Women In Tech: Angelina Kwan

21 mins read

In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2020, we had the honour to interview Angelina Kwan, who is a household name to not only the crypto and tech industry but also the women empowerment movements across the globe. 

Initially, we only asked a few questions so that we can share with our BitOrb community on social media. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly), Angelina replied to us with depth and witty humour that shined her personality. We decided to turn her response into a full interview article instead! Without a doubt, Angelina is fiercely passionate and humble from the way she speaks about herself and the community she deeply cares for.

Angelina Kwan Photographer: Edward Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

HOW DID YOUR CAREER JOURNEY BEGIN?

Wah… after 30+ years of working you are asking me how I started my career journey? That is a mini Novella.

I graduated from USC, became a CPA, obtained my MBA and moved to Hong Kong for a job in an investment bank. In my first weeks on the job, I received a request from the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) (the Hong Kong equivalent of the US SEC) for an urgent enforcement meeting.  I was told that ten of our floor traders had confessed to “rat trading” (i.e. frontrunning) where they executed their personal transactions first when they knew the company was going to execute a very large client transaction – in most cases profiting handsomely.  It was my first real interaction with financial market regulators and in 1994, a very new field in Asia called Compliance – which was ensuring that employees and management complied with the rules and regulations so as not run afoul of the law. 

My first “break” given to me at that job in an investment bank was by my then boss, David Roberts, who let me run my department, set up a compliance officers group and meet all the movers and shakers in Hong Kong. I credit him for giving me the opportunities to do things others would not do and from that I became a regulator, then a COO, and a CEO for both local and international organisations.

https://www.fccihk.com/blog/2018/03/french-chamber-celebrates-2018-international-womens-day-2nd-edition-heforshe-conference

WHAT IS THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?

I don’t really have [one] greatest achievement. I guess every day is an achievement, but for International Women’s Day, let’s use this one:

In 2011, I was asked to be a keynote speaker by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong for their Women’s Leadership Forum. It was my first time speaking in a public space in front of almost 500 men and women. On that stage, I found my “voice” to be an advocate for women in leadership roles and to inspire women to achieve the highest levels. From there, I was invited to join the board for The Women’s Foundation and later, to serve on the Women’s Commission of Hong Kong. Serving on The Women’s Foundation has opened my eyes to the real impact that can be made through the right types of advocates and encouraging men and women to stand up and be a “voice” for diversity and inclusion—having men highlight inequalities through “He for She” and getting women to be “She for She.”  

In 2018 I was awarded the Hong Kong Woman of Influence – Board Director category. There I addressed the Hong Kong Government Officials, the Business Community, and American Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong about the importance of getting women in the workforce and in Board of Director positions.

AS A FORMER REGULATOR, WHAT TOPICS ARE OFTEN UNDERCOVERED BY SPEAKERS AT BLOCKCHAIN AND CRYPTO EVENTS?

  1. The crypto industry is still filled with people who believe that all their clients are “degenerate gamblers” and not investors that will grow with exchanges and platforms. This also spills over to conferences where discussions are on the latest products and technology, but not enough on protecting investors. Whilst I have heard senior regulators speaking on the need for KYC, not dealing with sanctioned countries, buyer beware. However, what we have not heard enough about it what is needed to protect investors. There should be speakers – senior regulators bringing up requirements to protect investors and what to do if investors do lose money.
  2. Many of the systems of blockchain and crypto that are out there today are not up to standards set by international committees – mainly because these committees have not included crypto exchanges and blockchain into their purview. If we want crypto exchanges to be accepted by the mainstream, then these exchanges will need to understand the requirements of resiliency, contingency planning, insurance, internal controls etc. It is these topics that need to start being covered in conferences by speakers so that the industry can grow, mature and follow international best practices.
  3. Diversity in the blockchain, tech, crypto industry is not covered at all. It is a very male-dominated industry. The testosterone levels and the need for Lamborghinis are much worse than traditional finance where diversity is now a part of the landscape. In many of the conferences I have attended, all the panelists are male and it appears that no one has bothered to try to find female speakers and it also appears that there are no senior female leaders in the industry. So, one area that can be covered is to encourage diversity and getting more women into stem subjects, blockchain and crypto.
 

WHAT IS THE SCENE LIKE FOR WOMEN AT CRYPTO AND BLOCKCHAIN EVENTS AND WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO MOST WHEN YOU ATTEND THESE EVENTS?

It is pretty dismal for women at crypto and blockchain events. Women in leadership positions, especially in Financial Services and Financial Technology, still have a long way to go to achieve equality. Presently, women account for only 14.5 percent of blockchain startup team members, eight percent of blockchain advisors, and seven percent of blockchain executives. More than 91 percent of investors are men, leaving just 8.5 percent of female investors across roughly 2,100 platforms. 

The absence of female programmers, traders, and general staff is very apparent and since getting involved in the crypto/Fintech space, I have been committed to changing this. For true gender inclusivity to happen in any industry, women must speak up, speak out, work together, and spearhead campaigns that will result in real impact and change.  So, I look forward to encouraging other women to join the field and by speaking at these events, being a role model for women and for men to help women.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEXT TRANSFORMATION IN THE BLOCKCHAIN AND CRYPTO INDUSTRY?

The next transformation is already happening. You are seeing [a much] faster adoption of digital assets by investment banks (and their trading desks), financial institutions and central banks from Thailand to China to the US are already considering their own digital currency.  As for financial institutions and exchanges, they are considering how best to use the blockchain to upgrade their systems, consider launching new products and trading desks.

