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Serving with mind and heart

INTELLECTUAL flexibility shapes Ms Lee Su Fen’s approach to life. When the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) deputy director, data governance and architecture office, studied electrical engineering at Stanford from August 2001 to June 2005 on the MAS Undergraduate Scholarship, her choice was significantly influenced by the American university’s philosophy of providing a broad-based education. She particularly enjoyed the electronics modules. Ms Lee, 35, had enjoyed studying physics and mathematics at Raffles Junior College, from where she graduated in 2000. At Stanford, Ms Lee was drawn to the undergraduate tutoring programme. She volunteered as a tutor, helping to run and coordinate the programme. In addition to time spent in lecture rooms, Ms Lee wrote for the Stanford campus newspaper and organised and ran activities as part of her dormitory’s senior staff committee. During term breaks, she joined other students on road trips to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park and Los Angeles. Harking back to that time of her life, she says her interest shifted from electrical engineering to the finance sector as she found the latter a “very exciting industry” and more dynamic Also, because the finance sector has far-reaching implications for the economy, she was “keen to be a part of it”. She chose the MAS Undergraduate Scholarship as she “wanted to pursue a career in public service”. The scholarship covers tuition fees, a pre-studies allowance that includes a one-time laptop allowance, and a monthly stipend that includes accommodation.

Steep learning curve

Ms Lee recalls the steep learning curve when she joined MAS in 2005 as a banking supervisor, as she had to quickly pick up banking and finance concepts. “It may not seem immediately obvious how electrical engineering would be directly relevant to a job at the central bank and financial regulator. But my technical training allowed me to understand and dissect issues in a systematic and logical way, and this was how I was able to contribute to the team,” she says. “As I moved through various other departments in MAS, my quantitative skills were put to more direct use.” For example, as a market risk inspector with the specialist risk department in 2009, she was required to understand the banks’ risk models in order to critique them. After that stint, she joined the macroprudential surveillance department, where she led the team that conducted the industry-wide stress test exercise. Building and running quantitative models were necessary to validate stress test results submitted by financial institutions. Ms Lee says that in her current role in the data governance and architecture office as part of the data analytics group, she has “found her ability to quickly understand technical concepts a helpful advantage”. “My team’s job is to build the appropriate policies, frameworks and architecture to facilitate the use of data internally within MAS as well as externally by researchers and other industry players,” she explains.

She says that it is increasingly difficult for anyone to specialise in a particular field, become immersed in the subject matter and then expect to rely solely on that for the rest of one’s career. This is especially applicable in a “diverse and all-encompassing” organisation like MAS. “To be able to take on jobs in very different departments requires an open mind, a willingness to learn on the job and pick up new skills and subject matter knowledge,” she says. The scholar has continuously strived to ensure that she is equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in her various roles at MAS. To this end, she took up the MAS PhD scholarship, completing her PhD in finance from the EDHEC-Risk Institute in 2014. Ms Lee is grateful that MAS is supportive of lifelong learning and skills development. She says: “The intellectual stimulation that I get from my job keeps me eager to come to work every day. I hope to continue to build my career in MAS, value-add to the organisation, and contribute to society to the best of my ability.”