“Asian fintech is a man’s world. But I’m now trying to change that”

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Anna Vanessa Haotanto set her sights on a finance career even earlier that most aspiring bankers do. And one of her main motivations for joining the sector was also different from the norm: she wanted to earn enough money to buy her family a property.

“During the Asian Financial Crisis my parents’ business struggled and they made some financial mistakes,” says Haotanto, a former UOB banker who now runs The New Savvy, a Singapore fintech firm targeting female investors.

“So when I was at school I was determined to get out of the cycle of living pay cheque to pay cheque. I even started reading Warren Buffett as a teenager,” she adds.

Haotanto decided to study finance instead of law at Singapore Management University. “And the more I learnt, the more I loved it. I would even sit in on some finance classes that I wasn’t getting a credit for, just because I was interested in the topic.”

At university it soon became clear to Haotanto that she didn’t want to work in operations. “I wanted to be in the front-office. I’d become fascinated with how to generate greater rates of return.”

After graduating in 2008 Haotanto received offers from three banks, but instead joined BMI Research as an Asia Pacific account manager. “I was only 24 and I already had a regional role involving lots of travelling and meeting senior executives,” she says.

Haotanto joined UOB in 2010 as a client advisor in wealth management, dealing with offshore clients – from Indonesia and Malaysia to Europe. “I had no bank-sales experience and was thrown into the deep end. I often worked from 8am to 11pm and did a lot of cold calls. But I developed sales, product and relationship management skills.”

The UOB job also helped Haotanto achieve the objective she’d set at university: purchase a property for her family. “With that goal in mind, I became one of the top client advisors at the bank and I saved enough to buy one before I was 30.”

She then turned her attention to what she perceived as a wider problem in Singapore: a shortage of accessible financial advice to meet the needs of women. “There are women’s magazines – which have hardly any financial content – and at the other extreme there’s a site like Bloomberg, which is very technical.”

Haotanto decided to do something about this problem when she was in between jobs in 2015. Rather than return to banking, she set up fintech company The New Savvy, which provides content to help women make better informed investment decisions.

“Women in Singapore are earning more money, but most of them don’t invest it – they put it in the bank,” she adds. “And financial services is also a male-dominated industry.”

The New Savvy now has about 30,000 subscribers and five full-time staff. But it would be “premature” for the firm to start managing people’s money, says Haotanto. “Instead of investing in robo-advisory technology, we want to focus first on educating female consumers and building our brand.”

“The main challenge for me personally over the past two years has been learning SEO, and digital and content marketing as I had no prior knowledge,” she adds. “In a fintech start-up, every day is a struggle because there are no limits on what you can do – you don’t have a tight job description like at a bank.”

Haotanto now wants to help more female entrepreneurs enter the local fintech sector.

She’s the head of the women in fintech group at the Singapore FinTech Association, a non-profit organisation that encourages industry collaboration. “We have a clear objective of increasing the visibility of women in fintech, whether they’re entrepreneurs, or work for banks or regulators.”

But Haotanto admits that there’s a lot of work to be done. “I grew up in an environment where not many women got involved in technology. And even today, there are only three women in a list of the top-30 influencers in Singapore fintech. That makes me upset.”

Image credit: The New Savvy

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