She earned her stripes on 'brutal' trading floor

At the start of her work life, Ms Chen was a "tough cookie" who survived the high-pressure environment of the trading floor.
At the start of her work life, Ms Chen was a "tough cookie" who survived the high-pressure environment of the trading floor.PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Amanda Chen is now deputy head of wealth management at an investment bank

Finance executive Amanda Chen earned her stripes on the trading floor, a brutal battlefield where she saw others break down in tears.

However, her tenacity in finance put her in good stead and she has found her niche in private banking at Asian investment bank Nomura as deputy head of wealth management for Asia, excluding Japan.

"The training on the trading floor was very rigorous, and it toughens you up. After all, it's a very male-dominated industry, especially in trading and global markets," Ms Chen, 44, tells The Straits Times.

"I remember some of the female colleagues going into a room to cry, because the traders got really angry and would scream at them."

Looking back, she reckons she was a "tough cookie" as she kept the tears at bay, but believes the high-pressure environment would have got to anyone.

She recalls: "I don't know if it's still the case now, but in the past there would be more swearing, the traders would insist on things being done really fast."

As a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed trainee dealer straight out of the National University of Singapore, she soon learnt that the hectic workplace meant ditching the suit.

"There was no point looking so good. You just ran around in your sneakers, and checked all the confirmation of trades with the dealer and counterparties in the old days."

Those early years laid a solid foundation for her career, helping her to build a strong set of technical skills that she might not have learnt elsewhere.

"Client services have a lot to do with relationship building, and understanding what the client needs. To have prior background and technical training is very important, for any person who wants to be in the industry," says Ms Chen, as she recalls her eventual switch to wealth management.

A good attitude is also crucial, especially for someone who is just starting out.

"You can't pick and choose what you do. Or you can, but you get fed up and you leave. But that was not how I was brought up.

"At that time, my dad was telling me all the time that it's a good career opportunity. Just put your head down and do what your senior wants you to... there is always a reason for everything that you have to do."

That attitude has stuck with her throughout her years in finance.

Ms Chen has worked in various financial institutions, such as Lehman Brothers, where she was in equity derivative structured sales. She was also at Morgan Stanley, where she worked for more than a decade and was based in Hong Kong for almost 10 years.

Her most recent role, before joining Nomura last year, was head of the strategic transaction group at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management in Singapore.

Nomura announced the creation of a new wealth management business, combining the firm's wealth management platforms in Japan and Asia in June 2014.

However, it took a while for her to make her way from the fast-paced trading floor.

"I had other opportunities before my trading job, but I still chose it. When you're young, you like it. It was exciting. I was intensely curious why the financial market moved the way it did.

"And in those days, the financial market was less regulated, so there was a lot more activity."

Her time at Morgan Stanley also played a huge part in her life. It was there she learnt about many aspects of the industry, and being at a Wall Street firm.

She also took time out in 1999 and 2000 to complete a Master of Business Administration at the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Business School.

She returned to Singapore while at Morgan Stanley and found the city had been completely transformed in her 10 years away.

Even though the roads looked different, she found no problems getting back in the groove at work here. "It's like riding a bicycle," she says.

However, it was tough to move from Morgan Stanley to Nomura.

"Working in a company for 10 years is like being with somebody for 10 years, and you have to decide whether to stay or leave - that was difficult."

But how could she turn down an opportunity of a lifetime?

"When I was recruited, I knew it was a firm getting serious, as it was getting a non-Japanese to run wealth management in Asia.

"Wealth management is a local business, and the bank was looking for someone with a certain level of local knowledge, with the hope of penetrating the market."

Her time at Nomura over the past year has been spent on gradually building the business, and she feels that being slow and steady will eventually win the race.

"This year, you've heard, and will hear, a lot of bad news, but for my department, we'll continue to grow.

"I'm not very loud about that all the time because we're doing it very gradually."

And the executive is all about looking forward.

"When Nomura invited me to develop the business, it was like I could draw on a blank piece of paper, and help them draft the blueprints. It sounded exciting, and I needed to follow what excites me."

Nomura had 109.5 trillion yen (S$1.3 trillion) of retail client assets, as of March 31 last year. Wealth management is a part of its retail division.

The bank was unable to disclose staff numbers, but it hired at least three top executives for wealth management last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'She earned her stripes on 'brutal' trading floor'. Print Edition | Subscribe