Singapore trader says ballet dancing propelled his finance career

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Singapore trader says ballet dancing propelled his finance career

Raphael Ng is not your average fund manager – because how many of his buy-side counterparts can execute a mean pirouette?

Ask, and the former competitive dancer readily describes what his passion for ballet has taught him about markets. “I learned about demand and supply intimately from a young age,” he jokes, pointing to how he was the only boy in his dance school.

Ng’s parents – who are from Hong Kong but later moved to Singapore – met through a social dance club, and sent their son to learn ballet at the tender age of four.  “It was fun and my teacher wouldn’t let me stop, because I was the only guy and she felt it was a waste if I left,” he explains of how he ended up achieving Advanced 2, the final level of examinations that prepare dancers for a professional career.

Still, Ng stopped ballet upon his compulsory two-year service in the Singapore military at the age of 18. 

During this time he applied to various universities and was rejected, but the sheer scarcity of male dancers would again swoop in to save the day. Singapore Management University’s contemporary dance team was short on men, so its choreographer – a friend – invited Ng to join as an associate member and join practices and competitions in his free time.

This eventually helped him nab one of a handful of discretionary application slots into the university reserved for performing arts talent. Ng was admitted to the Information Systems course. There, he fell in love with his studies. “The whole idea that you can just write some lines of code to automate mundane, repetitive tasks was very, very appealing,” he says. 

Stellar results and dance achievements earned him several scholarships, and he invested the cash after learning about FX algorithmic trading from a senior on his dance team. “Other people might have bought a car, but I wanted the money to grow,” he says.

After clocking internships at Accenture and GovTech, Ng went on to join Credit Suisse as a graduate analyst, and stopped dancing to focus on his career.

But ballet would soon re-enter his life. Shortly after a spell as a product manager at roboadvisor StashAway, a contact from Singapore’s ballet circle invited him to invest in and found a dance school together. The pair put up a six-figure sum and launched Jete Studios in 2019. Its student body, spanning the ages of three to 18, now numbers in the hundreds.

Ng took up an advisory role, leaving the teaching to his female colleagues. “I'll put it this way: most parents would not want their daughter to be handled by a 30-year-old man,” he laughs.

But his career would quickly take another turn when another opportunity came – via the dance senior who had first introduced him to algorithmic FX trading – to start a currency-focused fund at Salzworth Asset Management.

The only reason why I got into the FX industry, or into university, was because of my dance connections. Dance gave me everything in life: an education, love, my first business, and my job,” says Ng. “Without it, I would not have had these opportunities,” adds Ng, who met his fiancée on the university dance team.

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