Heroes Work Here: Astrid Li
11 October 2022
Achieving your dreams takes real determination. Astrid Li shares her insights on how you can find the strength to go for the right choice, and why comfort and growth do not co-exist.
Here at ZEDRA, we know that not all heroes wear capes. In our latest Heroes Work Here feature, we hear the story of Singapore-based Fund Administrator Astrid Li.
Astrid was nominated by Kelvin Sng, Executive Director of Fund Services in Singapore, who explains: ‘Astrid joined ZEDRA Singapore early 2021. During this time, she has learned quickly and took the lead on fund service delivery for a number of key clients. She stands out as someone who is selfless and determined. I recall a few occasions where clients asked for urgent calls, including Sunday morning. Despite having to juggle between family and a young child, Covid restrictions, demanding work schedules and deadlines, she participated in all calls and was well-prepared for the discussions. The clients were truly impressed! That’s right, our hero Astrid does not wear a cape, but she wears multiple hats and has proven herself to be an important member of the client and fund accounting team. Atta girl!’
Read on to find out more about what drives Astrid’s determination, and what advice she has for anyone starting out in her career.
Tell us about your early career. What did you learn about yourself through that process?
My parents have their own business, and in our family, business is something that’s really important to us. That’s why when I came to Singapore and chose my education path, I went for business studies.
My first job was at Watsons, Asia’s leading health and beauty retailer, where I took up a finance role. That was really where my interest in accounting started, and I wanted to learn more. I moved to a Japanese finance firm and, as my path advanced, more communication between internal and external stakeholders was required, which made me realise that there was a huge gap between my knowledge at the time and the requirements for a professional accountant. That’s when I enrolled into a Finance and Accounting degree programme. I worked full-time in the company and then studied part-time. It was tough, definitely, and a lot of work at the time, but I have always found that accounting is more of a comfortable place for me, as I am a bit of an introvert, and to me, figures are often easier than people!
Was there a moment when you realised you had to make a change?
Yes definitely. I was an accounting officer, which is more on the general accountancy side. Because it was so general, I felt that my career development would be limited. I thought to myself, if I stay there, what am I going to pick up?
At this point, I really wanted to pursue accounting in the fund related sector, which would widen my horizons and drive me to research and study more in the field of how financial institutions work. I really took a chance, quit that job and began focusing on finding a job in the field I really wanted to be in. It was a struggle, and I remember sending out hundreds of emails, but I knew what I wanted to do. Then I was introduced to an opportunity at a renowned fund administration. I feel very lucky that my effort paid off, and I secured a role where I have learned so much already.
What have been the challenges and opportunities for you, and how do you approach them?
So much financial innovation exists in this industry, with the introduction of crypto currency and many interesting investments. Along with that innovation comes many new financial regulations and frameworks that are constantly changing. You need to be constantly staying up to date with how the structure and business model would affect your judgment. Also, those changes mean that you have to put in a lot of effort to present the figures in the correct way, so they faithfully represent what the company or fund is really worth. I would say it is a challenge that actually takes up a lot of my time professionally, but for me change is constant and I am always learning.
On the opportunity side, I have really enjoyed taking on more responsibility, which is certainly a difference from my previous position. There are many things now at ZEDRA that I need to take responsibility for. For me, I feel I have learned a lot from this, and the extra knowledge and information I have gained really helps me to perform better in my field.
When you are given more responsibility, you feel in yourself that you need to live up to that. And certainly for me, that means that I will always try to pick things up quickly, read as much as possible, and get better and perform better at my job.
Another opportunity that I’ve had is to have more contact with my clients. Here at ZEDRA, I get a lot more chances to meet with them, pick up their calls, listen to their requirements around structuring their portfolio and get to respond to them as quickly as possible. Like I said, my personality is a bit introverted, so dealing with clients at that level takes me to the edge of my comfort zone.
What character qualities or values have you developed through that experience?
