Karen Wong

Lead Counsel, Ant Group

Karen WongCould you tell us about your journey to Oxford? Why did you choose to take the MLF?

Back in 2013/2014 when I was undergoing training with a major leading US law firm in Hong Kong, I realised over time what I lacked in terms of skillset to becoming a successful lawyer, e.g. knowledge in finance and business acumen. Despite learning from a mix of law and business courses for my undergraduate degrees, I always wanted to further my studies along the same path. I witnessed first-hand in a large corporate law firm setting that if I were to excel in contract negotiation or closing a deal, it would make things easier if I were to speak the same language with my business counterparts so as to gain their trust. That's the reason why I applied to MLF, a course that was able to offer me exactly what I was looking for, an intersection between law and finance.

What was the most important lesson that you learnt during your time here?

To keep an open mind and it is okay to make mistakes. Coming from an Asian background, it is a deep-rooted practice in academia that students should keep quiet all the time and listen to teachings from seniors. Oxford encourages academic exchanges and students are not afraid to voice out their opinions and opposing views against their peers, and in particular, the teaching staff, for the collective benefit and learning of the class. It is interesting to experience this intellectual exchange in seminars during the three terms.

Which Oxford scholars, if any, currently live on your bookshelves?

Contract Law by Professor Mindy Chen-Wishart, Corporate Finance Law by Professor Louise Gullifer, Louise and Professor Jennifer Payne. Letters to Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Information Services Department by the Rt Hon the Lord Patten of Barnes, CH, the last British governor of HK.

What is your current role? What is a regular day like?

I am now the lead counsel of a leading fintech giant, Ant Group. As opposed to being a lawyer in private practice, being an in-house lawyer in a fintech company means that I will be facing different challenges every day from my internal client. There is no routine for my regular days and I always come back to my office feeling very energized and am looking forward to learning new technology and top-notch products every day. My day usually starts off by catching up on instant messages from various teams e.g. product, risk, compliance and business. I will then prioritize their requests and try to resolve all of the issues within the day. Very often this includes arranging conference calls to better understand the commercial needs. This will then be followed by various physical and virtual meetings, internal trainings, contract drafting and contract negotiation etc.. Towards the end of the day, I will spare a bit of my time doing research and getting myself updated with the legal development which might have an effect on our Group in general.

You were recently made Lead Counsel with Ant Group. What led to that? What do you hope to achieve in the role?

Upon completion of graduation from MLF, I came back to Hong Kong to practice commercial law as a M&A associate in another US law firm specializing in cross-border transactions. I quickly realised that with my academic background and my personality, I would be more suited to become an in-house counsel. My first in-house job was with a fintech start-up in HK, which was founded by the founder of Skype focusing on the Southeast Asia markets. Back then I was considered to be quite adventurous in venturing into the fintech space as it was not that popular among lawyers. Little did I know that this experience would spark my interest in the tech field and it gave me a wider exposure into opportunities and challenges in the SEA markets. 4 years on I am now working majorly with the SEA and North Asia markets for Ant Group's cross border businesses. My past experiences have molded me into what I am today and I am hoping to learn more about programming and data analytics with my current role.

You have been a committee member for the Law Society of Hong Kong for several years. Why did you join and what does your role involve?

I was appointed the committee member of the Young Solicitors' Group and in-house lawyer's committee of the Law Society of Hong Kong upon my return after Oxford.  I was fortunate to be able to receive career advice from Oxford and professionals in the field back then and I would like to contribute back to the society. I wanted to help young lawyers who might be as confused as I was back when I was a junior lawyer. Being a committee member allows us to organise networking events and gatherings within our legal circle, as well as with other professionals, within and outside of Hong Kong. We were also able to convey what our members' opinions and comments are to the Law Society so that appropriate actions can be taken for improvement and for the well-being of our members. For example, as members are getting increasingly interested in the fintech field, we are able to invite expert in the field to share experiences with our members. Overall I found this a rewarding voluntary experience outside work.

Who has been the biggest influence on your professional life?

My land law professor back in the University of Hong Kong had been the biggest cornerstone of my professional life. Despite that fact that he was a Cambridge graduate, he was one of my two references in my application to Oxford.

He was always so helpful with his students. He taught with his heart and always tried to understand what his students were experiencing. He was able to make land law classes very enjoyable and filled the classes with jokes and personal stories. He formed a strong bond with us even after graduation and we stayed in touch. I used to share my difficulties that I encountered during traineeship and he was always there to support and provide guidance to me whenever I needed. He was not just a teacher, but a mentor and a life coach. He was so experienced in the legal industry that our chief justice in HK was also one of his students. He earned respect from all of us. Unfortunately he passed away a few years back but we will always remember him in our hearts.

What is/was your favourite place to visit in Oxford?

My favorite place is the covered market. Ben's cookies is my go-to shop whenever I finished a major event like finishing an essay or passing an exam. Their cookies are so amazing and I can find no other like it outside of Oxford!

Which figure(s) do you look up to?

Just to name a few, I was inspired by Elon Musk and Robert Iger, on their creativity and receptiveness towards technology and how they were able to utilize their leadership and management skills in transforming their companies (in this case, Tesla, SpaceX and Disney) into a whole new era. These are the top leaders that acknowledge their own shortcomings yet were able to take risks and unite their teams. Not only does a successful lawyer need to be an expert at law, he/she also needs to be business-savvy.

Which charities do you support and why?

Save the Children is the main charity that I support. I always believe in education at early ages and that every children has the right to learn how to read and write, regardless of where they are born. Unfortunately we live in a marginalized world that delineate the rich from the poor. Even in the UK, not every kids are privileged enough to be able to afford tuition in top-tiered universities. I also volunteered at OxFizz for a summer upon graduation which I taught free law classes to high school students.

What advice would you to give your past self?

Go with your heart and be not afraid to make bold decisions. This is what life is about, sometimes taking risks might bring you surprises, be it positive or negative. Embrace what life brings you and try to make the best out of it. Keep an open mind and always try new things. New experiences often brings you new perspective in life.

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