong Kong.” He also competes in open-water swims, such as the Cold Half 15km relay race. The course runs from Stanley to Deep Water Bay (South Hong Kong Island). “In winter the wind can pick up and the seas around Hong Kong Island can get very choppy. In 2015, we battled force 6 winds, swimming through waves over 2 metres high.” Andrew swallowed a good amount of saltwater that day, but says it was all worth it for the HKD 500,000 (CHF 59,000) he and this teammate raised for Cancer Fund during the race.

Always looking for a way to combine his love for water with his desire for impact, in 2020, Andrew donated his skills this time to help a friend fundraise enough capital to set up the Splash Foundation. The charity offers swimming lessons to foreign domestic helpers and underprivileged youth.

“Today, thanks to Splash’s work, thousands of people have access to free beginner swimming classes. In addition to a life skill, the course also helps to boost confidence and self-esteem, and often leads to new friendships.”

Many former Splash students have even started long-distance swimming (over 5km) and now actively contribute to the preservation of Hong Kong’s seashores through beach clean-ups and awareness campaigns.

Spending any time in the water, one soon notices the waves of plastic. “Plastic pollution is a real problem in Asia. But we can all do something about it, from recycling and avoiding single-use plastic to supporting awareness and advocacy campaigns.” Just weeks after joining Pictet in November, Andrew invited colleagues from the Hong Kong office to join a charitable rowing event which in turn led to a partnership between Ocean Recovery Alliance’s Make The Case project and the Pictet Group Foundation.

Looking back, it took a healthscare for Andrew to realise what was important in life. But he believes it doesn’t have to be this way for others. “Over time, simple changes to your day-to-day like going for a walk or jumping in the water can have a huge impact on your life, from your health and family relationships to your career and purpose.”

Andrew lives on Hong Kong Island, surrounded by water, with his wife and two sons. When he’s not in the water or helping local charities, he is a Senior Private Banker for Pictet Wealth Management Hong Kong.

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