The FinTech icon giving back to society
Business and finance are often considered arenas to simply get rich, but Irene Wong (MFin 2006) sees her role a bit differently – she wants to give back to society. Modesty is a hallmark of Irene’s personality, so much so that you would not know the founder of ixFintech is both a well-respected veteran in the finance field and an innovator among FinTech practitioners in Hong Kong.
From the hustle and bustle of trading floors
Irene’s journey started as an open outcry trader from 1996 to 1999 with Morgan Stanley, where she helped execute global hedge fund orders during the Asian financial crisis. “I was good at the job because people could hear my voice on the trading floor very well,” she laughs.
Irene moved up the ladder to become one of the highest paid execution traders in Asia, before joining Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX), managing the Hang Seng Indexes Company Limited and launching the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index Futures. But she was never one to rest on her laurels, and she had the determination to keep learning.
Education is a passion for Irene – in addition to her bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics, and Master of Finance from HKU Business School, Irene further pursued a financial engineering programme at Stanford University in 2009 and an executive development programme at Wharton Business School in 2013.
The latter course was crucial to Irene’s career progression, allowing her to join the Wharton Fellows Programme that included trips to Silicon Valley, where she visited Facebook, Samsung, Apple, along with a visit to Tel Aviv to meet the founder of ICQ, and going to Amazon and Microsoft headquarters in Seattle. “These moments inspired me to learn about the next big thing, which at the time was data and FinTech, but at that time people in Hong Kong were barely talking about this,” she says.
Irene was then a Senior Vice President at HKEX, where she helped introduce the organisation’s first app. “In 2015, I had not seen all my ideas being implemented, and decided to pursue what I thought was right for the world,” Irene says. It was at that point she branched out from corporate life into her entrepreneurial journey.
Bold adventures in FinTech
We are now sitting in Cyberport, where ixFintech completed the tech hub’s incubation programme in 2018. Irene’s innovations include the ixOption platform that provides a one stop shop for learning, trading, risk management, and financial literacy. It was a top 100 Finance App on Apple App Store in 2018, and became popular for its unique tools including an implied volatility and options calculator. “The mission is to promote financial literacy and help to maintain Hong Kong as a world financial centre, particularly as derivatives is not that developed across Asia,” she says.
In this age of volatility, financial literacy is a major passion for Irene. “The structured product market should be well developed and prevent people from suffering by buying instruments they don’t understand. There is nothing wrong with many financial products, but with the people who communicate and sell products, the system needs to improve,” Irene says.
Going forward, the team is also planning to launch an option and structured products advisory chatbot, along with integration of blockchain and digital currency. One of her current projects is ixCircle, which aims to connect start-ups and investors with a platform hosting business pitch videos, and chat functionality.
Community comes before cash
Making a positive impact to society through fintech is fundamental to Irene’s goals. “You can offer more jobs, nurture the new generation, and help people in Hong Kong,” says Irene, who volunteers to mentor students from HKU Business School. “At first I thought I was helping them, but it turns out they are also helping me,” she says.
Irene brought graduates on board, although she admits at times she can be a tough boss, and that some students had found it too hard going. Yet a number of graduates excelled, with one of those helping her create ixOption, and another aiding with the creation of ixCrypto, Hong Kong’s first benchmark indicative crypto index. “This is great for graduate as well, rather than showing people a piece of paper, tell them you created an index. I hope these projects can help these young people get their dream jobs,” Irene adds.
When reflecting on her time at HKU Business School Irene says she expanded her network and made good friends. “I took a part time course and attended classes at night, and we would get very hungry at 8pm, and would sneak out for a quick snack in Admiralty Centre,” Irene says in her gregarious fashion. “Network and relationships are so important, and you never know when a friendship can bring you to the next step in your career,” Irene says.
So what is the secret to entrepreneurial success? “Be fair to others and yourself, have the heart to do good things to the world, and give back to society,” she adds.