Mary Lau - Chief Compliance Officer APAC
After graduating with an LLB from The Faculty of Law at The Chinese University, Hong Kong, Mary Lau started her professional career as a professional financial advisor before it became evident her skill set lay in compliance. She started with Casdaq as a Junior Compliance Officer. Quickly shifting through the ranks, she became head of our APAC markets Compliance Department in our Hong Kong Office in June 2016.
When not ensuring compliance with prevailing regulatory laws, requirements, policies and procedures, Mary Lau enjoys spending time with her husband and young daughters.
A: 2709, 27/F, Shui On Centre, 6-8 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
MEET OUR CHIEF COMPLIANCE OFFICER APAC
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH TO DATE
I have to admit, compliance wasn’t something I necessarily set out to do. I began my career working as a mortgage arranger. I then moved on to work in an estate agency and became a financial advisor. We were audited and I remember the auditor saying to me, “you’re in the wrong job” because my files were so organised. It got me thinking that I wanted to give compliance a chance. It was difficult to move from sales because you are poacher turned gamekeeper.
Compliance can be a challenging job sometimes because you have to explain to people that it’s not always possible to do what they are aiming to do, no matter how good an idea it is. In a larger company it’s not as difficult to meet with the head of a department and tell them they can’t do something, but when it’s someone sitting next to you it feels more personal.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS?
My definition of success is doing something on a daily basis that you enjoy and if you happen to get paid for it too, well that’s just a huge bonus.
WHICH THREE KEY WORDS WOULD YOU USE TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
Happy, ambitious and pragmatic.
AS A LEADER, WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL AND WHY?
One of my role models was my very first manager when I started working in compliance. She knew so much and I thought ‘I want to be like her’-that to me is a role model, having someone who you aspire to be. She was friendly, intelligent and I learnt a huge amount from her.
The CEO in my last company really believed in me too and when I was promoted from a manager to an executive-a massive step. She had faith in me and really encouraged me, having done it herself previously, which I found very inspiring.
I’ve chosen 3 female role models and that wasn’t even intentional! I find it easier to identify with other women because they have come up against similar barriers in the workplace. Witnessing how they overcome these struggles gives me the confidence to think-“I can do it too”.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
Being promoted to Chief Compliance Officer APAC with Casdaq Trading. I was up against some strong competition but the feedback was very positive. I was managing 2 people at the time and suddenly I had to get my head around managing a team of 6. The fact the business had faith in me to do that was a great accomplishment and I went on to prove myself by hitting my targets and getting the job done.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE KEY CHALLENGES FOR A FEMALE LEADER AND HOW COULD THESE BE OVERCOME?
I think being a working mother is a key issue because no matter who you are or what you do there is always a part of you that feels guilty for going to work and not staying at home to look after the kids. If you’re pushing yourself up the career ladder, you may have to work late or work away for a period of time. It doesn’t matter how well I’m supported by my friends and family, I still feel guilty for not being there. In my heart I know that doing well in my career will benefit my family, but when my daughters say ‘so-and-so’s mum came to the assembly, why couldn’t you?’ I feel racked with guilt! Luckily my husband works shifts so he is able to attend lots of their events. Now my girls are older they understand and I think they may benefit from it in the long run because as a working Mum I’ve inspired them to want to get their A Levels and they both talk about wanting to do a degree and carving out a career for themselves.
The other issue I’ve found sometimes with larger companies is the bureaucracy in a workplace. Candidates may already be lined up for new roles, which is frustrating when you want to progress and have the experience but candidates who know the senior members of staff from outside of work get given an in. I don’t feel like I should have to socialise with the management to fit in with them. I want to be chosen for a job for my own merit, my experience and vision.
There is sometimes an unfair perception of women who get appointed in senior roles that they are cold or that they need to behave like a man to get the management positions. The reality is, if a woman is in a senior position, she’s had to work really, really hard and is very, very good at her job.
The environment I found most challenging as a woman was the sales team I worked in which was very male dominated. There was so much competition between them, however I wanted to provide a good customer service too so I focused on that. The men in my team were constantly checking where they were on the board and the atmosphere felt aggressive.
I feel that if a man is forceful in the work force then he’s perceived as driven and motivated, however if a woman behaves in the same way she can be seen as hard-nosed and generally seen as a negative trait.
In my previous experience if a male lands an executive role, few people question the decision, but if it’s a female eyebrows are raised. Proof for me that women in the workplace are still not viewed as equal yet. Women still have a long way to go in society before being viewed as equals in the workplace. More should be done to promote equal opportunities both at school and in the workplace gloablly. I consider myself lucky to work for Casdaq Trading where their is a strong culture of education and nuturing talent.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR 18-YEAR-OLD SELF?
I would tell myself to believe in myself more. I had the ability and the more I believed in myself, the more people believed in me! Confidence goes a long way in a career. If you feel confident, you get competent.
DOES CASDAQ TRADING HAVE INITIATIVES TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP ROLES?
I’m pleased to say my current workplace is structured in a way that opportunities are open to all. We have a split of both men and women in senior roles here. If time off is needed because of child care whether you’re male or female they accommodate it.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT OUTSIDE OF WORK?
Motherhood. I’ve got two girls who are very clever, beautiful and ambitious. They give me a huge sense of self-worth and when I see them doing well it just makes me want to do better for them. I want them to see me as a role model.
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE IN YOUR CAREER?
The digital arena is a key focal point for me. I think my career is going to change quite a bit over the next few years as we look into new ways we can help retail investors with our managed trading account services. I can see my job evolving and growing along with the company.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FINAL PIECES OF ADVICE FOR WOMEN LOOKING TO PROGRESS IN THEIR CAREER?
Get involved! There is nothing more valuable than experience and sometimes people forget that taking a sideways step is not a bad thing. Don’t constantly push upwards to progress, take opportunities elsewhere in the company and learn as much as you can. Anything that gives you extra experience is something you can use to differentiate yourself and move up when the opportunity arises. I put my hand up and always volunteer for extra work, projects and qualifications. The things you learn from doing the work out of your remit can prove invaluable.