Conversations with Soh Yi Da

By Nicole Lim Jia Yin

Soh Yi Da is the Vice President, Investor Relations at United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB), where he is responsible for engagement with the investment community on behalf of the firm. In this article, Yi Da shares the responsibilities of his role, his career journey prior to his current role, and what it takes for others who are keen to join his profession.

As an investor relations professional, I serve as the bridge between my company’s management and the investment community (which includes sell-side research analysts, the buy-side investors, credit rating agencies, retail investors and proxy advisory firms). I help to facilitate the investment community’s understanding of our broad businesses and strategies through regular and proactive engagement. At the same time, I provide our senior management and board with regular market feedback. There isn’t a typical workday routine. Every day is pretty different. Some days I could be preparing investor communications materials, preparing for upcoming results briefing or doing competitive analysis. Other days I could be meeting investors at conferences or virtual meetings. The role has a lot to do with stakeholder management, pitching the company’s story and investment potential as well as building relationships.

In the past, a lot of our discussions with investors and analysts revolved around the company’s financials. More recently, discussions on sustainability matters are becoming mainstream. Investors are paying more attention to whether their investee companies meet certain ESG standards and requirements and stay clear of ESG controversies. Having background appreciation of material ESG issues enables me to better appreciate investors’ ESG expectations and concerns. This is essential in preventing investors from potential divestment from the company – which would negatively affect the company’s share price.

Prior to entering this industry, I started my career as a management associate in Singtel after graduating from university. My first posting was to the Consumer Operations division, where I was the Projects Manager responsible for process improvements at Singtel’s customer-facing platforms such as the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and My Singtel app. My time at Consumer Operations was a humbling experience that taught me  the importance of customer-centricity. Subsequently, as part of my rotation, I joined the investor relations team because I had always been interested in the financial markets. Complementing my first role at Consumer Operations – which was essentially the grassroots of the business, this role provided me with a helicopter view across Singtel’s diverse businesses, and better appreciate the grand strategy as the company embarked on its digital transformation. 

Having been an investor relations professional in the telecommunications industry for a few years, I decided to make a transition into a different industry to broaden my learning horizon. Thus, I decided to pivot into financial services, which required me to re-equip myself with new sector knowledge. The benefit of being in an investor relations role  is the opportunity to acquire deep sectoral knowledge and grow an extensive network. The role also offers a lot of exposure to senior management, offering a rinkside seat to high-level decision-making early on in my career, which is a very valuable learning opportunity.

Having a strong language foundation enables one to better appreciate and engage in cross-cultural interactions. In East Asia, developing trust and building rapport and relationships is key to doing business. Being able to speak the same language gives one an edge in breaking down cultural barriers. More importantly, a deep appreciation of cultural nuances enables one to go deeper in forging mutual long-term trust.

It would be useful to start off with the right mindset. First, be proactive and seek learning opportunities within your means. Second, do not be afraid to make mistakes, which you have the luxury of doing more when you are young. Third, find a good mentor who can show you the ropes and guide you in your career journey. Having a mentor in the same organisation can help you navigate organisational politics. Fourth, invest time in building relationships with your colleagues across the organisation, and the best way you can do so is through working together on collaborative projects. Lastly, always think about how you can create value and stay relevant, by constantly reflecting about how you can contribute and what you can bring to the table.

If you are applying for your first job, especially in tech-related roles, certifications and qualifications can make a lot of difference. It can help you demonstrate your understanding of newly emerging technologies. Internships are also useful opportunities that pave the way into one’s ideal job and get a taste of whether the job and industry are suitable. However, for subsequent career transitions, the focus shifts away from academic qualifications to  prior relevant work experiences.

It is always good to be actively involved in external activities while in school. However, it is more important for one to be guided by one’s own passion and interests, rather than simply engaging in activities to build your portfolio or CV. For me, I was grateful to have the opportunity to serve as the President of the Student’s Union back in university. Serving in that role has  provided me with many opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills and a useful platform to bring about meaningful change beyond the classroom. These experiences had widened my horizons and world view. In the course of my work, I always remind myself to pursue whatever I do with passion, and live with compassion.

Learning how to forge trusted relationships with people is important in life. Beyond work, it would be meaningful for us to invest time to create opportunities to better understand, appreciate one’s stakeholders – colleagues, clients etc. It is through having deep conversations, expressing genuine care and interest for people that such trusted relationships are forged. 

I would also advise students to pick up a Southeast Asian language as Southeast Asia is a region with lots of growth potential. Our traditional advantage being a bilingual Singaporean is no longer much of a differentiating factor. Knowing how to speak Bahasa, Thai, Vietnamese or Khmer will give us a competitive edge.