“Life is made of choices”
What a stupid phrase you would probably tell me. Definitively, you must have heard it a hundred times from your parents or movies. It might not be the best way to start my first article with that sentence but I think that behind this boring expression there is a tangible reality: choices define you. You are responsible for what you are doing. From the moment you decide to do something or not, you make choices.
Choices are defined by fours parameters:
- What choice?
It’s not an easy task to know all parameters from the beginning and that might explains why it’s so complicated to make choices. How many times have you heard “Oh if I knew that… I would have done things differently!” ? It’s a sad reality dear friend: time travel doesn’t exist, the only option you have is to make your choices in full knowledge of the consequences related to these.
I. Why ?
My (short) story with finance began during my third year of studies in Business School. At that time, I barely knew what the word “finance” meant. I had a real interest in mathematics and economics which motivated me to explore this field, but my knowledge on the subject was very limited and was only based on what I learnt at school.
Choice 1 : “I want to work in Finance!”
Without the slightest hesitation, I dove headfirst into this new world. Once I completed my bachelor’s degree, I managed to integrate the financial master’s degree of my school. I was really excited about that specialty, and I was eager to learn more about finance that was truly mysterious to me at that point. I wanted to be part of this new world and I was ready for that. To give a short description of the context, I came from a hard working family. The philosophy was: if you want something you work hard until you get it. Complaining is a waste of time. To me, specializing myself into finance was a chance to prove to myself that I could do it, despite the competitive environment. If you ask me where I got all that energy to put myself into that direction at that time, honestly, I really have no idea. Why was I attracted by finance? For prestige? To make money? To learn more about economics and mathematics? I wish I had asked myself at that time. I choose finance without knowing why and that was a mistake. The funny thing is that even today some of my close friends who are still working in finance can’t answer to this simple question. They don’t believe in what they are doing and look for reasons not to take action.
Once oriented in that direction, I found my first internship in a French bank in Paris. No matter what we say, the first day I arrived into the trading room, I was excited like never before. It seemed so impressive to me, hundreds and hundreds of computers lined up, screens everywhere with images changing every seconds, sudden movements, hight concentration: a sort of effervescence mixed with that nervous climate… I was really nervous and stressed at the same time but I knew something exciting would begin.
To the question “how did I find this internship? “, the answer is quite simple: you need to be prepared. The level of competition in finance is higher than ever before. You can train a lot and get nothing at the end, it’s rude but that’s the rule. Nowadays students in first year of studies at the university get prepared for interviews expecting to get into one of the bulge bracket years after. When you finally manage to enter in the financial world, you start with a spring internship, then continue with a summer internship and finally finish with the Holy Grail: a Graduate Program. Only after that whole process you can get a job! If you see some interns between 26–30 years old in banks, don’t be afraid, it’s normal.
When I started, I joined the sales trading team of the bank I was working in. My first few weeks were very intense, everything was so fast. When a team member asked me to do something, I had to do it as fast as possible. If I didn’t know the solution, I had to be creative and find one anyway. I spent the major part of my time listening, learning and taking notes. My outstanding motivation brought me to get the first level of CFA the same year (once more, I have no idea of how I got the motivation to work for that, I’ve never tried the second level since then). For some reasons, I was convinced that I found my vocation: “I want to be like them, I want to be a sales trader!” (I know, I was a bit naïve…). My internship lasted six months, and after that I was ready to start a new one into a new bank. Time to learn more!
II. When ?
After my first six months I felt confident and I was ready to start a new experience. I went through few interviews and then joined a sales flow team in a bank. A flow sales team is responsible for buying or selling liquids products, which can be stocks, derivatives, ETF…
Transactions for those products need to be fast: from the moment you receive a request and the time you send a price, there should be less than a few minutes. It can be stressful sometimes but it’s good exercise. You learn how to be focused and efficient on what you are doing. As it was new for me, it’s true that I had some difficult moments. Under stress, even the simplest task can be a challenge! Looking back now, I’m convinced that banks are a great institution to learn about yourself.
This period coincided with a growing frustration. For some reasons, I was progressively losing motivation for my job. “Is it too intense for me? Do I really like what I am doing? Is finance fine for me?” There were so many questions running in my mind while I was working at the office… I tried to ignore those thoughts but it was a wrong move. It can sound naïve, but lying to yourself is the worst thing you can do. It took me one whole year before raising these questions. I should have taken some time way before to ask myself these questions. As the time for those questions could not be delayed anymore, I was constantly preoccupied with all that, it was inevitable. I needed to know if working in finance really had sense to me and if that was the case what I wanted to achieve there. Many young students in Finance give heart and soul to get their dreamed job without taking time to think if it’s a right choice for them.
