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The key questions that could make or break your career in Asian corporate banking

FAQ

Asian corporate banking is an expanding sector in financial services right now and banks face a shortage of relationship managers who can help them win new clients.

As banks try to build their RM ranks in Singapore and Hong Kong, they are increasingly open to finance professionals with strong client networks and sales experience who aren’t currently working in corporate banking.

Candidates from the Big Four or even from investment banks have been known to make such a career change. Internal transfers are also taking place, especially for more junior RM jobs, as we highlighted earlier this year.

If you’re looking to transfer your career internally into corporate-banking relationship management, or if you’re an RM looking for a new employer, here’s what to expect when you’re called in for an interview with your potential new boss.

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Which achievement has made you most proud?

You’ll probably be pumped up to answer sales-driven questions, but banks may first probe into whether you will fit well into their company culture, so expect some softer questions, too. “You don’t necessarily have to mention a work-related accomplishment,” says Lum Yin Fong, managing director of global transaction services, cash and trade, at DBS. “I’m looking for something that has made you feel happy and excited – something that shows your leadership and perseverance, and marks you out as having the X factor. For example, one candidate told me about the pride she felt in getting an article of hers published in a magazine when she was younger. Male candidates who’ve done National Service in Singapore sometimes point out leadership examples from their time in the army.”

What are the key products offered to your clients and how have you helped to identify and manage client needs for them?

This question gets right to the heart of corporate banking: the interface between clients and products. “It reveals what you have accomplished on a practical level, what expertise you could bring, and what value you bring to the bank’s overall business plan,” says Ben Tang, manager, client solutions at recruiters Randstad in Hong Kong. But don’t just blandly summarise your product list, include examples of challenges faced and solutions offered. “For instance, sharing how you have managed client needs for a particular product from start to end helps recruiters understand your ability to manage relationships with both clients and the project team.”

What is your total client-portfolio size?

Size matters in corporate banking, so even if you’ve just highlighted one particularly successful client relationship, interviewers will want to know how many more you have up your sleeve. Explaining exactly how large your portfolio is will enable the interviewer to assess your past sales performance and get an idea of how many relationships you might bring with you, says Howe Yuin Teo, senior consulting manager at recruiters Huxley Associates in Singapore.

How long have you managed your top-20 client relationships?

Once the interviewer understands the size of your total portfolio, they will drill down into the most important relationships (the ones they want to poach). If you’ve looked after key clients for a long time, they are, in theory, more likely to stay with you when you change banks. “This question is asked so the interviewer can understand just how strong your relationships really are,” adds Teo.

How did you acquire those relationships?

The client-related questions will just keep coming and coming in Asian corporate-banking interviews. It’s best not to shout too loudly about clients that were handed to you by your current bank. Most interviewers will assume that the relationships you’ve forged for yourself will be more transferable, says Teo.

Were you able to achieve the sales target last year? 

Once you’ve talked in overall terms about your clients, the interviewer will soon want to know your most recent numbers. “As Asian banking becomes increasingly competitive, recruiters are focusing on profit margins more than ever,” says Tang from Randstad. “They want to employ corporate bankers who can deliver outstanding results right now.” A compelling answer should therefore consist of plenty of quantitative results that highlight your achievements. “It’s also important to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the competitors and industry. For example, it is powerful to say that you have doubled your sales or cross-sell targets within one year despite growing competition from two new banks in the market.”

What’s your strategy to approaching new clients?

Banks in Asia want you to bring over your existing clients, but they also want you to find new ones. Answering this question is a good chance to discuss the business plan that you should have worked on before the interview. “You need to show how you will logically build up your client portfolio, which you can do through past examples,” says Chris Mead, regional director of recruiters Hays in Singapore and Malaysia. “And the the way you answer this question also helps employers determine what type of personality they have, which is another important factor for sales-based roles.”

What’s your motivation to move jobs? 

Even if you’ve aced the above questions, this one remains important. “Top sales candidates are usually motivated to move when there are more pull factors than push factors,” says Mead. “If you are desperately looking for a new position, employers are likely to be cautious about the reason for your move. So approach your answer by focusing on the pull factors. To some extent being money-driven is not a bad thing in front-office roles, as long as you can show you have a good track record.”

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