Women in finance: Christina Ma

FinanceAsia profiles Christina Ma, Goldman Sachs' head of China equities coverage and an early proponent of Stock Connect, who helped turn the idea into reality.

As soon as Chinese premier Li Keqiang announced plans in April 2014 for a landmark scheme to link the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges, Christina Ma, head of Goldman Sachs’s China equities coverage, got to work. “We dropped everything else and made it our number one priority,” Ma said. “There was no question of us not being there on day one.”

Hundreds of people worked on Stock Connect but Ma was instrumental in the organisation, logistics, and discussions to turn the idea into reality, a project that took an enormous amount of time — Ma estimates she and her team spent 30,000 man-hours on Stock Connect in the six months leading up to the launch, and 70,000 since.

“To get something of this magnitude done in six months, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ma, who was co-head of the bank's Asia-Pacific ex-Japan one delta trading team for eight years before being promoted to head of China equities coverage in June.

Internally, this involved coordinating discussions among Goldman’s front- and back-end-offices, including technology, operations, settlement teams, legal and compliance groups, its prime brokerage unit and sales and trading colleagues. Goldman had to enhance its existing trading, booking and clearing systems to address particular pre- and post-trade rules of the Stock Connect channel, for example. Externally, Ma was heavily involved in conversations with the exchanges and the Chinese regulators, as well as Goldman’s clients.

So far, Goldman and Morgan Stanley have traded the most on the two-way Stock Connect, and since the launch, Goldman has the second highest gross northbound trading volume, according to a market source.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The Chinese government maintains its vice-like grip over markets, as evidenced by the daily quotas still in place — Rmb13 billion ($2.1 billion) for northbound flows and Rmb10.5 billion ($1.7 billion) for southbound traffic.  But it’s also clear that the Stock Connect has enormous potential — once it launched A-share average daily turnover for Shanghai and Shenzhen combined went from around $40 billion to $300 billion in just seven months.

Ma made a name for herself well before Stock Connect, having worked on a number of notable IPOs, such as Ping An Insurance’s $1.83 billion listing in 2003, and Agricultural Bank of China’s $22.1 billion flotation in August 2010, which was at the time the largest IPO ever.

The ABC IPO stood out to Ma in particular. Goldman, a global coordinator and joint bookrunner on the IPO, was also chosen as the sole stabilisation agent. Ma, who was nine months pregnant at the time, vividly remembered that day on the trading floor — markets were volatile and there was a lot of pressure to ensure the debut went smoothly.

“It was one of the most pressure-filled, challenging things I’ve ever done,” Ma said. “And it turned into one of those seminal moments where everything came together.” ABC’s stock traded up 2.2% in the debut and her daughter was born two weeks later.

FinanceAsia’s 2015 honour roll of the most influential women across the Asia Pacific region spans investment and commercial bankers.

Published as a feature in the July / August 2015 print edition of FinanceAsia, the series also presents leading women in new areas of finance such as fintech where Asian companies are among the fastest-growing in the world.

We also canvassed corporate financiers for exceptional women working in deal advisory including lawyers and accountants. In the process of researching the series, we found evidence of progress in creating more diverse workplaces in the region.

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