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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Jessica Chen Riolfi, Head of Asia at TransferWise

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Jessica Chen Riolfi, the Head of Asia at TransferWise, an alternative to banks and brokers that allows people to transfer money across borders at a lower cost than ever before. She is responsible for 15 countries in Asia, including India and China, doubling the volume every six months.

What makes you do what you do? 
Growing up in a Chinese-American household, my family always had one eye to the East. As a result, I have seen firsthand the types of change brought about by globalization. Traveling to Shanghai for the first time in the early 1990s, I recall the unpaved roads and lack of infrastructure. Returning just ten years later, I barely recognized the city: construction everywhere, a general increase in standard of living, and my aunt’s pride as she showed us her newly constructed house.

Since that time, the power of technology and business to make meaningful change has been a persistent interest of mine. I’ve spent my career building global products and currently work to accelerate TransferWise’s mission of money without borders throughout Asia. My enduring belief is that when there’s a new invention or new product in one part of the world that can meaningfully improve people’s lives, then it’s worth accelerating that access to people all over the world.

How did you rise in the industry you are in? 
I took the initiative. In my career, I’ve worked for progressively smaller companies. As you can imagine, the smaller/the younger the company, the less structure there is. That means there’s more opportunity to take initiative and more responsibility. I remembered joining TransferWise about three years ago… I felt like a kid in a candy shop. So many things to work on and not enough people to work on them! In such an environment, it’s about raising your hand and just doing it. Your learning curve and your level of responsibility is accelerated. Obviously there’s risk, but I would encourage others to take as much risk as they’re comfortable with. You won’t learn and you won’t grow if you’re too comfortable.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
When taking this role, it didn’t even cross my mind that I was different from the typical applicant. It was a challenging opportunity that was a good match for my skill set; there’s no reason on this planet why I wouldn’t go for it and push ahead.

Not being part of the usual leadership demographic is what motivates me even more. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been inspired by the strong women who came before me. Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman in the US Supreme Court, more recently Sheryl Sandberg as the COO of Facebook, and pushing the cause of women in the tech industry.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her? 
I have lots of mentors – people I’ve met throughout my career, former managers and teammates. Different people define mentorship differently. For me, a mentor is someone I look up to professionally and who I’d feel comfortable going to for advice. From that perspective, my network of mentors is as wide as my entire professional network. I’ve always found incredible support when I’ve asked mentors for help or advice… it’s just a matter of having the courage to reach out in the first place.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 
That’s an incredibly tough question – it’s something I will likely spend a lifetime continually improving. There’s one main principle that I stick to, however, both on the hiring side and the supporting side. I try to hire people who are self-motivated, who are excited by the opportunity to learn and grow in the role. Then, following on, is the understanding that those people most likely won’t be on your team or your company forever, therefore your role is to help them get to where they want to go. If a teammate wants to eventually start her own start-up, how do you give her the opportunities to be entrepreneurial in the current role? It’s about, to the best of my ability, building their confidence and giving them the skills and honest feedback they need to grow.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why? 
I very consciously support changing the professional workplace so that we remove hidden biases and ensure more equal footing for those of us in it. One thing I’m super proud of is that in TransferWise Singapore, we give new parents 16 weeks of parental leave, no matter if you’re a new mom or a new dad. So many companies give unequal maternity and paternity leave, or even none at all, and it constrains parents into family structures that may not work for them. There are so many more adjustments we can and should make… it’s how we’ll get the best out of our workforce of all types.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
What I’ve seen differentiate really great leaders is vision. It’s a personal conviction that rallies other smart people. I joined TransferWise in part because of Kristo and Taavet, our founders – they passionately believe in a world of money without borders. It’s incredibly powerful because (1) the world would be a better place if this vision came to be, and (2) the vision is actually possible. People can tell that it’s genuine.

Advice for others?
I’ve now worked at different companies and in different roles and have the realization that, try as I might to force this thing, my career, in a certain direction… whether it’s to get a specific title, or to get a specific role, it doesn’t always work exactly the way you plan. Both opportunities and roadblocks can’t be fully anticipated and planned for. Therefore, my advice is to focus on what you can control — work at the intersection of what you’re good at and what you like. If you keep pushing in that direction, and if you always stick to your values, then you’ll end up in a good place.

 

If you’d like to get in touch with Jessica Chen Riolfi, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicachenriolfi/

Callum Connects

Jason Feng, Co-Founder of Pillpresso

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Mr. Jason Feng is re-engineering the healthcare industry.

What’s your story?
I am an engineer at heart. I enjoy the process of problem solving and have been actively developing innovative solutions to existing problems. Me and my co-founder settled on the problem of poor medication adherence among the elderly. This was a problem which struck a chord with us because we all have loved ones who have to take multiple medications on a daily basis. The complex medication regimen, coupled with declining cognitive abilities of the elderly tend to exacerbate the lack of medication adherence, which may lead to disease relapse and hospital readmissions, ultimately increasing the burden to caregivers and the society.

What excites you most about your industry?
The problem of medication adherence is not a new one in the healthcare industry. In fact, lack of medication adherence is a well-researched problem in many countries. Solutions which have been developed to address this problem face three major issues:

  • Entrenched mindset within the healthcare system, many of which are used to and unwilling to change from the legacy systems which were implemented decades ago.
  • Complex nuances in healthcare delivery across different countries, making it hard to “copy” and “paste” solutions which have worked well in other areas.
  • Because poor medication adherence is multifactorial, and many solutions focus solely on a few aspects, and do not employ a holistic approach.

