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How to make interesting career changes in financial services

Patrick Tay

Financial professionals don’t need to get struck in one job function – making big changes to your career can help make your working life much more interesting. Take Patrick Tay: The Singaporean, who has extensive experience in currency and derivatives trading, has had several different lives in financial services – from a global bank to a local bank to a start-up hedge fund to a business school.

Tay started out at Chemical Bank, the US firm that merged with Chase and then became JPMorgan Chase, and later joined Singaporean firm United Overseas Bank. He left banking in 2007 to become a director of the hedge fund 2M Capital, responsible for investment and portfolio management. And he’s now a senior lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management in Singapore, teaching business finance, and alternative investments and hedge funds

He spoke to eFinancialCareers about the benefits of graduates working for global banks, why traders still love moving to hedge funds, and importance of relevant work experience to effective teaching in business schools.

You graduated with an engineering degree, so why join Chemical Bank?

If you read the news in the 1980s, you’d realised that banking was becoming a key driver of Singapore’s economy and the government was providing the resources to make Singapore a financial hub in Asia. In addition, I gathered that many banks offered great career progression, and were recruiting candidates without finance degrees for trading roles.

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Do engineering grads still make good traders?

Yes, because engineering produces graduates who are analytical in their thought processes. Success in trading, as in engineering, depends on your ability to make sound decisions in the midst of complexities.

Did your banking career progress as you had hoped?

Yes – it helped that I spent my career in global markets, a fast-paced area. On the frontline as a trader, your career progress is potentially exponential, even in the first three years, especially in a multinational firm that offers you access to leading clients, cutting-edge technology and opportunities to work in different countries. I was fortunate to have the opportunities to work in Hong Kong and New York.

These days Singapore is an important finance centre in itself – is there the same need to work overseas?

Of course, working in Singapore now gives you a global exposure and Asia is more central to the business of global banks. However, working abroad is still important. At a US bank in New York, for example, you get to experience the sheer scale of the business first hand, while you get to interact globally in a convenient time zone in London.

You became the head of FX trading at Chase in Singapore. How did you cope with the pressure?

A few years in junior sales and trading positions, which is pressurising in itself, makes you very adaptable and enhances your ability to handle pressure as you move up the ranks. We are more adaptable than we think.

You also worked at UOB, one of Singapore’s big three banks. How did that compare with being at a US firm?

There is a significant difference in cultures. Job stability is, for example, better at a local bank. While there is certainly no guarantee of a job, they are generally more tolerant in their expectations. And working at company headquarters means you are more in tune with senior management.

In 2007 you helped set up the hedge fund 2M Capital. What motivated you and what were the main challenges?

Most traders at some point in their careers will want to manage their own business – I felt that it was then or never. The two main challenges at first were coming to terms with the much smaller scale of the business and attracting talents to a start-up. Many candidates value stability and require a lot of convincing to get them on board. The 2008 financial crisis put a big dent in investor confidence. I could feel the fear and panic in the market and a lot of funds, including mine, unfortunately had to close down.

Given that experience, would you still recommend that bankers move to hedge funds?

Yes, because as propriety trading is vanishing from banks, some traders think hedge funds are the best places to escape new banking regulations. The key to success is to stay focused and to achieve the consistency that investors will look at, managing risks well over time. And given that many hedge funds are small, it is also important that you fit in with the team.

Has your experience during the financial crisis affected the way you now teach your students?

It has been a strong advantage being able to relate such a dramatic industry experience in the classroom. Because I’ve been through it, students are more engaged with my explanations of the origins of the crisis and its wide-reaching effects. If you just read about it, students may not fully appreciate it.

What’s it like for you now working in academia?

It was certainly a different experience moving from the high-pace, high-reward world of hedge funds into a teaching position. But I like it as Nanyang Polytechnic consciously instils a sense of innovation and enterprise in its banking and financial services students, like our internship attachments with financial institutions and our on-campus hands-on training. We also send our students for overseas exchange programmes with our partner institutions so that they can gain international exposure.

What are the future job prospects like for today’s students in Asia?

In the medium term, the effect of the financial crisis means that people are still needed in risk management and compliance to enhance operational performance. Hiring in investment banking will remain selective as most professionals will choose to stay put. The other area of growth is wealth management and private banking, particularly in Asia.

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