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“Singapore corporate banking is cut-throat: here’s how I survive it”

Singapore corporate banking

It's a battle

Last month I wrote a blog about how much I loved my job as a corporate banker at a big European bank in Singapore.

The daily discussions with product teams, the early-career interaction with clients, and the lack of pitch books – these are all massive upsides to my role. And most days I do genuinely enjoy turning up for work.

But I hope I didn’t give the impression that my job is straightforward and relaxing – it can actually be quite the reverse. The role comes with its unique set of pressures.

The corporate banking market is very competitive in Singapore and if you make a serious mistake when handling a client, the word gets around our small country pretty quickly.

Relationship managers at rival banks will soon make a play for that client, and other clients may also become aware of what you did. This hasn’t happened to me – but it certainly could if I’m not careful.

For example, I have a particularly annoying client who’s overly fussy and relentlessly negative. But in a job like mine, I simply can’t afford to upset him –- losing my temper means I risk losing a key client.

If I were an investment banker perhaps I could be slightly more upfront with him because I’d just need to get the deal done and then move on. But I have to keep him happy month upon month, which heaps pressure on me and requires plenty of patience and tolerance.

As a young RM in corporate banking, my soft skills are constantly tested to the limit. For example, I’m increasingly having difficult conversations around compliance issues – often with ne; w clients that I barely know.

I can assure you that, especially as a junior, it isn’t easy to broach the subject of whether someone is doing business in Syria or another blacklisted country.

I often need to be very tactical and sensitive in order to get compliance-related answers from clients without offending them and potentially damaging the relationship.

Other difficult situations sometimes crop up out of the blue. For example, I now have two corporate clients that are merging with each other, so I have to be very careful about what I communicate to each one to avoid compromising the deal.

As a corporate banker you must always be mindful of what to say and what not to say – even in social situations. Don’t slip up by inadvertently sharing confidential information over lunch.

And even if you manage not to offend any clients along the way, you will also need to turn the product ideas you suggest to them into concrete solutions that deliver benefits to their businesses.

It’s sounds (and often is) stressful, but you will ultimately be judged on how many client conversations you convert into solutions. The higher your ratio, the more you will stand out as a banker in this cutthroat market in Singapore.

As I mentioned last month, it takes at least two years to establish a trusting relationship with a corporate client. But if you keep on solving their problems, that trust will come – even if you’re much younger than them.

Another challenging aspect of corporate banking is the need to constantly ask yourself questions. You can’t just take clients at face value, you need to ask, for example: why have they made that business decision? Why were they behaving in that way during the meeting? Why did they say that about the product?

To make sure you can answer these questions as a junior RM, ideally get a job where you’re thrown into the deep end and have your own clients, but also where you spend some of your time shadowing senior bankers with their larger clients.

Whenever you meet clients with a director or MD, make sure you pick their brains after the meeting about the client – they will have behavioural insights that you didn’t pick up.

If you don’t ask the senior bankers questions, you won’t progress your relationships, your career will stall, and the pressure will mount.

Lucy Ng (we have used a pseudonym to protect her identity) is a corporate banker at a major European bank in Singapore.


Image credit: 1001nights, Getty

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