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Dressing for McDonalds, filing $30k expenses, and other stupid mistakes made by bankers in Asia

Mistakes Asian bankers

Working for a top-tier bank doesn’t stop people from making embarrassing or even career-threatening mistakes at the office. We spoke to several finance professionals in Singapore and Hong Kong to find out some of the worst blunders they’ve witnessed on the job.

Singapore fling

Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio isn’t the only banker to take full advantage of a work trip to Singapore. “One banker I know would travel frequently from Hong Kong to Singapore and to show that he was saving money for the bank, he’d say he was staying at an unoccupied place belonging to a client,” says a former HSBC banker. “Later the rest of the bank got to know that he was actually shacking up at his assistant’s apartment during these so-called ‘business’ trips.”

One night in Bangkok

“The most interesting stories tend to happen when Singapore and Hong Kong-based bankers go to cities like Bangkok and Manila,” adds the ex-HSBC employee. “I know a banker who was sacked because he ran a bill of S$30k on a trip to Bangkok and logged it as ‘client entertainment’ expenses. While he was managing a high AUM for this client, the bill was a bit too much for his conservative European bank to digest.”

Fries with that?

“I was working on our structuring desk in Hong Kong and didn’t usually meet clients, so I was wearing a half-sleeve shirt and chinos,” recalls a banker from a global IB. “I got pulled into a client visit at short notice and ran around the floor finding a tie to wear with my shirt. My colleagues found it quite funny and introduced me at the meeting as having just joined the bank from McDonalds. I suppose I was looking quite like a McDonalds shift supervisor.”

Trading floor joke gone wrong

“I worked with a famously loud-mouthed trader who always wore the bare minimum to work and generally looked scruffy – no fashion sense whatsoever,” says Hong Kong-based Matt Hoyle, a trader-turned-headhunter. “One day he shows up to work at noon in a screaming black-and-white pinstripe suit. His boss asks him if he’s wearing that so he can finally take that ballroom dancing exam that he knows he’s been longing to do in secret. He answers that he’s just returned from his grandmother’s funeral.”

Missing in action

“A graduate at Barclays in Singapore began well when he was first hired, but after a while he started going AWOL late afternoon and then wouldn’t come into work until 10am,” says a source who worked with him. “When questioned he said he didn’t think there was a problem as no one at university was that precious about time keeping, so he didn’t realise you had to be on time for work!”

Lost in translation

“I had an embarrassing experience when I arrived in Jakarta for my first business trip there,” says Russell Graham, a former head of solution delivery at Standard Chartered. “My bank arranged someone to help me through immigration and he kept asking ‘do you need a pizza?’. I thought it was strange, but wanted to be polite so I replied, ‘it’s ok, I ate on the plane’. We walked a little further and he asked again, ‘are you sure you don’t need a pizza?’ Then I noticed him pointing at something – it wasn’t a fast food place but an immigration booth where they were issuing visas on arrival.”

Friday faux pas

Dress-down Fridays are a potential minefield for banking professionals, but if your firm doesn’t have one, don’t try to start one yourself. “A candidate I recruited would always turn up to his new workplace dressed in flashy casual clothes on Fridays, but the bank didn’t do casual Fridays at all,” says Vince Natteri, managing director at recruitment agency Pinpoint Asia. “His manager even spoke to me about this and asked why he didn’t find it odd that everyone else was dressed formally on Fridays.”


Image credit: PhonlamaiPhoto, Getty

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