In the area of crypto, it is here to stay. Whilst volatile, even though the press say its not a haven, I think it is – more and more like gold. I think the [bitcoin] halving will have an effect on the price of bitcoin (e.g. the price will increase) but bitcoin is here to stay and there will only be more new products and altcoins – so exchanges, trading platforms have a real opportunity to grow.

https://twfhk.org/our-board-0

BEING A BOARD MEMBER OF THE WOMEN’S FOUNDATION HONG KONG, WHAT ARE THE COMMON ISSUES THAT YOUNG WOMEN ARE FACING?

  1. Discrimination and a gender pay gap – yes this is 2020, but women find it harder to either get into jobs, get promotions and on average can be paid anywhere between 20-30% lower pay then men in the same position. In HK that statistic women make on average 22% less than men. The only way this will be remedied is for the mandatory publication of statistics by companies by laws such as what has been mandated in the US and the UK.
  2. Sexual violence/harassment against young women – in the work place is alive and well in this time of #me-too. One in six women will experience sexual violence. And the worse thing is women do not want to report cases.
  3. Employers do not want to hire women that may have children or leave the work force. Female participation in the workforce is at 55%. Discrimination is alive and well in Asia.
  4. One in 6 women live below the poverty line.
 

Sobering statistics and that is why throughout the year, it is so important to keep the pedal to the metal and speak out when there is discrimination, men and women need to help women and speak out about these injustices. After all it is 2020!

https://twfhk.org/girls-go-tech-programme

OF ALL THE INITIATIVES CONDUCTED AT TWFHK, WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE AND WOULD LOVE TO SEE PRACTICED ACROSS THE GLOBE?

I would like all of the initiatives that TWFHK runs to be practiced across the globe, but in particular there are four areas I believe that will really help to improve the status of women and girls if they went global:

  1. Being out there to challenge the status quo. I know of no other institution that does what The Women’s Foundation does – to improve the status of women and girls by way of speaking out, working with governments to effect change, by working with businesses and institutions to make diversity and inclusion a reality not just a statistic. I only wish there were more organisations like TWF all over the globe to help push this agenda so that there will be true diversity.
  2. Financial literacy for underprivileged women – we run a programme to teach women who may not have had schooling or new immigrants about financial literacy, budgeting and how to help their family save and eventually get a job. As you are aware, if you empower a woman to help take care of the family the family will get out of poverty faster.
  3. Girls go tech – encouraging girls to study STEM subjects and changing the biases of “its just too hard for girls to go into STEM subjects”. Whilst we see programmes now in the US – especially Silicon Valley, you are not seeing the actual study of the biases which come from families, the girls themselves, their environment – and highlighting these biases so they can be changed. This is an initiative I would hope would proliferate more.
  4. Male Allies – whilst there is, He for She, the Male Allies Programme gets senior men in companies to commit to tangible actions to help promote diversity, change policies, help women succeed and mentor them. The He for She programme, whilst well meaning, has not taken off enough. You need to have men committing as they do in the Male Allies programme to effect change and be able to measure the changes.
 
Learn more about The Women’s Foundation at https://twfhk.org/

IS THERE A ROLE MODEL WHO YOU LOOK UP TO AND WHAT IMPORTANCE DO THEY PLAY IN YOUR PERSONAL OR CAREER GROWTH?

I would probably say my grandmother as well as my mother. My grandmother was an amazing woman who single-handedly brought up 5 children during world war II. She was the principal breadwinner for the family. She was supposed to go to Burma with a woman to start a new business there. However, the woman got sick and my grandmother nursed her back to health. The woman told her that she should not go to Burma as she would have sold my grandmother into slavery and prostitution. My grandmother went anyways and with the help of the Chinese and British Consulate, she opened a hair salon and became very successful doing the hair of the British Governor’s wife at the time – a sole woman, by herself opening a business in Burma!  She went on to send funds back to Hong Kong and was very successful in the HK property market. Her tenacity, hard work, and business acumen, drive, and lust for life made her a real success and even at the age of 80, she built a high-rise in Hong Kong from managing the plans to construction.

My mother equally took care of her siblings when grandmother was in Burma. My youngest aunt was sick and at one point dying and my grandparents were going to leave her to die. My mother said “NO” and carried her through China, with the Japanese Army hot on their heels. My mother who was a few years older than her siblings but she cared for them throughout the WWII. This tie would never waiver and my mother was just as tenacious, worked hard and had such a lust for life. She went onto open her own successful jewelry business.  I have learned to never give up and push myself to do things no one else would try or want to do and be successful at it. I also have a lust for life and want to experience everything! These two persons in my life have made me who I am today.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO SHARE WITH EVERYONE FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY?

The message on International Women’s Day has to be shared with both women and men.

For our next generation of leaders, I encourage all men and women to cultivate your own “voice” by taking action, even in your immediate surroundings:

  • Challenge the status quo. Do not limit yourself by preconceptions of what you should be doing. Instead, take a look at your unique attributes and see where you can carve a niche for yourself.
  • Look for opportunities to speak out. While it may be scary at first, practicing speaking up, voicing your opinion, and standing up for diversity in different situations will be beneficial in the long run to you and your career, as well as others. Be a He for She and a She for She!!
  • Support other women in their careers. Discuss the challenges faced in the workplace, empathize, and advise each other on how to meet these challenges. Make connections to help create synergies and more opportunities.  
  • Set an example “Tone at the Top.” For those who are already in senior positions, look for ways to make your vision tangible, speak out and establish corporate policies that stem the leaky pipeline of women talent

by

Elina Nasution

6th March 2020

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