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Grace Chong - Counselor. Trader. Investigator
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I note that you were nominated as one of Financial Times’ Innovative Individuals for 2021 and you have a strong reputation in the industry as a key advisor to the majority of the top leading firms in the global digital assets ecosystem. How did you come to specialize and become one of Singapore’s key fintech and digital assets advisors?
I entered private practice in the later part of my career after having spent my formative years working in MAS and HSBC HK’s Global Internal Investigations team. I was a MAS Legal scholar and so had started off my career in MAS where, for half a decade, I had the opportunity to work and learn from the Enforcement, Policy, Markets and other teams a great deal about regulatory investigations and reform.
I was also involved in global internal investigations during my time at HSBC HK and advising the bank regarding its financial crime compliance programs.
I became involved in fintech and digital assets during my time in private practice in 2016 when the blockchain scene was still nascent. I started off advising several techfin players with their setup of digital asset platforms, robo-advisory platforms, assisting with corporate acquisitions and other compliance support in this space and became closely involved in working with the industry on several regional regulatory reform initiatives and leading discussions with regulators on behalf of the digital assets industry, including the HK SFC and MAS in Singapore.
Being dually qualified, I am also closely involved with assisting fintech players with their innovative fund management projects and other payment services licences in HK and Singapore, which has been a very rewarding experience growing and learning with the firms and financial institutions I work with.
How has the digital assets scene evolved in the last few years, and how has this affected the work you do?
As Grayscale's CEO Michael Sonnenshein put it, investor demand has never been higher, and every day we are seeing new entrants to what has surely become a bona fide asset class. During the Singapore Fintech Festival, Citigroup’s CEO also recently said that all big banks will soon be jumping into crypto trading, and the next one to three years will see major institutions get into the digital assets space.
We are seeing traditional financial institutions seeking ways to allow their customers access to this market and in recent times we have seen, for example, DBS launch a full-service digital exchange in Singapore, banks, such as Morgan Stanley announce that they will allow their top-level clients access to bitcoin funds, and both Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase have start opening up crypto services for their clients.
We have also seen firms like Blackrock signaling a new willingness to trade in bitcoin futures as part of its asset suite for investors, and more asset managers offering digital assets funds to their clients.
For retail customers, they will also start to see more opportunities and use cases in the payments space. Mastercard for example has started to launch crypto-linked payments cards to allow holders to instantly convert their digital assets into fiat, as part of its global Crypto Card program. Data from the Mastercard New Payments Index also revealed that 45% of those surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to consider using crypto next year - a 12% jump from the previous year. In Singapore, Fomo Pay and Grab have also extended their offerings to include crypto payments.
More financial institutions are looking at how they can accelerate their digital transformation strategies in order to create efficiencies, enhance service delivery, and create novel customer experiences and products.
With increased digitalization, financial institutions face an inherent tension between maximizing the value of data as an asset and ensuring they remain compliant with growing legal and regulatory obligations. I am now working on some very exciting multi-jurisdictional projects, helping banks and digital asset exchanges build their new product and service platforms to engage with new and exciting opportunities whilst ensuring they steer clear of regulatory pitfalls.
Is there a gender gap in the digital assets ecosystem? Is crypto truly inclusive?
There are increasing efforts and campaigns to push for adoption and greater representation by women in the crypto space - including Women Rise in the UK, a campaign to advocate for women to join the blockchain movement, and two associations I am a part of, Digital Law Association and Women in Payments, also advocate for better digital infrastructure and a stronger community to better support women working at the intersection of technology and the law.
At the same time, while it is important for women to be recognized in the legal industry, it is also important to be inclusive and welcome and support all in this space in a truly democratic way to inculcate the safe expression of views in the industry.
What do you strive for in your career?
A year ago a senior lawyer left our firm and left me a note wishing me a “long and prosperous career.” I quipped then that I was not sure how “prosperous'' a regulatory lawyer could be, but I definitely hoped for a meaningful career.
Many lawyers derive “meaning” from their careers in different ways. For me, I was deeply inspired in my junior college days by Joseph Conrad, who, in his great works such as Lord Jim, brought out the theme of “fidelity” of an unremitting sense of loyalty and duty of the seamen in their craft who work hard with honour and selfless conscience and collaborate with others in solidarity.
For me, finding meaning in a long and sustainable career would be one where I have the right skills, expertise and insights to dedicate care and attention to understanding the businesses and needs of the clients I work with, to connect them with resources and communities. In short, to have lots of heart for the fintech founders, legal and compliance teams for whom we support!
I also dread and actively avoid politics and have a great desire to efficiently get things done, so in some way, I strive for the path of least resistance to achieve the best outcomes with the least noise, and in some ways, it resembles also my usual regulatory approach in pushing licences and approvals through.What advice would you give young people, especially young women who want to get into fintech and crypto?
Be a curious skeptic and actively explore all the resources and learn from the great minds in this space. There is a lot of hype and noise, but there is a true wealth of opportunity for those who do look for it, and many areas to grow.
Women have always been at the cross-roads of technology and advancement but are not always visible - so be brave about taking up opportunities and making connections in this community.
Thank you Liquid for the opportunity to provide my comments!