An investment banker at heart, our interview this edition is Oi-Yee Choo, who has 20 years of capital raising and M&A advisory experience, and is the Chief Executive Officer, ADDX, which is a digital securities exchange backed by the Singapore Exchange (SGX).
Before joining ADDX (formerly iSTOX), Oi-Yee has been the Head of Investment Banking for UBS Singapore as well as Morgan Stanley, prior to which she ran the Southeast Asia real estate investment banking franchise for Nomura Singapore. She started her investment banking career with Citigroup, covering Singapore corporate and real estate clients. She has also been SVP, Strategy and Business Development, for Parkway Holdings, where she helped create the Parkway Life REIT.
In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, she tells us about how she has banished stereotypes around women not being able to handle the gruelling work in this physically punishing industry which requires working around the clock.
Q What did you dream of becoming as a little girl? What attracted you to the finance industry?
At different times, growing up, I wanted to be a newscaster and a lawyer. Everyone who played these roles seemed amazing - articulate, intelligent, and glamourous.
But finance ended up fascinating me in a more permanent way. I had been exposed to it since my early years – my father was a remisier, so conversations at the dinner table often involved the stock markets. As I went deeper into finance, I saw how innovations like REITs or electronic trading could create wealth for ordinary people and generate economic growth for societies. After I returned to Singapore from my MBA studies, I went into investment banking. I haven’t looked back since.
Q What it was like starting out as a woman in the male-dominated banking sector? Did you come across gender stereotypes, and how did you tackle them?
Investment banking has always been a physically punishing industry. The stereotype was: women can’t handle the gruelling work. We worked round the clock, especially when there was a deadline on an important deal – taking turns to nap on the office couch as we worked into the wee hours. I soldiered on when I was pregnant with my first daughter. It helped that I had been a student athlete – in softball, tennis, and swimming.
Many men and women branch out to other parts of the finance industry in time. But many women do eventually succeed and make it to the top, showing it is within reach. The question today is whether the gender stereotype is a real impediment to women’s career advancement, or if it's more of a psychological barrier holding them back from personal development.
Q Share with us a little about your transition from big investment banks to a fintech start-up, and how you've since built a team of female leaders in a gender-skewed industry?
Banks are heavily regulated. A lot of time goes into complying with the myriad of regulations across multiple jurisdictions. At ADDX, we’re creating a new space.
We get to redefine the rules and reshape the capital markets. Every day, I am driven by that sense of excitement you get, building from scratch.
We have an extremely talented team at ADDX, some with extensive international banking experience. Our focus on talent means that our team is diverse across age, nationality, and gender; something we are very proud of, notably with a strong group of female leaders within the organisation. We are perhaps benefiting from creating a team, and not having an incumbent culture with inherent, and often unconscious biases.
Q What are the most effective ways to counteract the negative stereotypes of feminism, especially in the workplace?
One stereotype is that women in finance aren’t taking enough action. They initiate discussions, but the talk doesn’t lead to enough meaningful change. In response to this, we should acknowledge that great progress has been made from a generation ago and that both men and women – not just women – have a responsibility to do more.
Sometimes, minor tweaks can bring about significant shifts over time – what has been termed “sliding doors moments”. The key is to seize these opportunities as they arise – whether it’s about flexible working hours or a sponsorship programme.
Don’t be afraid to start with something modest. Change accumulates.
Q If you could grab breakfast with three women who inspire you the most, who would they be and why?
• Christine Lagarde, who has shattered many glass ceilings, manages to combine style, grace, confidence, and power to run one of the world’s most important and complex central banks. I have great respect, too, for how she carves out time to sit on boards contributing to causes such as gender equality.
• Greta Thunberg, an icon of her generation, who exemplifies how, “You are never too young to make a difference”. While she has drawn flak for her strong language, I admire her courage and tenacity – qualities I hope to imbue in my own daughters.
• Michelle Obama, whose openness with her personal struggles, including racism and family life, is relatable. Her famous quote - “When they go low, we go high” - is especially applicable to women. When challenges arise, the reminder from Michelle is to avoid fighting negativity with negativity, and to respond in a way that elevates the discussion.
In this brand-new series of interviews, titled Breaking Barriers, HRO speaks to women leaders globally who have forged their paths and made a mark in their career of choice, doing what they love best — living out their passions and uplifting others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here.
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