Banking on Doing Good
From trailblazer in the banking world to leader in social services — Ms Junie Foo (Arts and Social Sciences ’90) has found her journey to be full of fulfilment.
You could call it an essay-writing assignment that changed her life. In 1990, Ms Junie Foo was a Political Science undergraduate when she entered a Japanese essay-writing competition. The topic? The past, present and future of Singapore. “I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I think we had been coming out of a recession at that point, so I touched on that, as well as on our multicultural society,” she recalls.
Her piece caught the eye of business leaders and, even before graduation, she was offered a job at a major Japanese financial institution. That kick-started her success in the financial industry, where, over the course of nearly 30 years, she attained many firsts. For instance, the distinction of being the first non-Japanese and the first woman in the management team of the Corporate Banking Division, Asia Oceania, in a Japanese financial institution.
But climbing the corporate ladder was not all that it was made out to be. “After 25 years or so, I recall doing the budgeting for our regions, looking at revenues and earnings, and thinking, ‘I can do much more for the community’,” she shares. She spent two years pondering her next move even as other banks came calling. Her husband, whom she had confided in, told her going back to the banks would be an act of “vanity”. “So I decided to do an act for the community,” she says, explaining her decision to join Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) as its Chief Executive Officer in 2018.
Ms Foo’s advice to those who are grappling with tough career choices: “Consider how fulfilling your new role might be. It is an overlooked factor, but one that can make all the difference.”
A DIFFERENT WORLD
The world of social services was a far cry from the glamour of banking. As a multifaceted social services agency with over 600 staff, MWS’ operations span from helping the destitute to caring for vulnerable seniors in the community. Ms Foo quips that her career change took her from the glitzy restaurants of Marina Bay to rental flats in Hougang. “There was once I was at a nursing home and sitting with a resident who had been born blind and deaf, and had just been abandoned,” she recalls. “We could not converse at all, but I just sat next to her and put my hand on her shoulder to let her know that she was not alone.” Ms Foo describes it as a “moment of affirmation”. “It made clear that me being in social services was a calling.”
But she admits that, as with every sector, the social services industry too, has its challenges – the biggest being talent retention. Ms Foo’s former world of banking is rife with fat pay cheques, but such large salaries are impossibly rare in social services. “It says a lot about society and what we value,” says Ms Foo with a shrug. “But I’m hoping to change that. We cannot short-change our talent, because they do so much good for the community.”