Nevertheless, entering this industry at this time excites me because we are in the midst of a global shift in healthcare models; one where the industry is moving away from a service-based model, towards a more value-based model. This shift means that traditional players such as insurance companies and pharmaceuticals are under increasing pressure from patients and payers to demonstrate the value of their products under real-world use. Medication adherence data is one crucial missing link in this puzzle to deliver better care to patients. Being able to build a business around these incumbents and pioneer a new way of care is something which I look forward to.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am a Singaporean. Most of my experiences throughout my life have been in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have not worked in other Asian countries outside of Singapore, so I can’t comment on other Asian countries too much. Singapore has a relatively low barrier for starting a business, and all business rules and regulations are clear and transparent. The startup ecosystem is also rather comprehensive and easily accessible. Being a small country, Singapore has a very limited market for products and services. However, due to its size and efficiency, it serves as an excellent test bed for new ideas. Being a travel hub, travelling to other Asian countries is cheap and easy.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Fail fast, fail often. The greatest lessons are never learnt through success.

Who inspires you?
Elon Musk

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Successful launch of Falcon Heavy and the recovery of the 2 side cores. The way the 2 cores landed was like something you’d only see in CGI. Very well calculated.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Applied for NOC (NUS Overseas College)

How do you unwind?
Go rock climbing.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Nepal. I’m an outdoors guy. Being able to trek around the Himalayas is probably the best form of relaxation for me.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Creative confidence, by the Kelly Brothers

Shameless plug for your business:
Pillpresso is an award-winning health-tech startup that aims to improve medication adherence. We’re developing a medication management system that empowers seniors to manage their medicines independently and deliver proactive healthcare in the community through technology. Comprising individuals with complementary skills across business, engineering and medicine, our team is driven by a desire to improve healthcare and the human condition.

Grand Prize Winner of the 2017 Tech Factor Challenge
https://www.opengovasia.com/articles/8072-top-4-grand-prize-winners-for-3rd-edition-of-ageing-in-place-tech-challenge-announced-in-singapore

Grand Prize Winner of the 2015 Modern Aging
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/3-teams-receive-s-125-000-of-seed-funding-for-elderly-friendly-i-8246318

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Will Financial Liberalisation Trigger a Crisis in China?

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been liberalizing its financial system for nearly 4 decades. While it now has a comprehensive financial system with a large number of financial institutions and large financial assets, its financial policies are still highly repressive. These repressive financial policies are now a major hindrance to the PRC’s economic growth.

The PRC is at the beginning of a new wave of financial liberalization that is necessary for supporting the country’s strong economic growth. The country’s leaders have already unveiled a comprehensive program of financial reform, which includes 11 specific reform measures in three broad areas: creating a level-playing field (such as allowing private banks and developing inclusive finance), freeing the market mechanism (such as reforming interest rate and exchange rate regimes and achieving capital account convertibility), and improving regulation.

But could financial liberalization lead to a major financial crisis in the PRC? What would be the consequences for financial stability as the PRC moves to further liberalize its financial system? If the PRC repeats the painful experiences of Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand, then it might not be able to achieve its original goal of overcoming the middle-income trap.

International experiences of financial liberalization, especially those of middle-income economies, should offer important lessons for the PRC. In our new research, based on cross-country data analysis, we find that financial liberalization, in general, reduces, not increases, financial instability. This powerful conclusion is valid whether financial instability is measured by crisis occurrence or by fragility indicators, such as impaired loans and net charge-offs. The only exception is that financial liberalization does not appear to significantly lower the probability of systemic banking crises, although it does lower the risk indicators for banks. These results have higher statistical significance and are greater in magnitude for the middle-income group than for the entire sample.

The insignificant impact on banking crises, however, should be interpreted with caution. One of the possible explanations is that under the repressed financial regime, the government supports banks with an implicit or explicit blanket guarantee. This reduces the probability of an explicit banking crisis, although the banking risks may be even greater because of the moral hazard problem. In fact, government protection of banks could also increase the probability of a sovereign debt crisis or even a currency crisis before financial liberalization.

If financial liberalization significantly reduces the likelihood of financial crises, especially in middle-income economies, then why did some middle-income economies experience financial crises following liberalization? We further investigate whether the pace of liberalization, the supervisory structure, and the institutional environment matter for outcomes of financial liberalization.

We obtain three main findings. First, an excessively rapid pace of financial liberalization may increase financial risks. The net impact on financial instability depends on the relative importance of the “liberalization effect” and the “pace effect.” In essence, what the “pace effect” captures could simply be the prerequisite conditions and reform sequencing that are well discussed in the literature. Second, the quality of institutions, such as investor protection and law and order, also matter. International experiences indicate that investor protection can significantly reduce the probability of financial crises. Third, the central bank’s participation in financial regulation is helpful for reducing financial risks during financial liberalization. This is probably because central banks always play central roles in financial liberalization, especially in the liberalization of interest rates, exchange rates, and the capital account. If a central bank is responsible for financial regulation, its liberalization policies might be more cautious and prudent.

Our research findings offer important policy implications for the PRC. (1) Further financial liberalization is necessary not only for sustaining strong economic growth but also for containing or reducing financial risks. (2) Gradual reform may still work better than the “big bang” approach, and sequencing is very important for avoiding the painful financial volatilities that many other middle-income countries have seen. (3) The government should also focus more on improving the quality of other institutions, especially market discipline, to contain financial risks. (4) It is better for the central bank to participate in financial regulation. The new regulatory system should focus exclusively on financial stability and shift from regulating institutions toward regulating functions. It should also become relatively independent to increase accountability.

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About the Author 

This submitted article was written by  and  of Asia Pathways, the blog of The Asian Development Bank Institute was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, to help build capacity, skills, and knowledge related to poverty reduction and other areas that support long-term growth and competitiveness in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

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