“My advice for women starting out in the asset management industry is to seek out mentors within their respective firms and broadly in the industry,” began Jennifer Wu, CFA, Senior Vice President of Institutional Sales and Relationship Management at ING US Investment Management. “When I entered the industry, I asked people for their insights on career advancement and everyone had the same advice: find mentors who can champion for you.”
She continued, “As long as they are in a position to influence your career development, you need to be open-minded and thoughtful about finding someone who identifies with your ambition, understands your constraints, and someone who is willing to invest in your career.”
An Unconventional Path
Wu started her career at ING US Investment Management in 2008, and a year later, she joined the institutional sales team. But a career in institutional sales wasn’t in her original plan. “I had a rather unconventional start to investment management industry.”
After studying math as an undergraduate and then earning a graduate degree in applied statistics, Wu pursued a career in quantitative disciplines. She took a position as a statistical analyst in medical economics research before deciding she wanted to join the financial services industry. She attended NYU Stern for her Finance MBA and joined AIG, focusing on investment products and international business development for its investment unit.
“When I was at AIG, I helped establish a joint venture asset management company for AIG in Shanghai and launched the first AIG equity mutual fund product in China. The industry is very established now, but I was fortunate enough to be there at the turning point, introducing asset management to a nascent market a decade ago,” she explained.
The experience was also personally fulfilling. “I was born and raised in Shanghai, so I speak the language and to some extent know the culture on the ground.”
Another relevant experience for Wu was at AXA, where she headed up the manager research group for AXA’s broker-dealer platforms. Now at ING, she is using her non-linear background to her advantage.
“I took a rather unconventional path. I started in this role without a rolodex,” Wu said. However, her experience in manager research and product development gives her a unique perspective. “Having worked on the buyer side in manager research, I am better able to appreciate buyers’ thought process and their due diligence needs. I applaud my managers in valuing this perspective in their hiring decision making process.”
“I’m proud to be in my current role. It presented a great deal of challenge at the get-go. It definitely gives me the thrill of being a trailblazer.” She continued, “I took a fairly roundabout way to get where I am today, so I fully appreciate the privilege to be part of asset management industry. In retrospect, each segment of my professional career contributes to an overall business maturity and emotional balance.”
Wu says she enjoys building relationships with her institutional clients. “As a relationship manager, you need to be challenged and you need to understand and anticipate your clients’ needs. I take a great deal of pride in being a strong advocate for my clients – I am their voice at our firm.”
Women in Investment Management
“Women, whether you’re in an investing role or a client-facing role like mine, you’re still a minority. When I go to conferences, women are still unequally represented among the attendees,” Wu said. “On the client side in pension funds, endowments and foundations, there are more women investors rising up through the ranks, becoming head of asset classes or even investment chiefs. That is rather encouraging.”
One reason for the imbalance could be the time trade-off between work and personal life. “An institutional sales career is demanding on your personal life – there is a lot of travel and long hours away from home.” She continued, “I think women can be natural relationship managers and effective business advocates for clients because they may bring different perspectives and an unrivaled level of attentiveness. It is refreshing to have that level of difference.”
She encouraged junior-level associates to seek out mentors and internal champions. “At ING, my first mentor was a man, and my second mentor was a woman. They both contributed in many ways to shape who I am. Their views and approaches were not contradictory, but complementary.”
Specifically for Asian American women, she continued, it’s important to be more visible. “There is still a stereotype that Asian women are hardworking and demure. The reality is that you are the best advocate for yourself,” she explained. “You can ace spreadsheets and financial modeling techniques, but if you don’t speak up for yourself, others may not fully appreciate your efforts and skills.”
In her personal Time
Outside work, Wu enjoys traveling with her husband. “We have lived in Manhattan for over a decade. We don’t have children and we put our freedom to good use,” she said with a laugh. “My husband is French Canadian. The combination of English, French, and Chinese languages get us around the globe pretty easily.”
She continued, “I have three teenage nieces and I am always encouraging them to visit universities with me since I work with many endowments. You could call me a Tiger aunt.”
Wu also sits on a scholarship committee for the National Association for Asian American Professionals.