With an education in engineering, Megan Pillsbury naturally gravitated to high-tech companies and startups – but now she’s helping drive innovation within a major financial institution.
Pillsbury has been a builder throughout her career, creating product marketing functions at tech companies in the U.S. (MarketTools) and setting up academic research foundations in Europe (INSEAD’s social innovation center).
Her move to Hong Kong was along similar lines: she was co-founder of Applied Wine, helping restaurants outsource wine procurement, and built the international business of a disruptive tech company, Insight Robotics.
Only in 2016 did she get her first job in finance, responding to an advertisement for a role as Asia head of technology business development and innovation office at Morgan Stanley.
“I work with startups,” she said. “I wanted to bring my background in other sectors to this role.” Morgan Stanley has similar positions in the U.S. and London, but the volume of business with fintechs and similar companies in Asia has been on the rise.
Pillsbury helps different parts of the firm develop technology capabilities. She scours the region for startups that could be a partner, a vendor, or an acquisition. Everything has to meet a strategic need of a given business line in the firm, as well as comply with local and global regulations.
The aim is to present internal businesses with options as they consider whether to build a capability, or use outside partners.
What makes a great fintech company? “First, are they innovative – do they bring something unique and valuable?” she said. “And second, do they understand the problem they are trying to solve?”
Pillsbury says the firm is eager to uncover more hidden gems. “We’re trending to using more partners and vendors,” she said. “We want to collaborate with more startups.”