With experience working at two of the biggest fin-tech companies in Hong Kong, Rachel Lam tells us that she often gets LinkedIn invitations telling her she’s got a very unique CV. As the current Managing Director of MoneyHero, Rachel was able to offer us an interesting insight into the working culture of Hong Kong, where she is based, as well as share advice based on what she has learnt over her years in the finance sector.
Given your years of experience in the financial sector, what first attracted you to the industry?
I have always liked numbers and quantitative methodology. Hong Kong is an international finance hub, and finance was fascinating to me because it is an essential part of our lives.
I started as a management trainee in a bank because it was a place that was full of exposure and opportunities. Banks have a lot of resources to train their staff and offer a diversified career path, so it was quite attractive. During my years in banking, I was given a lot of career opportunities. I got to know more people and expand my connections. I learnt a lot about how different parts of a big organisation work — why some of them focus more on operations and why some of them are more front-ended. It was there that I also learnt about “fin-tech” companies and concepts like Bitcoin and P2P lending marketplaces.
It was an aspiration of mine to one day start building one of these companies in Hong Kong with my bare hands. I got the opportunity to help build the first Hong Kong fin-tech company, Welab. Working for a start-up was a unique experience. You had to do it all and you learnt to be hands-on. We built everything from scratch, even the computer system.
After the initial success of Welab, I started to contemplate about helping to shape the financial space in Hong Kong. I wanted to help digitise banking platforms to provide a better experience. I thought I could utilise my product and market knowledge to educate the public and increase their financial literacy.
I have known MoneyHero for at least four years. Welab was one of their first partners and we started around the same time. Before MoneyHero, there was not much transparency regarding the information of complicated banking products in Hong Kong. After MoneyHero, though, a lot more education started being spread around the community. I liked what they were doing and I thought that they brought a lot of value to the Hong Kong community, which is why I ended up joining as their MD.
What aspects do you find most challenging about your job?
Definitely the managing of people. A start-up is like a fast-growing baby. You start with a small core team pulling all-nighters to finish a scrappy MVP. When company expands, you have to make sure your team also grows with you. There is a sophisticated balance between timely deliveries and quality.
Are you influenced by any of your past experiences in terms of how you conduct yourself with your work?
Yes, I believe my previous experience built a good foundation for my current responsibility. At banks I learnt about the market and banking products, compliance and risk management, and how to have a balance view and be a owner for a business. At Welab, I learnt to build things from scratch, to be very hands-on yet think big, and deal with investors, regulators and media. All these helped me to succeed at MoneyHero.
I developed some values of my own throughout my career. Integrity is the top priority that will pay off in the long run, while user-centricity and a unique position are the key to traction. I always demand the best standards from myself and my team. I try to be consistent and predictable as a manager and to make decisions based on data, not perception or experience.
What’s a lesson we can take away from the working culture in Hong Kong?
One thing is efficiency. Even in line at McDonald’s, people in Hong Kong get impatient if they have to wait longer than five minutes. Another would be ownership; people like to have a say in everything. Also, transparency and flexibility.
Has your experience in the field ever been affected by your gender?
I would say yes, when the team is really small. A lot of the procedures and policies are not yet there so decisions and culture are built by a handful people who very often are male. Females may find it harder to blend in with the men’s club.
The solution is to lean in and speak up, to constantly deliver quality and value. Start-ups are result-oriented so eventually the issue will go away. Being female actually provides a different perspective towards founding a business. Females are strong at formulating UX and marketing communication, so in the long run we’re better off. Thus, I encourage more women to step in at start-ups and for more companies to consider females for senior management.
Do you feel like you ever had to give up anything for the betterment of your career?
Yes, I get that everyone has to make some choices and sacrifices. I gave up the chance to do an MBA, but what is more valuable than the experience gained from building some of the best fin-tech start-ups in Asia? I also gave up the stability of working at a bank, the predictability of roles and procedures, and style of work, but found this more rewarding at the end of the day.
What motivates you to keep on going?
To me, seeing the advancement of financial innovation in Hong Kong is priceless. Knowing that I am a part of it is even better. I encourage every woman to identify your vision and goal in life and go for it. It has to be something more valuable than money so that you will enjoy every moment of your career and be willing to go the extra mile to achieve it.
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