I have actually been studying through the whole entire journey of my career so far. During my first job I did a part-time degree, and then here at ZEDRA, I signed up for a part-time ACCA, which is equivalent to a Masters at some UK universities. Balancing my studies and my work along with raising a child has been a struggle, but I am so thankful for the help I’ve had from my colleagues and my husband, they have supported me all the way through.
It was tough, and there were many times that I considered quitting. But there are some goals that you know you must achieve before you can step up, and ACCA was always one of those, so I set it as my personal challenge. I told myself that I needed to conquer and stay strong. Through this whole experience I would say that persistence is one of the core characteristics that I have developed and will continue to build on to drive further.
How do you use that strength and persistence now?
The learning process at ZEDRA really suits me. I really like the drive to constantly improve yourself with study and then drilling into the logic of the decision you’re making so that you can perform better, think further ahead for your clients, anticipate their needs, find the best way of getting there, deliver a better service and ultimately produce better results.
I feel strongly that I need to choose the best solution for my client, and then be able to explain to them why I chose that route and demonstrate the logic behind it. That’s where they see the value that I bring, and their trust in me is reinforced. So much of what we do is based on trust; my clients put their trust in me, and I need to deliver with all due diligence.
Tell us about a time in your career when you had to do something difficult. What did you learn, or how did it add to your character? Was there a mentor figure that helped you through the process?
When I first came to ZEDRA, I had to get used to a whole entire new accounting system and clients with different corporate structures. I had to study from scratch, and come up with solutions to optimise my work efficiency, it was a huge task. The senior members of the team and my manager spent a lot of time going through everything with me, and explaining, so that I could understand and learn. I really appreciated their help.
If you had to name four qualities that you think a hero would display, what would they be?
Definitely determination, and then reliability. Kindness is also so important. And then the ability to overcome any frustration and negative feelings and to continue to move on – I’m just thinking about what that word would be in English? Maybe something like resilience, which to me means not being afraid to struggle for what you want to achieve, and staying strong.
If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
I would say believe in yourself, try hard and you will get there. Looking back, I don’t think I believed in myself enough when I was younger. I didn’t feel confident enough in my English back then, so even though I had the choice of going to a really good junior college, I didn’t because I thought it would have been a tougher path for me. My determination wasn’t strong enough. But now I know that if I had tried harder, I could have completed it.
So yes, my advice to my younger self would be to believe in yourself. You can do it if you try hard.
Do you have an ethos or philosophy that makes you the way you are – and reflects why your colleagues want to work with you?
I believe that comfort and growth do not co-exist. That is something that I feel constantly motivates me, and I care very deeply about.
And then another one; I always remember a saying that my grandparents would tell me. They said, ‘when you come to do something, try not to create problems for yourself, but if the problem comes to find you, do not be afraid to face it with courage’. It’s hard to translate accurately in English, it’s a lot more graceful in Chinese!
What do you feel most proud of in your career at ZEDRA?
I think the way I have managed to grow in confidence when it comes to handling client meetings. Now it’s not as frightening a thought as it was before for me, I’ve learned that the clients aren’t monsters after all! The team has really assisted me with this, especially Kelvin, by helping me to build up my confidence when speaking in client meetings. So I really want to thank Kelvin for contributing so much to my personal advancement in this area.
How would you describe what you bring to ZEDRA life?
I would say I bring fun, because I’m always the one who’s telling funny stories! Here at ZEDRA the atmosphere is very supportive which I really love. People are very kind here. Whenever anyone is in need of guidance, my colleagues provide really nice professional help and are always very supportive of each other. The way we work as a team is very efficient and nobody is afraid of asking questions.
What would your superhero skill be?
Definitely the ability to foresee the future. It would be great to be like a fortune teller, open up the lucky cookie for yourself and know what’s going to happen!
What words of wisdom would you like to pass onto your colleagues at ZEDRA?
I hope that they can always find the strength to go for the right choice, one where they follow their heart when they make their decisions. Even though they feel the road might be hard, to keep on walking into the future and towards the goal they want to achieve, so that they live with no regrets.