Over the last three decades, the financial services industry has witnessed a sea change. The industry doesn’t look like anything it did in the 1990s. The evolution is continuing rapidly. As the financial services industry becomes more digitised, brokers and traders must adapt quickly to respond to the changing nature of work as well as consumer preferences. We speak with Cecilia Chan, head of liquidity, Asia at Broctagon Fintech Group, about her experience in this swiftly-changing industry, the future of digital assets and trading.
Unravel: Having witnessed the transition—from floor trading to digital trading—what are your thoughts on the digitalisation of the industry?
Cecilia Chan: When I first walked on the trading floor in the late 1990’s, the industry was still reliant on paperwork and manual keying in of data. Since 2000, trading technology has been evolving and has transformed the dynamics of the trading floor. It was evident then how technology was a democratising force in trading rooms across the world. Twenty years later, this is the age of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI). We have come to a time where AI is being used to play the role of human financial traders, with minimal manual intervention required. With next generation trading tools, traders can now focus on value added tasks. Digital assets and sophisticated trading solutions that offer deep insights to investors have dominated the industry and are causing disruptions in the traditional space.
Unravel: Digital assets are drawing a lot of attention from traditional financial institutions. What are the key trends in this space?
Ms Chan: Digital assets are already disrupting traditional financial services, and they have a key role to play in the future growth of the sector. However, financial market participants and regulators of financial services will need to carefully consider digital assets in their strategic objectives before mainstream adoption. Going forward, digital asset technology will play a significant role in converting inaccessible assets into accessible instruments by digitising them. Another key trend we have seen is how COVID-19 accelerated the movements within the financial industry, in digitising certain of their products and assets on blockchain platforms.
Unravel: In the Asia-Pacific region, how are regulators keeping pace with innovations in the cryptocurrency space?
Ms Chan: We are seeing regulators catch up to the digital asset boom. Across Asia-Pacific, the policies on digital assets are still fragmented because of which it has been quite a challenge to keep pace with market developments. Having said that, Asia-Pacific, with its fintech capability, friendly regulatory policies and deep pockets of liquidity, is well positioned to become a global leader in this space. The entry of traditional banks into this space, along with the emergence of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) have given a new credibility to this asset class. Specifically, in Southeast Asia, Singapore is enabling the crypto boom in the region by offering a supportive environment.
Unravel: With more interest and faith being generated by users around decentralisation of finance, how can a fine balance be found by regulators?
Ms Chan: Decentralised finance (DeFi) applications are not always as decentralised as they appear, and miscreants can mimic the language of protocols and still maintain centralised control over the offerings, and even act against the best interests of the users. These applications are largely unregulated, which presents major concerns about money laundering and criminal activity. Which is why regulation is needed. One key question that regulators are looking to answer is whether the current regulatory scope is sufficient to regulate this new growth and have DeFi operators maintain standards that protect investors’ interests? This is certainly an opportunity for regulated financial institutions to take a leading role to facilitate access and onboarding of new users into the evolving decentralised financial system.
Unravel: Do you expect more partnerships and collaborations between traditional financial services companies and fintechs going forward? Please cite examples from the region and what some are doing right.
Ms Chan: Banks and fintech partnerships will be partly defining the next frontier of financial services. These collaborations are being mainly driven by the rise of consumer adoption of digital banking and changes in regulations. What has been a game changer is that fintech banking companies are now starting to obtain full banking licenses.
Incumbent banks across Asia are partnering with fintech startups to promote digital payments. For example, in Thailand, Kasikornbank and Grab have teamed up to launch GrabPay by KBank, a mobile wallet. Similarly, BRI (Bank Rakyat Indonesia) has partnered with Alipay to expand point-of-sale acceptance of mobile payments for Chinese tourists visiting Indonesia.
Unravel: How important is the role of technology in shaping the success of a broker? What are the latest technologies brokers can use to grow their business?
Ms Chan: In the future, we will see more advanced data analytics, machine learning, data science and visualisation techniques at play. Driven by hyper competition and sophisticated machines, the next generation of brokers will soon be working in the digital trade rooms of the future. Brokers must adopt the latest technologies that simplify processes and help them save time and money.
Unravel: Tell us about your experience on navigating a male-dominated financial industry and finding success.
Ms Chan: I have been fortunate enough to share the table with supportive colleagues—both men and women—in my career. But that is not the case with everybody. For some, the prospect of entering a niche space in financial services can be unimaginable. Times are changing though.
What has always kept me going is an insane belief in my abilities and openness to new challenges thrown my way. I think that generally women are more intuitive which means they can read emotional cues more easily than men most times, which I have found helpful in my career. So, trust your gut. Don’t give in.
Unravel: What advice do you have for women aspiring careers in financial services, and the prospects that futures and trading offers?
Ms Chan: My first advice would be to ask you to think for yourself. It is okay not to follow the well beaten path and plan your own route without giving into pressure. Second, irrespective of the gender, read and learn from people around you. Be like a sponge and develop softer skills. One of the books that has really helped me grow as a communicator is ‘Surrounded by Idiots’. It gave me a new perspective on how I should understand people/personalities around me better and interact with them. You also need to keep yourself up-to-date with disruptive technologies and new tools in financial services.