The world of global investment banking is dominated by men with Bloomberg reporting the number as high as 96 per cent out of 257 firms worldwide. However in Malaysia, the male dominance in the top offices of its 11 investment banks was bumped down to 64 per cent in October 2018 with the ascension of one Ami Moris to the post of Chief Executive Officer at Maybank Kim Eng.
While being at the helm of one of ASEAN’s leading investment banks for just over 100 days at the time of writing, her prior tenure as its Chief Operating Officer from 2015 saw the business grow from a bottom 10 position to top three while being consistently voted Best Brokerage in Malaysia.
From her corner office on the 33rd floor of the iconic Maybank Tower in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, Ami revealed that the cornerstone of her success is a small truth she told herself many years ago: “I am tired of being poor.”
“I came back from the UK in 1992 after 13 years and at that time Malaysia was a booming economy and I was tired of being poor. I was poor as a student in London, always doing one or two jobs there and I thought to myself, time to get some financial freedom,” said Ami, recounting her entry into the world of stockbroking.
She admitted she knew nothing about the world of finance then, as her studies in the UK were in mathematics and political science where she earned her double major from the University of Essex before continuing her Masters in History and Philosophy of Social and Political Science.
“I found a mentor. I went for an interview in this company and I told him I knew nothing about stockbroking but if you take me I can guarantee you that in two to three years I will be one of your top earners,” said Ami, thanking her mentor for bringing out the best in her from being a non-finance person to where she is now at the top of her game.
I knew nothing about stockbroking but if you take me I can guarantee you that in two to three years I will be one of your top earners.
Since joining Maybank in 2009, Ami has been part of the team that led the business from being a local player in investment banking to a regional player after acquiring Kim Eng Securities Ptd Ltd in Singapore in 2011. She is in charge of Maybank Kim Eng’s evergrowing business that operates in 10 markets – Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Vietnam, Great Britain and the United States of America.
Reflecting on her career advancement in the industry as a woman, Ami explained she had to make a conscious decision early in her career to appear more assertive to be a part of the traditionally male-dominated industry. This conscious decision affected all the facets of her life including walking and talking in a certain way to appear more decisive.
“But as I grew in my seniority I try to be more provocative, like wearing this pink glasses, and all this pink today, because after all these years where I thought I had to be more assertive, I want to make sure that women have a really positive work environment. They shouldn’t be afraid. I am not saying it’s easy but being true to yourself is key,” said Ami.
Calling 2019 a good time for young people to come into Malaysia’s well-represented and merit-driven finance industry, she expressed that the fact women are still being asked questions about their place in the industry is proof that there are still institutionalized biases, even though there are now two other women in the same position as her at the top of investment banking firms in Malaysia and one more leading the central bank.
“In Maybank at the group level almost 40 per cent of the senior management is comprised of females and at the investment bank level, three out of seven board members are women,” said Ami. She added that this achievement is often overlooked in Malaysia, even among the women, but it has been noticed by other countries and regulators who are looking into the secret of the flourishing female participation in Malaysia’s finance industry.
At Maybank, the result came not due to any set quota for gender participation but instead is the result of finding and training the best people for the task at hand. And when you look for the best, it emerges from both sides of the divide. “We are essentially ‘gender agnostic’. We believe in meritocracy,” explained Ami further.
When asked if there is that metaphorical glass ceiling in Malaysia, this is what Ami has to say: “The way I see it, people always say that the glass ceiling has to be broken from the bottom up; maybe it’s time for it to be broken from the top down.”
People always say that the glass ceiling has to be broken from the bottom up; maybe it’s time for it to be broken from the top down.