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Getting a banking job is now an “arms race”, says ex-Citi Singapore MD

Jason Tudor

“Some say a banking career is a marathon; I say it’s much better to think of it as a series of sprints,” says Jason Tudor, a former Asia Pacific head of commodities at Citi.

“I’ve been most fulfilled in jobs when I’ve been tasked with finding solutions to new business challenges – that’s more enjoyable and satisfying than taking on a team which is already performing well,” adds Tudor, who left Citi in September to set up a commodities consultancy in Singapore.

The first challenge in Tudor’s career was getting his first job in finance. It was the late 1980s and he had only decided that he wanted to work in the sector towards the end of his Cambridge University degree. By then it was too late to apply for an internship.

“None of my family had gone to university or worked in banking, so I knew very little about the industry,” explains Tudor. “I was studying engineering, but in the final year I switched to management studies and one of the modules I chose was an introduction to options theory and Black-Scholes. Those classes opened my eyes and I saw how my maths skills could be applied to finance, and I resolved to become a trader.”

His engineering background also meant Tudor was advised to consider a more “tangible” form of trading – and he soon turned his attention to commodities. After graduating in 1990 he landed a trainee job in the London trading office of German metals firm Metallgesellschaft (MG).

“I was hired despite only considering trading in my final year and therefore not having had any relevant internships. It was hard to do that then but it’s much harder now. It’s an arms race to get a graduate job these days, particularly at large banks, which are getting students into their recruitment processes at an earlier and earlier stage.”

Students now need to choose finance as a career virtually from the day they start university, says Tudor.

“But who at 18 is genuinely passionate about working for a bank? They may pretend to be or their parents may demand that they are, but I think banks expect them to be hooked on banking too soon. Someone could be a tremendous fit for a bank as a 22-year-old graduate, but it’s hard for them to get in if they haven’t been working towards securing such a job since they were 18.”

Tudor stayed at MG for more than eight years. “The 90s was an exciting time to be a commodities trader – for example, the options market was new and mainstream hedge funds were looking at commodities for the first time.”

In 1999 Barclays poached Tudor, who was still only in his late 20s, and made him head of metals and commodity hybrids. “It was a bit of a shaky period for Barclays, after crises in Asia and Russia, and some people questioned my move, but to me that was part of the attraction – I saw the potential for making a mark and building a great business there,” he says.

“We were a brokerage that needed to evolve into a client solutions business and to adopt a more risk-taking mindset,” adds Tudor. “Over time I transformed what had been a loss-making metals unit into one of the most profitable in the world.”

Tudor moved to Lehman Brothers in 2006 and expanded his remit beyond metals, becoming European head of commodities, a position he kept at Nomura when the Japanese bank acquired Lehman’s European operations in 2009.

“By 2011, having built a physical and derivative platform, I wanted to hire more sales and origination people and was told there was now no money to hire. Within months of building the business, Nomura decided to close it.”

His next challenge came at Citi. “I joined in London and turned around Citi’s loss-making exotics and metals businesses. Then in 2014 I moved to Singapore and helped to double the revenues of our small Asia Pacific team. These are both examples of ‘career sprints’ – fixing a new set of problems is always exciting.”

Having working as a consultant for several months, Tudor says he’s not ruling out a return to banking. “I’d only go back to banking for something suitable and exciting. Enjoying my consultancy job has made me more selective about a new banking role.”

Graduates interested in commodities trading careers should consider working at a physical commodities company first and then joining a financial institution, says Tudor. “The number of people trading commodities at banks has declined, so it’s harder to get in without any experience. International expertise in also valuable – you don’t need to start in Asia to work here.”

Tudor is cautiously upbeat about the outlook for commodities trading jobs in his adopted region. “Singapore will remain a hub for physical commodities because it has the trading companies, a stable environment and the legal expertise. It’s difficult to predict timing, but at some point the China market will become more tradable in the west. China has been trying for some years to develop a crude oil futures market in Shanghai, so long-term the future is bright.”


Image credit: Jason Tudor

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