Oi Yee was head of investment banking at UBS Singapore until early 2020, when she joined Singapore fintech iStox as its chief commercial officer. She has spoken passionately about how she makes it a point to talk to her daughters about the importance of financial planning—even though they have not begun earning money. Oi Yee’s own story is also interesting. She chose to take the leap from the banking sector into a startup, mainly because she felt strongly about being a part of a new wave of democratization in the financial sector brought about by advances in technology.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
I made plans to meet Oi Yee in the late afternoon at the office of iStox. Arriving early, I glanced around the open space office. It made me feel nostalgic for my startup days, seeing individuals spread out and sitting in front of their large, dual monitors. I felt a notable buzz of energy in the air, and I watched iStox employees have casual meetings on the side or walk to the kitchen fridge for a cold beverage.
Oi Yee strolls in and announces she’s brought along her young daughter, who is clutching a thick book. She jokes that her daughter can sit in the interview to learn a thing or two, and I welcome her to join us, but her daughter would rather read. Oi Yee has a kind demeanor and cracks jokes throughout the interview. But when she begins to talk about asset management, I can tell she’s a seasoned banker.
KrASIA (Kr): How was the concept of financial literacy introduced to you at a young age?
Oi Yee Choo (OYC): My father was a retail broker back in the day. At the dinner table, he would talk to my mother about work or the market, dropping information about contra trades and the like. We weren’t necessarily taught, but we absorbed the knowledge listening to him talk. I wasn’t actively thinking about managing finances when I was younger. I didn’t think about investing until I was married with kids and my career was at a stage where I was earning more. I had the capacity to set money aside. My daughters are older now, so we try to talk about money management during conversations. During your 20s, it’s about managing expenses. In your 30s, it’s about making the money work. Forty is when things really step up, such as having to pay for your children’s tertiary education and other big expenses.
Kr: What foundational pieces are you teaching your daughters about personal finance?
OYC: It’s less about personal finance and more about understanding simple concepts like profit and loss. We talk about rentals and stocks, but I try not to overdo it. I don’t want to overwhelm them with jargon. It’s not a systematic process. I do it more actively because I’m in finance. As a society, we could be more structured with financial education. These days, technology is disrupting traditional careers. It’s good to have a financial portfolio in case you’re out of a job. Asset management with our children gives them the flexibility to think about alternative career paths. Another piece of advice is that you have to understand finance to be in the fintech industry. Schools should actively teach financial concepts.
Kr: What is your philosophy on teenagers working part-time jobs early on?
OYC: I’m all for it. I had my daughter intern for my sister. It encourages them to understand the value of money. There are parents who would rather their kids study than work. These are not finance-related jobs, though. They are meant to teach them about life and the world.
These lessons are relevant later, because investing is about understanding how the world and the market are changing, and creating a strategy around those trends.
Kr: What do you envision your daughters’ future financial landscape to look like?
OYC: If you see what’s happening in the digital banking and investment spaces, there will be a lot more individual money management. There will be less reliance on private bankers, brokers, or financial advisors. There are digital banks now, so many services will be web-based. Digital banks are already thinking about incorporating investment opportunities into mobile applications. The product range will be wider because digitization allows the banking format to be very flexible.
Private banks are shifting up the curve when it comes to who they cater to. They’re not servicing clients below a certain income. So the remaining clients will have to do it themselves, or with apps. That’s the only way to actively manage your money. These days, putting money in a fixed deposit will hardly get you any yield. You have to DIY it, but you need to be financially educated for that. This is missing in today’s education.
Kr: What advice would you give to parents who want to financially educate their daughters, in line with the investing and saving trends that women in Singapore display?
OYC: Based on literature, there is a school of thought that women are generally better fund managers than men. Aside from that, a part of female empowerment is to manage some of the money in the family. I’ve seen couples where the women have no understanding of their own personal wealth. Personally, that feels like an imbalance between the two. School fees, bills, insurance—these are all part of family planning. Women usually have more control and visibility over these things as they’re more sensitive to them. Women tend to think that men are solely responsible for managing money, and I want to challenge that thinking.
Kr: With the digital age settling in and digital transformation taking place, was there anything you had to unlearn?
OYC: In the last five to ten years, I’ve seen the market structurally shift, especially with fund managers and private capital transactions now shifting wealth towards private markets. There are now funds that are only accessible to people with a certain net worth. Why can’t people who are simply knowledgeable in finance have access to it? Due to this, I had to unlearn some of the things that the public market mechanisms had taught me.
Of course, now we also have cryptocurrencies to consider. It made me very skeptical at first. Running a startup, however, has made me realize that you have to be less skeptical about everything. Digitalization allows transformation to occur rapidly; you have to throw your previous assumptions out the window. Digitization changes money management as well. My daughters are young, so they don’t have a bank card. But with digital money applications like PayLah! and GrabPay, they have access to digital money. We all have to relearn digital money management.
Kr: Lastly, what are you bullish on?
OYC: I’d like to get more exposure to growth stocks with the pre-IPOs and unicorns. There’s been so much capital in that space that companies have been allowed to mature much longer than in the dot com days. Another thing is to create a way to institutionalize peer-to-peer (P2P) companies, because there are so many cropping up. I’m also bullish about green finance, but cautious too. I think some corporations in Singapore are still just giving lip service to the green theme. The last is crypto, which is a space I’m watching carefully. There’s an increasing adoption of cryptocurrency that validates it.