A Serendipitous Startup Journey… What I've Learned as a Woman in FinTech
I was on maternity leave 9 years ago, getting ready to go back to the investment banking world when my ex-manager reached out serendipitously to join his newly founded start-up. This was before the term “FinTech” was even coined! The exuberance in his audacious business idea was infectious, but more importantly, his acknowledgement and unwavering support to help me transition to a new working mother was what made me take the leap of faith. Since that day, I have never looked back because thinking big and the feeling of constant learning and personal development are addictively fulfilling. So, to everyone thinking about joining a new industry, whilst life can only be understood backwards, it must be lived forward bravely, and I am happy I stepped into this beautiful mess.
After almost a decade of startup experience, I truly find that neither man nor woman is better at it than the other. It is a young sector with so much continuous development that both men and women who love creating new things and seeking progress will find lots of exciting discoveries and learnings in their professional life. To create something from scratch and launch it to the world is indeed a feeling like no other.
For anything new and flourishing, this is also when one can find lots of new opportunities if one has a growth mindset to continuously master new things. To the many young women considering this journey, I wish that you find the courage by taking the first step, one way or another. Recognise that mistakes are a natural part of the evolutionary process, and not a notch down some imaginary badge of honor. Resistance to failure paralyses the way forward. However, when we consciously stop judging ourselves so harshly, we innately build up courage and start discovering, one step at a time. Like the Chinese proverb goes “to get through the hardest journey and continue living, we need only take one step at a time, but we must keep stepping forward”.
For all our experienced women who have battled their way up the corporate/entrepreneurial ladder, have the courage to not walk through that doorway of opportunity and slam it shut behind you. Mentor our young women so they can fast track through your life experiences and see from more perspectives than their own, to help accelerate their development process. True leadership is to recognise, appreciate and harness each individual’s unique strengths to help them do something great, in their own way.
For our young women who have already taken the leap of faith and are fortunate to have found a mentor in their managers or colleagues, understand that mentorship is development driven rather than performance driven, as no one other than yourself can guarantee your performance. Mentorship is not a silver bullet that cures all. It requires input, lots of inputs, not just from the mentor, but the mentee as well. The mentee must first know what they want from the experience, otherwise they will never know if they even attain it. Like with anything in life, you cannot expect great outputs from poor inputs. The essence of this is that once someone can walk, they can set your own path.
Above all, besides celebrating the courage of our young women diving into an infant industry, and the courage of our experienced women reaching back and providing others the same opportunities that had helped them succeed, it is even more important to frame the gender equality conversation in the right context for real progress to be made. Equality is not the end goal here, the supreme goal for humanity is connection. People can be equal but isolated. But when humanity is truly connected, each individual's strengths, regardless of sex, can be realised and harnessed more effectively than ever before. Equality is treating everyone the same, equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. The more connected we all are, the more naturally sustainable the gender parity equilibrium will be for a long time to come, versus any “forced” maxim which can lose momentum. Recognising diversity and fostering inclusion is not only good for societies, but good for business. The female economy is expected to yield $12 trillion in incremental global GDP by 2025. Let us all focus on growing the pie, not dividing it. For many, it is ingrained that for one to win, another has to lose. Pie-splitting is attractive because it is familiar and deemed easier. Pie-growing is foreign because it takes more courage as it is uncertain and messier. In the growth category of FinTech, we must find a mutually beneficial way of working together. Let us connect, explore and celebrate the unique strengths of all, as we build the FinTech ecosystem together, better.
Written by Ashley Koh, COO at Spark Systems
Ashley Koh is currently COO at Spark Systems, a robust trading platform designed for high-frequency low-latency trading in the global foreign exchange market. It aggregates access to worldwide FX liquidity in real-time, with smart algorithmic decision and execution tools for clients to find optimal market opportunities.
Prior to Spark Systems, she was General Manager and Chief of Staff at MatchMove Pay, to kick start and build their international money transfer business. Her first foray into FinTech was as Group COO at M-DAQ Global, a FX startup that was majority acquired by Ant Financial to power their cross-border eCommerce.
Ashley started her career in New York City with JP Morgan in their e-FX sales and trading team, before joining the world’s largest fund manager BlackRock to build up their eFX trading platform.