As global banks in Asia trim trading jobs and cut bonuses in investment banks, their corporate banking ranks remain relatively unscathed. In fact, recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong report generally healthy levels of hiring here.
But despite its reputation as an expansionist sector offering stable employment, corporate banking continues to be dogged by talent shortages, especially in key roles like relationship management and transaction banking.
One of the problems is that major players like Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered aren’t doing enough to attract more Asian graduates into corporate banking, say industry experts. Massive pay rises aside, here’s how they would try to turn things around.
“Banks in Asia should offer more internship opportunities for corporate banking,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruitment agency Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “From the CVs we receive, most investment bankers have interned before, but very few corporate bankers started out as interns.”
“More senior bankers in Asia should be involved in graduate recruitment programmes,” says Russell Graham, a former Singapore-based head of service and solution delivery at Standard Chartered, now a partner at transaction banking consultancy SkyTxB. “When banks visit key universities these roadshows should include transaction banking as a key business within the bank, lifting its profile.”
What should these senior corporate bankers talk about on campus? “Share the difference between relationship building in corporate banking and investment banking,” says Lim Chaileng, a director at recruiters Randstad in Singapore. “Allow graduates to understand that RMs in corporate banking manage overall client relationships, while investment bankers only intervene when there are IB opportunities. This highlights the longevity and stability in corporate banking compared to IB.”
Finance students in Asia often have no idea about careers in corporate banking, says Mullally. “Banks should better educate them about career paths, emphasising the increasing resources being put into developing the sector to generate more interest,” he adds. “
Transaction banking and relationship management roles aren’t the jobs on offer. “When on campus, banks should explain that corporate banking extends to technical areas such as risk assessment and analysis, credit risk, and industry analysis,” says Jasmine Tan, an associate director at recruiters Kerry Consulting in Singapore.
University roadshows should also stress the international nature of corporate banking. “Young finance graduates in Asia want to be wowed with regional travel and coverage,” says Gary Lai, managing director for Southeast Asia at recruitment firm Charterhouse Partnership. “Banks should highlight co-operation between regional offices and deeper client penetration across different geographies in corporate banking.”
Asia transaction banking consultant Graham says his function, which is particularly affected by the wider corporate banking skill shortages, should be the second placement in banks’ graduate rotation programmes. “Much of the time in their first placement is spent on orientation to the bank. As the second spot, transaction banking would then be well positioned to allow new joiners to learn more about the business and make a strong impression on it,” he adds.
While young investment bankers generally get exposure to clients, many corporate banking juniors in Asia don’t. “It’s difficult to get meaningful client access early in your career if you want an RM role,” says a graduate employee of a US bank in Singapore. “Banks should expand the job scope for graduates,” adds Lim from Randstad. “Not limiting the roles to mainly administrative tasks will increase the attractiveness of corporate banking. This could include opportunities to manage relationships for small accounts or giving grads more hands-on exposure to credit papers.”
If a spell in a key area of corporate banking were made compulsory to long-term career progression, more graduates might recognise the importance of the sector. “For example, banks could make a stint in transaction banking a key requirement for some of their more senior positions,” says former banker Graham. “This is logical given that transaction banking is pivotal to a bank’s profitability, while the stickiness of relationships it affords gives employees a 360-degree view of the firm and its clients.”
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