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From 30,000 feet to finance: meet the young bankers who used to be cabin crew

meet the young Asian bankers who used to be flight attendants

Next stop: banking

If you want to build a banking career you typically get an internship and a traineeship, and you then work your way up the ranks.

But a surprisingly large group of young finance professionals in Singapore and Hong Kong started out not as analysts at banks but as…flight attendants.

Recruiters in the two cities say banks often like to hire degree-educated cabin crew, especially (although not exclusively) for relationship manager (RM) roles.

Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group, says she’s helped hire several flight attendants for corporate banking and wealth management RM jobs. “The core transferable skill sets are the ability to deal with different types of people and being culturally sensitive as at an airline you work with people from varied backgrounds.”

Charania adds that flight attendants can also “keep a smiling face in all situations” – a skill that comes in handy when dealing with difficult clients in banking.

One former Cathay Pacific cabin crew member, who is now working at a large bank in Hong Kong and who asked not to named, says her time with the airline gave her “confidence, resilience and good customer service skills”.

Banks typically recruit 20-something airline staff and provide them with technical training.

But who are these former flight crew now successfully ensconced in the Asian finance sector? We searched through publically available profiles to find a selection of people:

Louisa Tan

Tan’s time in the air was longer than most – nearly six and a half years as a Singapore Airlines attendant. Unusually, she didn’t go into a RM job at a large bank and instead joined Singaporean remittance company CYS Global Remit in 2011 in the more technical role of corporate foreign exchange dealer. She now provides “exchange rate quotations to clients and advises on general market conditions”, according to her public profile.

Jeremy Chan

Chan flew with Cathay between 2007 and 2011 as a flight attendant and “duty-free specialist”, with the latter part of his role involving “targeting potential customers” and “supporting duty free sales teams”. He then put these sales skills to use at HBSC where he eventually became a premier banking RM looking after customers in the mass affluent sector in Hong Kong. Chan rose further up the wealth management ladder when he joined UBS in 2014 – he’s now an associate director focused on building relationships with mainland Chinese clients.

Teresa Tong

Tong was a flight attendant at Cathay Pacific for more than three years until she joined Citi’s ‘Citigold’ mass affluent unit in Hong Kong as an associate in 2007. Like Chan, Tong then managed to move up the ranks and was an international senior RM by the time she left Citi in 2014. She then graduated to the private banking sector via a short stint at Bank of Singapore and she is now a supervisory manager at J.P. Morgan, according to her public profile on LinkedIn.

Pearlynn Yang

Another former member of the SQ cabin crew, Yang was with the airline between 2010 and 2013, according to her public profile. Like Tong, her first job was with Citi, where she worked in the fairly junior retail role of customer relations officer. Unlike most other former flight attendants, however, she didn’t use her initial foothold in banking to pursue a front-office career. Yang is now at HSBC in Singapore working in the perennially hot function of know your customer (KYC) due diligence – and she’s supporting corporate and financial institution clients rather than retail ones.

Karman Lo

Lo’s career path is less straight forward than those of the other people we’ve profiled. She was employed by HSBC in Hong Kong as a business banking officer for eight months before joining Cathay Pacific as a flight attendant for 12 months. Her route back into a banking job came via working as a researcher for a headhunting firm and then rejoining HSBC as an in-house recruiter in 2013. Last August, however, Lo moved into transaction banking at HSBC – and she’s now reached vice president (VP) rank.

Edda Wee

Like Lo, Wee had prior experience in banking, but at three years her tenure as a Citigold acquisition manager was far longer. She then spent a full three years at Singapore Airlines before returning to banking in 2011 as an associate in Barclays’ fixed income unit. In 2013 she completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) in Accounting and Finance from the University of London. In the same year she decided that relationship management was her preferred profession and she returned to the Citigold team in Singapore.

Shynna Lee

Lee was a stewardess at Singapore Airlines for two years before joining OCBC as a personal financial consultant, according to her LinkedIn profile. She only stayed there for eight months, however, and used her tenure as a launch pad to becoming a prime brokerage senior analyst at RBS in Singapore, a job she held for almost three years. She’s since stayed in the trading world – firstly as an account manager at Intercontinental Exchange and now as a manager at Saxo bank.



Image credit: XiXinXing, iStock, Thinkstock

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