Annabel Fan is director of capital markets and insurance for Amazon’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services (AWS). Annabel is at the forefront of digital transformation for some of the world’s largest financial institutions on AWS, helping them transform their existing businesses and bring new innovations to market using cutting-edge technology. We were excited to sit down with Annabel to learn more about her role at AWS, her interest in ID&E initiatives, and the advice she would give to those looking to pursue careers in business and technology.
Please tell us about your role at AWS. What are your main goals in this role for this year?
I lead the North American Capital Markets and Insurance business for AWS. I’m responsible for driving the overall strategy, execution, and adoption of AWS at many of the world’s largest and most important financial institutions, including Nasdaq. My team works with our customers to help them transform their existing businesses and bring innovative new solutions to market leveraging AWS.
Key objectives for 2022 are the successful execution of the work we are doing with our clients to drive digital transformation across the industry, which includes global insurers, investment banks and, of course, our work with the Nasdaq. Working with our clients is also always underlined by the regulations they are subject to in the United States and abroad. AWS continues to work with regulators around the world as they review, propose, and update regulatory requirements that affect AWS and our customers.
Each year, I also spend a lot of time recruiting and developing talent in my organization and on AWS. My organizational goals this year relate to building our diverse talent pool at AWS, promoting female leadership development, and increasing engagement in supporting the [email protected] community.
Finally, and obviously a top priority for me, the successful migration from Nasdaq MRX to AWS. The migration of US options markets from Nasdaq to AWS will be a multiplier for the industry and create real benefits for voters in the capital markets ecosystem globally. I hope that when we look at 2022 in the rear view mirror, it will be a defining moment for both of our companies.
What’s unique about being a woman in tech at AWS?
I believe women at AWS have a real opportunity to provide leadership and mentorship to the next generation of women entering the workforce. One of Amazon’s newest leadership principles is “Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer,” where we want each of us to bring our unique personality to work. It ensures that leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, more successful, more diverse and fairer work environment.
At AWS, what I find unique is our “builder” culture that invites openness, especially when advancing ID&E initiatives. Two years ago, I started an initiative to help support and advance women in financial services at AWS. I recruited a team of female AWS volunteers and together we started the “Worldwide Women in Financial Services” affinity group which successively sponsored a female executive coaching program, a mentoring program, seminars on good -be financial and more. Much of this effort is focused on developing and engaging with the next generation of female leaders to ensure that we lay the foundation for women in leadership over the long term.
What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in tech throughout your career?
I had a fairly non-linear career. I started as a researcher at the Ford Foundation in Asia to study economic development opportunities for women. I then became an M&A lawyer working for Wall Street firms in the United States and Asia. After several years, I went back to business school and started my own business after graduating. I finally found my calling in technology. So I’ve been a researcher, lawyer, entrepreneur, and businessman working in different customer-facing roles in technology.
One of the challenges I faced was managing all these transitions – like step-by-step job changes – in my career and finding roles where I felt I could leverage all the skills that I developed. But now, my ability to switch between legal, business, and technology has positioned me well, and I feel very fortunate to have recently held positions where I can put all of my professional experiences to meaningful use.
I was often the only woman and person of color in the room. Earlier in my career, I struggled to find my voice. It took me a long time to appreciate my unique perspective and develop this voice, which has now been an anchor for me in my career development, leaning in with opinions, requests, ideas and commitments. It also informs how I sponsor and develop talent in my organization. What I find refreshing about Amazon is that it has a leadership principle called “Have a backbone, disagree, and engage.” It encourages everyone to speak up, which means it allows individuals to challenge decisions when they disagree. It’s a consistent message for everyone who works at Amazon, and it helps foster a greater diversity of thought.
In your experience, what can technology do to better uplift women in the industry?
You never forget to feel different. Once you feel different, it becomes part of your frame of reference. I know for me, I was the only Asian in my class all through high school and I felt very different. I learned to constantly adapt. This is part of the reason why I am so invested in helping to create an organization that reflects and better reflects the world around us, especially in New York. This is also why it is the responsibility of every leader to create an inclusive environment that does not allow anyone to feel different. Leaders need to be open-minded to create an environment for diverse perspectives to flourish so that more voices can be heard and create real and inclusive organizational change.
I also believe that we are at a singular time when many, if not all, industries are undergoing a technological transformation that will govern our lives and the functioning of the economy for generations. I think all industries, not just technology, need to think more carefully about supporting the entire pool of diverse talent. Companies can start investing more in educational programs for girls and people of color in high school and college and continue to create entry-level programs focused on recruiting into colleges and graduate schools.
At AWS, we are doing several things to support the growth of the female talent pipeline. We sponsor and run events and courses for organizations like Code.org, Girls Who Code, and Ada Developers Academy. We also partner with the Anita Borg Institute to sponsor events like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and help students enroll in national programs like Aspirations in Computing. At the other end of the pipeline, companies must do more to ensure women’s representation at senior levels, including at board level, by implementing programs to support and promote diversity of talent and their retention.
What advice would you give to women who want to pursue careers in technology and business?
Be intentional and relentless when prioritizing what’s important to you, because only you can define it; remember that this may change over time. Many of us have to make tough choices at different times in our careers. I had two kids while in business school and commuted between cities, spending an inordinate amount of time pregnant on Amtrak. I was balancing my new marriage, my motherhood and my career. I made intentional choices based on advice from my own mother, who was a stay-at-home mom, my mother-in-law, who was an executive at GM, and my husband, who was always a career advocate. If I think about what I would say to my own children about pursuing careers in technology and business, my advice would be, “Don’t hesitate, now is the time.”
Since AWS’s collaboration with the Nasdaq, have you experienced or created positive networks with female leaders? If so, can you share this experience and why it was meaningful to you?
Over the past decade, Nasdaq and AWS have created a deep collaboration rooted in trust, innovation, and commitment. Nasdaq was an early adopter of digitization and has worked with the broader industry, customers, and regulators to gain the experience and belief needed to move their markets to the cloud. Nasdaq has an impressive pipeline of female leaders across the organization, starting with Adena Friedman, and female executives in all industries and functional areas.
In a historically male-dominated financial services industry, it’s inspiring to see these kinds of industry-changing shifts. Although AWS and Nasdaq have a long-standing collaboration, this is still day one for us, and I am excited to further develop the relationship between our companies to continue to drive the capital markets industry forward together.