Women can’t handle the grueling work in investment banking? Don’t tell that to Oi-Yee Choo, CEO, ADDX


An investment banker at heart, our interview for this issue is Oi Yee Choowho has 20 years of experience in capital raising and M&A advisory, and is the President and CEO, ADDXwhich is a digital stock exchange backed by the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX).

Prior to joining ADDX (formerly iSTOX), Oi-Yee was Head of Investment Banking for UBS Singapore as well as Morgan Stanley, before heading the Southeast Asia Real Estate Investment Banking Franchise for Nomura Singapore . She started her career in investment banking at Citigroup, covering corporate and real estate clients in Singapore. She also served as Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, for Parkway Holdings, where she helped found Parkway Life REIT.

In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, she tells us how she has banished the stereotypes that women are not capable of handling the grueling work in this physically punishing industry that requires working around the clock.

Q What did you dream of becoming a little girl? What attracted you to the financial sector?

At different times growing up, I wanted to be a news anchor and a lawyer. Everyone who played these roles seemed incredible – articulate, smart and glamorous.

But finance ended up fascinating me in a more permanent way. I was exposed to it from my early years — my dad was in remission, so conversations at the dinner table often involved the stock markets. As I delved deeper into finance, I saw how innovations such as REITs or e-commerce could create wealth for ordinary people and generate economic growth for corporations. After my return to Singapore after my MBA studies, I turned to investment banking. I haven’t looked back since.

Q What was it like to start out as a woman in the male-dominated banking industry? Did you encounter any gender stereotypes and how did you fight them?

Investment banking has always been a physically demanding industry. The stereotype was: Women can’t handle the grueling work. We worked around the clock, especially when there was a deadline for an important deal – taking turns napping on the office couch while we worked until the early hours. I persevered when I was pregnant with my first daughter. It helped me to have been a student-athlete – in softball, tennis and swimming.

Many men and women branch out into other parts of the financial industry over time. But many women eventually succeed and reach the top, which shows that it is within reach. The question today is to know if the gender stereotype is a real obstacle to the career development of women, or if it is rather a psychological barrier that slows them down in their personal development.

Q Share with us a bit about your transition from big investment banking to a fintech start-up, and how you’ve since built a team of female leaders in a gendered industry?

Banks are heavily regulated. It takes a long time to comply with the myriad of regulations in multiple jurisdictions. At ADDX, we are creating a new space.

We can redefine the rules and reshape capital markets. Every day I’m driven by that feeling of excitement you get from building from scratch.

We have an extremely talented team at ADDX, some of whom have extensive international banking experience. Our focus on talent means our team is diverse in terms of age, nationality and gender; something we are very proud of, especially with a strong group of female leaders within the organization. We may benefit from building a team and not having a starter culture with inherent and often unconscious biases.

Q What are the most effective ways to counter negative stereotypes of feminism, especially in the workplace?

One of the stereotypes is that women in finance don’t do enough. They initiate discussions, but the conversation does not lead to significant enough change. In response to this, we should recognize that great progress has been made in a generation and that men and women – not just women – have a responsibility to do more.

Sometimes minor adjustments can lead to significant changes over time – what have been called “sliding door moments”. The key is to grab those opportunities as they arise, whether it’s flexible working hours or a buddy program.

Don’t be afraid to start small. Change accumulates.

Q If you could have breakfast with three women who inspire you the most, who would they be and why?

• Christine Lagarde, who has broken many glass ceilings, manages to combine style, grace, confidence and power to lead one of the most important and complex central banks in the world. I also have a lot of respect for the way she devotes time to serving on boards that contribute to causes such as gender equality.

• Greta Thunberg, an icon of her generation, who illustrates how “one is never too young to make a difference”. Although she drew criticism for her strong language, I admire her courage and tenacity – qualities I hope to instill in my own daughters.

• Michelle Obama, whose openness with her personal struggles, including racism and family life, is relatable. His famous quote – “When they go low, we go high” – applies especially to women. When challenges arise, Michelle’s reminder is to avoid fighting negativity with negativity and to respond in a way that elevates the discussion.

READ ALSO : 13 leaders explain how they have an unbiased impact beyond the workplace

In this brand new series of interviews, titled Break down barriers, HR is for women leaders around the world who have made their mark and made their mark in the career of their choice, doing what they love most: living their passions and inspiring others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here.

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