Are you gearing up to apply for a 2016 summer analyst job at a bank in Asia? Are you buying into banks’ hype about internships being ‘valuable learning experiences’ with limitless ‘networking opportunities’? Or are you already resigned to spending three months making Starbucks runs?
The reality of being an intern in Asia lies somewhere between these glossy and grim extremes. With internships now winding up, we spoke with four students in Singapore and Hong Kong about how they really spent their summers.
Some of my colleagues were slackers
There were quite a few of us interns in the team, so it was really tough to work together and to share the workload equally when a particular teammate didn’t want to cooperate or assume more responsibilities. It was challenging trying to work together without ruining the dynamics of the team.
Socialising was very awkward
Work-wise, the interns liaised directly with the MDs and head of department, but socially I definitely felt distant from the senior staff – even our weekly lunch get-togethers were really awkward. Because everyone was so busy, we didn’t even have proper networking sessions either, except a one-off post-work drink.
The key part of the job was overlooked
I was disappointed not to attend any client meetings – not to speak to clients but to listen and learn how relationship managers pitch to clients and build relationships with them. This crux of the job wasn’t presented to us. Liaising with clients via email was as good as it got.
Minor mistakes were costly
This summer internship taught the importance of being extremely careful about details. It’s imperative for a role like an RM, especially because the materials we prepared as interns went straight to the clients.
The senior traders talked to me!
The trading floor is a very open space where everyone can literally reach out to everyone else. There’s is no physical barrier between juniors and seniors, which is probably different from internships in other departments. For instance my boss was sitting next to me and I could even approach the regional head of trading and talk with him if I wanted.
Cultural connections mattered on the floor
I did notice that mainland Chinese traders were often more willing to talk with mainland Chinese interns, while local Hong Kong traders talked more to HK interns, and foreigners to other expats. But it’s completely natural to form small groups of friends with people who have similar cultural backgrounds.
My soft skills were key to my sucess
Connections are always the most important element in this industry, no matter if you’re a trader or investment banker. Summer analysts must realise that technical skills are certainly helpful but less important than soft skills. Maintaining good relationships, especially with your boss and mentor is much more crucial than being able to build a great financial model.
But cross-department networking was of limited value
There were a lot of social events organised that did let interns talk to people from other divisions. However, it’s quite hard to keep in contact with them after the events and I don't think knowing people from other divisions is really that helpful. For example, can meeting an MD from the private bank really help an intern from IBD boost their chances of getting a return offer?
Often it’s just down to luck
I know an intern at my bank whose main job was to buy breakfast and lunch for traders – nothing else was assigned to him. Sadly there is nothing much a summer analyst can do about this except pray to be assigned to a good team. It seems that interviewers asked candidates what trading desks they preferred to work on only out of courtesy. In the end HR always just randomly assigns them to different teams – it’s the same in other investment banks too.
My senior colleagues largely ignored me
I was too isolated because my line manager was simply too busy to ensure my time spent there was meaningful. A lot of the time I was just left to do my own readings – I could hardly make a worthwhile contribution. Other colleagues couldn’t always ensure that my experience was fruitful and enriching. Their own work was always more important – unfortunately I didn’t realise this until mid-way through my internship.
I was overzealous
I wanted to achieve such a lot – I was really looking forward to it. But in the end I think all this energy brought me more bad than good. If I had another chance, I would spend more time building lasting relationships with colleagues rather than thinking about my own learning and following market moves all the time. As an intern don’t be overzealous; learn to be stable and reliable.
I learnt not to rely on textbooks for technical skills
For example, at university, forwards are calculated by non-arbitrage theory. But in the real world, forward points are actually traded – and a lot is based on a single formula, interest rate parity at my firm.
I didn’t work that hard as an intern
My internship didn’t show me the real culture of the workplace as much as I'd hoped because I was treated as only an intern. The hours put in by my full-time colleagues were also much longer than mine, so an internship is actually an underestimation of how much work goes into a career in banking.
My degree did me no good
As I’m studying economics, which is mostly theory, I didn’t apply my degree during my internship. Doing an accounting degree would have made my time much easier.