Never mind global redundancies and banker bashing in the West, graduates in Asia still seem keen on the sector. J.P. Morgan in Asia reports increased applications for traineeships and internships, says Ying Liu, a Hong Kong-based executive director at the investment bank. And it’s holding job offers steady, too.
Originally from Shanghai, Liu is a graduate of Wellesley College in Massachusetts and started her investment-banking career at Salomon Brothers in New York in 1996. After working at UBS in the US, she transferred to Hong Kong in 2005 to spearhead the firm’s China M&A business.
On top of her investment banking duties at J.P. Morgan, Liu is now head of junior selection management for emerging Asia (the region outside of Japan and Australia). She says helping to select the next generation of bankers is one of the best parts of her job.
Have graduate applications to J.P. Morgan in Asia been affected by the global banking downturn?
For this year’s traineeships in emerging Asia, the volume of applications has actually increased by 10 per cent over last year. The same is true for internships. The profile of candidates is similar to what I’ve seen in the past – top students from finance and liberal-arts schools. Graduates are still keen on investment banking opportunities as they offer a greater exposure to a wider range of experience that are not easily available for junior roles in other industries. As a grad, you also get personal satisfaction from the high-profile deals you’ve worked on. And the technical and analytical skills you build based on these experience can set up your career for life, even if you don’t stay in the sector.
Does the number of grad roles you are offering differ much from last year?
Given the increase in application numbers, we are more focused and selective in our approach to graduate-level hires. But comparing 2012 with 2013, there is no significant change in the number of graduate jobs and summer internships we offer in emerging Asia.
What makes Hong Kong a good place to get your first banking job?
I started my career in New York to get exposure to different industries. Back then, it was the best place to experience the diversity and the large volume of deals, and to obtain training and analytical skills. For example when I first worked in Hong Kong, from 2005 to 2008, we mainly just did IPOs; but fewer M&A deals. The product range wasn’t as wide as in the US at that time. But over the last few years this has changed. If I were beginning my career now, I would choose Hong Kong over anywhere else. Aside from technical skills, you can build an Asian client network from an early age and get the opportunity to observe how senior bankers interact with clients in the region. Soft skills are important in Asia.
How did you get your own start in banking?
I followed in the footsteps of my big sisters and went to Wellesley College. While there, I remember reading a New York Times article about Wellesley providing more female bankers to Wall Street than any other college. I was curious to know why a lot of former students enjoyed working in banking, so I applied for an internship in investment banking in New York and was fortunate to receive an offer to intern at J.P. Morgan. I had a great informal mentor there, an associate, who was a role model and taught me a lot about banking. As well as having a senior sponsor, it’s important to have someone junior who knows what you are going through from recent experience and can provide day-to-day guidance.
You must have been one of the few Chinese women on Wall Street
Yes, there are a lot more these days. Even at my college there weren’t many Chinese nationals, but now Chinese kids are going to high school there. I had some cultural challenges as an Asian female – for example, working in the American Midwest doing deals with clients there. When I started in 1996, there were few senior women of any nationality, even at VP level. But now at J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong we have a number of senior female role models who have risen from junior jobs to division heads, and have had families along the way.
Are Western bankers still wanted in Asia?
Effective communication is a crucial part of any investment banking role and that is language and culture dependent. However, there are many areas where a Western banker can add value. These could be product and industry knowledge, global connectivity and management skills which are all much needed in Asia, especially in the emerging Asia countries. The energy team is an excellent example because there are lots of cross-border deals.