Nick Martindale 4 May 2018 09:02am

Making finance fashionable

A passion for fashion has helped to shape Zoe Wong’s career, leading her to a post as head of finance and operations at a digital disruptor, and a place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list

Caption: Photography by Johnathan Browning

Zoe Wong is living proof of how a background in finance can allow individuals to take their career into almost any sector. In her case, this has led to her current post as head of finance and operations at the creative online marketplace Depop; an app-based digital business built around users buying and selling clothing and other fashion accessories.

It was a deliberate strategy; Wong started out on a graduate scheme for Deloitte and became a corporate tax consultant, but soon discovered the potential to combine her love of fashion with her career. “My biggest client was Burberry. It opened my eyes to how cool a financial job could be,” she says. “I realised I wanted to move in-house, and specifically to either an online or fashion business.”

Her next step was working as a finance manager for F&F Clothing, Tesco’s own-label clothing range. But she craved work in a more entrepreneurial environment. “I was only at Tesco for around two years, and the culture and working style there was very different,” she says. “I wanted to come back to London but also to go smaller, and I was specifically looking for something that was digital, ecommerce and fashion retail-related. Depop ticked all those boxes.”

After joining as head of finance, Wong found herself promoted to her current post after just 18 months. “The speed at which it happened was a lot quicker than in a larger company, because if there’s a need in a smaller business you can fill a role and grow into it,” she says. “But a lot of the skills, particularly with Depop, are in the social media marketplace, so my personal interest in ecommerce and shopping has come in handy.”

Wong estimates around 70% of her time is spent on operations, helping shape and develop strategy and introducing new features for the app. It’s a constant challenge: “If we want to change our payments provider or introduce a new feature that collects a parcel from your door, all that is included in the operational remit,” she says. The latest feature allows people to upload a video to promote items, rather than just a traditional picture.

With around 40 of the 110-strong workforce reporting to her – she had no direct reports in her previous role at F&F – a typical day involves an update with the heads of finance, customer support and fraud moderation. “I might then catch up with investors if any of them have any queries or if we need to start making a strategic decision around something we want to change,” she says.

Wong’s rise recently saw her named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for European retail and ecommerce professionals. “I knew I was in the final 50 but you don’t find out if you’ve made the last 30 until the publication date,” she says. “It hasn’t really registered yet, but it’s humbling, and it’s nice to think that all these things have been acknowledged somehow. It’s definitely going on my CV and I’m sure I’ll be dining out on it for years.”

As a young woman from a Chinese background – she was born and brought up in Milton Keynes, but her mother is from Hong Kong and her father from Malaysia – Wong has also worked hard to overcome any barriers, including her own concerns around not fitting in.

“Early on in my career I struggled because I wasn’t as forthright as a lot of people, and I felt I wasn’t progressing as much as I was expecting to,” she says. “But just before I joined Depop I had a bit of a reframing of myself, and I realised that a lot of power comes from soft skills, influencing people. That’s underrated in leadership; it’s something a lot of women will have, and something that I have skills in.”

She recalls attending a CFO Day shortly after joining Depop and being “this young Chinese girl wearing trainers when everyone else was wearing a suit. I felt like an imposter, even though I was also at that level,” she says. “But once people knew I was in this exciting digital space and working with the new generation Z, which no traditional company seems able to get to, they were all interested. My youth and diversity became a strength.”

Outside work, her love of fashion has seen her develop a secondary career as a blogger and writer, after she started blogging as an outlet to chat about clothes and make-up while house-sharing with men. She writes columns for both Yahoo! and Elle UK, and enjoys the freedom that not depending on it for an income brings.

With a wedding, 30th birthday and three-week honeymoon in the pipeline, as well as future growth for Depop, Wong has plenty to occupy her. In the future, though, she’s open to where her career might take her, although would want any role to involve both digital and the entrepreneurial culture she enjoys so much.

“I’ve always said I’d only be 100% happy if I was working for myself, so that’s a long-term aim,” she says. “But my goal is similar to when I was 18: to get as much broad experience as I can so I can do whatever job I want to in the future. That hasn’t really changed.”

The Account

I like being an ACA because... It’s given me a broad background and an invaluable network.
I’m happiest… In any situation that involves loved ones, dinner and wine.
My favourite book is… Information is Beautiful by David McCandless.
The hardest lesson to learn has been… The only thing holding me back is normally myself.
I’d like to be remembered as… The one who made it happen.
Love of my life is… My fiancé (of course).
My worst habit is… Living too much of my life through a phone screen.