One of these questions was always in my mind “do I bring enough add value to my work? If I quit my job tomorrow, can someone replace me? ” The truth is that I didn’t feel special in what I was doing. So I started to feel less and less useful in my work. I wanted to have my own projects, to innovate, to build something from scratch!
Choice 2 : “I want to leave the bank industry !”
This time I knew why but not when. My current internship was almost done and I had to find a new one quickly in order to validate my gap year. I was running out of time and totally lost. On one hand the idea of leaving the bank industry scared me, but on the other hand I didn’t know if it was the right way for me. What was I supposed to do? After a year spending my time reading and learning finance, I didn’t find the time to get interested into something else. By the way, a lot of 30–35 years mid-career employees are facing the same issue in banks. After ten years selling financial products, it’s very common to have some interrogations and thinking about running a different business. Finally I decided to move into a new sale trader team in a different bank. It might seem contradictory regarding what I just said, but I wanted to clarify the subject once for all. Last chance. Despite an amazing team and great moments, this last six month confirmed my concerns. It was time for me to move on from the financial world. A fresh start into the unknown!
III. How ?
Finally after five years of studies I got graduated. It was such a strange feeling: I was happy to close this chapter in my life but at the same time I was completely lost. After the three experiences I had in banks, I had no idea about where I should go and honestly I was pretty exhausted. Finance requires having both good mental and physicals conditions, because it sucks all your energy. That led me to put aside physical activity during all the time I was working in finance, I was not in real good shape. Despite this, I was still determined to figure out what to do next.
So I started to read a lot, to meet people, to see if anyone was in the same situation to get some advices. But I couldn’t find any answer. It really was a stressful situation. I had no idea about what I should do next. I realized that I didn’t know myself very well in fact. What do I like? What am I passionate about? I didn’t have any clear answer. After two years learning finance during which I didn’t got the time to think about me, I didn’t really know myself nor what I wanted to do with my life. I know it’s quite sad.
At the same time, during my last year in Business School, I received a great lesson on venture capital and entrepreneurship that inspired me a lot. The teacher exposed his vision about the startup ecosystem and how technology would change our daily life. It was amazing to learn about startups, the process of development of a concept up to its concrete achievement, the strategies, etc. I really enjoyed meeting successful people which were not necessarily coming from big banks or consulting companies. Their determination seduced me. The more I was getting interested about entrepreneurship, the more I found back my motivation. Step by step my energy came back and I found a new goal, a new purpose: I was determined to get a foothold in the startups ecosystem.
Choice 3 : “I want to work in a Startup !”
To avoid doing the same mistakes as before, I took time to understand when and why I wanted to work in entrepreneurship. The remaining question was how? : How can I manage to enter into this entrepreneur community? How can I get a job there?. I wasn’t super confident regarding my skills. Of course I learned a lot in banks but I didn’t have any real experience in managing projects. Pretty soon I had my first interviews to work in startups, and I was surprised to see that in this sector people were not judging me for what I did before, but for what I could achieve in their companies.
A few weeks later, I decided to use my free time to visit my family in Hong Kong. I was seduced by the city: the dynamism and the atmosphere were incredible there! It felt good to go far away from my country. Everything was different there, and I thought everything was possible in this crazy city. So I started to learn about the local startup community, and tried to find ways to connect with as many entrepreneurs as possible: I attended to meetings and conferences dealing with the topic, I met some people working in startups, etc. The population in Hong Kong is quite international, and there are a lot of fresh new startups seeking for an international development. Many founders have a global mindset, with the experience and connections of other countries and ecosystems. During one of the meetings I attended to, I was offered to apply for one of the top fintech startup in Hong Kong: Compare Global Group. It was a unique opportunity for me, I was super excited! This opportunity became concrete, and I finally got a job in this company. In only two months I came from nothing to a job in Hong Kong.
Today it’s been almost 5 years I am working in different fintech and startups as a product owner. Moving into a Fintech in HK was one of the riskiest choice I ever made but at the same time it was the most rewarding one! I am proud to be here where I am today and to contribute to major projects for tech companies.
We never know what’s going to be next, what the future holds for us. The important thing to remember is to take time to choose the right way. It might seem in contradiction with our present world that runs faster everyday where society asks us to find our orientation at a very young age. The best is probably to try to match to its own rhythm instead of trying to adapt to the society constraints, and to take enough time to know ourselves and what inspires us.