Oi-Yee Choo admits that she is not a tiger mum. She is firm, however, about exposing her teenage daughters, aged 16 and 18, to different aspects of financial literacy.
Her older daughter coaches gymnastics part-time to earn spending money. Family conversations often include financial concepts such as rents and mortgage, compound interest and cryptocurrency. Occasionally, when Choo, a banking veteran, gets riled up about current affairs, that turns into a learning moment as well.
“There was a phase when I ranted about scams in the market. So they are aware to not take things for granted, just because it is digital,” says the CEO of digital securities exchange ADDX.
Giving her children a head start in financial education
This is also how she fills what she perceives as a gap in the current educational system. “Financial education should be a life skill no matter what path an individual takes. It needs to be a fundamental part of the curriculum, but it is not recognised today,” she stresses.
“It used to be quite simple where when you put your money in the bank, the bank’s savings interest rate was enough to carry you through. Today, that is no longer the case.”
For this reason, Choo teaches the kids concepts such as risk profiles and the alternatives to placing cash in the bank. outdated 70:30 investment portfolios (70 per cent to stocks and 30 per cent to fixed income) are now insufficient for the next generation to retire. “It is important that kids experience risk and accept it as part of their lives. It’s not just about understanding money, but also managing your reaction to losing it,” she adds.
Game-changing the wealthtech industry
The ethos of equipping individuals with the knowledge and ability to take control of their personal finances drives her career trajectory, too. Before she joined the wealthtech startup as chief commercial officer in January 2020, she was head of investment banking for UBS Singapore.
What prompted her to move from a traditional bank to a fintech company was the opportunity to play a game changing role in the finance landscape.
“At UBS, a lot of investment opportunities were being shown to very large family offices or sovereign wealth funds. Sometimes, someone might make a rhetorical comment like, ‘Oh, I’d also like to invest in this too’,” Choo recalls.
However, such high risk investments are typically not offered to individual investors. These include pre-IPOs, hedge funds or venture capital funds. They require large ticket buy-ins and can be illiquid.
Enter ADDX’s blockchain and smart contract technology. It tokenises and fractionalises multi-asset securities, making investments more accessible. These include private equity, hedge funds, bonds, and pre-IPO companies.
By using regulated security tokens, the platform reduces the minimum investment ticket size from US$1 million to US$10,000 or less. This extends access to a much larger segment of accredited individual and corporate investors.
There is perhaps a parallel to the revolution of REITS in the early 2000s. That was when retail investors were allowed to invest in this asset class. “This created a massive wealth management tool. For the past 20 years, REITS have become part of the portfolio of anyone who is in the market,” says Choo, who helped create the Parkway Life REIT while she was senior vice president, strategy and business development, for Parkway Holdings, the largest healthcare company in Asia.
Intrigued by the potential of ADDX’s technology and how it could potentially impact the financial landscape, she decided it was time to make the jump.
“ADDX solves three key issues for investors today that the current private banks do not offer — access to blue chip names in the private markets, sizing of tickets for a smaller investor and mechanisms for them to exit,” she says.
The last is especially important for investors, she adds, as they may have commitments such as their children’s overseas education to pay for in the future.
Today, the ADDX platform serves investors from 39 countries, spanning the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Americas (except the US), and has shareholders that include the Singapore Exchange (SGX), the Stock Exchange of Thailand and Temasek subsidiary Heliconia Capital.
Taking a diversified approach to investment
This passion for democratising wealth is deeply rooted in Choo’s psyche, stemming from formative experiences in her youth. During the 1980s financial crisis, she vividly recalls how her father, a remisier, lost his job when the firm he was working for shut down. Having seen the impact of two more financial crises in 1997 and 2007, the finance veteran has taken a diversified approach to investment.
“I am willing to take a longer term view and understand that one’s immediate reaction may not necessarily be the best reaction. You should not let emotion or panic drive your decision-making,“ she says. “My personal thinking is if you do not watch your portfolio every day, you have to trust that your portfolio is diversified and leave it there to grow.”
That said, she personally also gives herself leeway for alternative investments that are for “personal enjoyment”. “I like watches and art is very complex. I try to learn about the latter from friends who are interesting collectors. But my approach to these is ‘collection first, investment second’,” she says.
She is also interested in angel investing. For instance, if contacts launch businesses that have a potential to make an impact, she says.
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Recognising crypto assets for more to qualify for accredited investor status
At work, Choo, who was appointed CEO of ADDX in March, has shown guts in making bold moves. The private market exchange became the first financial institution in Singapore to recognise cryptocurrency assets for the purposes of onboarding accredited investors in June. This opens the way for more individuals to qualify for accredited investor status. Therefore, enabling participation in more sophisticated investment opportunities such as those available on the ADDX platform.
This is a natural next step in democratising private market investing, she says. “Cryptocurrencies are here to stay. They no longer exist only on the fringes of wealth and investment conversations. With a large minority of investors owning crypto, it is reasonable for these digital assets to be recognised as a part of one’s portfolio — not unlike any other assets that can be valued in the marketplace, such as real estate or equity,” she says. Appropriate risk management measures have been implemented to take into account the price volatility of crypto assets, she adds.
Plus, as the recent crypto turbulence has shown, this move will also allow crypto investors to balance out their portfolios by diversifying into regulated markets. This, Choo says, “tend to be more stable across different phases of market cycles.”
Powering the next revolution through talent and workplace culture
She takes a similarly broad-minded view towards how she assembles her team at ADDX. She often prefers talent who showcase the right go-getting attitude towards work.
“Our business is constantly growing, so it means that the people we hire cannot be very siloed in their thinking. We need someone who has hustle, has awareness about how the different departments function and interact, can communicate well, and also react quickly,” says Choo.
Grades, she says, are less of a concern. They are not necessarily an indicator of how successful a person will be in the startup.
“I think about where the next revolution is and how that can be part of Singapore’s legacy in terms of building either new business models or using technology to advance Singapore’s national agenda on capital markets.”Oi-Yee Choo, CEO, ADDX
Another hot topic issue she wishes to address about workplace culture is the debate around WFH (working from home) versus WFO (working from office). “I try to be in as much as possible because I found working from home a complete disaster. Because I was just stepping out of the room, I could not exit work” she recalls. “I find it so much easier to problem-solve with my team in the office.”
That said, as a working mum, she knows all too well the importance of flexibility and is happy to help facilitate this where possible. “To me, it is about accountability and responsibility and if people feel they can manage this balance, then I am not particularly hung up about it.”
At the end of the day, what is most important is keeping her eye on the big picture. She can continue playing a role in transforming the financial landscape and making it more accessible to more people.
Reflecting on her goal, she says, “I think about where the next revolution is and how that can be part of Singapore’s legacy in terms of building either new business models or using technology to advance Singapore’s national agenda on capital markets.”