Finance markets

Focus on women in finance

With Aya Asanuma, Sales Representative, Japan, and Xia Yu, Reseller Sales Representative, Hong Kong, MarketAxess

Briefly discuss your background and education. How did you decide to get into financial services?

AYA ASANUMA: At the age of 12, I was enrolled in a very traditional girls’ school in Tokyo where we were taught good manners and etiquette. But our family structure was hardly traditional, my mother being a business owner and my father spending most of his time pursuing his passion for fishing and cooking. In many ways, we were more resistant to social pressure than most traditional Japanese families, and it gave me the confidence to pursue a career in a male-dominated industry.

Aya Asunama, MarketAxess

I was studying to be an architect when I took a part-time job at an investment bank in Tokyo. This experience gave me the opportunity to be exposed to such a dynamic environment and I found myself enjoying it, so when they offered me a full time job, I accepted it. Looking back, this part-time position has probably helped me prepare myself mentally and get excited about the challenges of my full-time career in financial services.

XIA YU: I studied English at a foreign language university in Shanghai, where I grew up. I’m the kind of person who is constantly looking for new challenges, so after graduation I applied to continue my studies in Germany, and my parents were very supportive. At that time, I didn’t speak a word of German, which made everyday life a bit difficult. So I took a crash course full time within four months of going to college there.

After university, I started my career with Commerzbank, the second largest bank in Germany. At one point, I had the chance to support a derivatives sales team, which really got me excited about the trading floor. The fast pace and rapid production of results really aligned with my personality, and this experience confirmed my desire to develop a career in finance.

Aya, what has been your experience as a successful woman in finance, working in the historically male dominated culture of Japan?

AYA: Over the past two decades, I have personally witnessed many positive changes in gender equality in Japan. In the past, women often could not apply for the same jobs as men, even if they had the same university education or the same qualifications. At work, we were not allowed to outdo our male peers in order to maintain positive working relationships.

But today, I meet and rub shoulders with many more women in finance, and more of us are leading projects or leading teams. Our performance and results are assessed more fairly, and there is healthier competition between male and female colleagues. We still see few women in leadership positions, but as a society Japan has come a long way. I am very excited about what has been incremental change so far.

Xia, what has been your experience as a successful woman in finance who has worked on three continents?

Xia Yu, MarketAxess

XIA: I worked in Germany for about eight years before moving with my family to Singapore, where we lived for a year and a half. We then moved to New York, then South Korea and Hong Kong. These were all stimulating but very rewarding experiences as I discovered different lifestyles and working cultures within financial services in a number of countries. It has helped me a lot in my sales roles over the years as I have had to deal with clients from different backgrounds.

In Asia, for example, spending time building relationships is essential, and it can take a bit of time to see results. Whereas in the West, I can normally be straightforward about what I mean from the first few meetings, and clients are more direct.

What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?

AYA: Adjusting to new jobs and new organizations has always been a challenge, albeit mostly in a positive way. I have worked as a sales representative in Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and have found that even within the same country, the differences in culture and management style between organizations can be huge. When you’re new to a place, it’s up to you to learn and respect those differences. For example, when I moved to Hong Kong from Singapore, where I had lived for over 10 years, it took a while for me to adjust to the rapidly changing environment and high culture. performance of the city’s financial sector. In Hong Kong, everyone seems to hire coaches for everything, in order to maximize results from the little time they have. While in Singapore, the style is more casual and places more emphasis on the quality of life. In Japan, there is an interesting mix between the two.

What are the unique challenges / opportunities as a woman in finance in Asia?

XIA: In Asia, there are even fewer women in senior positions in finance. One of the reasons for this is that many of us choose to quit or take a break after having children. In the United States and Europe, flexibility is greater, and many companies allow men to take extended paternity leave to care for their young children. The absence of such policies is one of the main obstacles for women in Asia.

At the same time, I see a lot of opportunities opening up for women, especially in financial technology. MarketAxess, for example, supports the work-life balance of its Asian team by offering flexible hours, paternity leave and the ability to work from different locations.

There are many exciting companies out there, including start-ups, and labor markets in Asia also appear to be more liquid. So I understand why these new companies would want to create a more flexible working environment for women.

Is it easier for a young woman to start a business today than it was 20 years ago?

AYA: Absolutely, and it’s not just for young women! I know that in Asia some global financial services companies are now offering internships for women who wish to return to the industry after taking a few years off work to look after their families. In Japan, too, childcare services are very affordable, giving many families the option of employing both parents.

In my case, I took a two-year hiatus from joining MarketAxess, mostly for personal reasons, and was able to return to work without a problem. These options will certainly be useful to young women in finance when making decisions about their future.

What is the “secret to your success”, that is, how do you maintain a level of excellence day in and day out?

XIA: Networking is one of those secrets. I’ve always thought that you should get to know as many people as possible in the industry. It’s fun to meet new people and understand who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish. When you do this consistently, you’ll end up building a network of support that you can count on, both personally and professionally.

AYA: For me, it’s about setting clear goals. Not just a big goal, but rather breaking it down into small goals that you can achieve on a daily basis. Once you get into the habit of creating and accomplishing these small goals, everything will fall into place for you to reach the big goal.

Another important thing is knowing when and how to change your communication style to suit different organizational cultures. For example, in Japan we are used to speaking in a very gentle manner and making humble and respectful comments in a business setting. When I joined a global company, I had to use more assertive communication skills to get my point across. I even had to take a course to develop this specific skill!

Xia, what would you advise a young woman who has just entered the financial services industry, who may aspire to be a citizen of the world like you are?

XIA: Have confidence in yourself. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. The new environment for your next job will always be different. A lot of people tend to get too comfortable in a job where they can keep doing the same thing over and over again.

I have moved to many different countries and held different jobs, and each time it was a different eye-opening experience. It’s always a good feeling when you realize that your skills aren’t limited to just one small area.

Focus on women in finance first published in the third quarter issue of GlobalTrading.