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Q&A with OCBC’s Allison Koh, assistant vice president, global treasury, China

Koh is an assistant vice president with the asset liability management team in OCBC China’s global treasury office. She joined the firm as a management associate (MA) in July 2007 after graduating from the International University of Japan’s MBA programme. Prior to this, Koh was an associate banker with a foreign bank.

1) What made you decide to apply for the bank’s MA programme?

I was in my second year of MBA studies in Japan and was looking for a suitable management associate programme (MAP). I found that the OCBC MAP was perfect for me as it targets mid-career executives who hold a Master’s Degree. Most MAP I came across mainly target undergraduates and the MAs will work in the different departments on a rotation basis before being assigned to a division at the end of the programme.

As an OCBC MA, we get to choose the division of our choice from the onset and I appreciate having a say about my career path. The programme also has both structured training programmes and flexible programmes that are tailored to our specific division and individual training needs.

2) How did you prepare for the interview?

I kept abreast with the latest international news including financial news by reading Bloomberg and Reuters market updates and watching CNBC and Bloomberg TV. I managed to get some valuable interview tips from my university’s alumni who are working in the financial industry. They gave me very good tips, such as reading interview books that help aspiring bankers understand technical questions. They also told me to make a list of points, for example, specific achievements that I wanted to extol on during the interview.

As I really wanted to ensure I made an impression at the interview, I rehearsed in front of the mirror and roped in my friends to put up mock interviews and throw me challenging questions such as how to turn my weaknesses into opportunities.

3) What was the most challenging question? How did you respond?

Under the OCBC MAP, we could pick more than one division as our choice. The challenge for me was not so much the questions but having to decide which division I should put down as my first choice. Ultimately, I decided on global treasury as I like the fast-paced life as a trader and wanted the opportunity of working overseas. I am glad I made the right choice as here I am, working in China, the land of boundless opportunities.

I would have to say that the experience of working in Shanghai is really priceless. Being in the epicentre of China’s burgeoning economic growth, I am constantly challenged as the financial landscape in China is in a state of constant change. I know I would not be able to learn as much if I were elsewhere. On a personal front, living in Shanghai has taught me to be versatile and independent.

4) How long did the entire process take, from the application to finally being selected?

The entire process took about two months. After submitting the application, I was invited to complete analytical tests that were conducted online. As I was studying in Japan at that time, I did a phone interview with our human resources colleagues. Having passed the tests, the bank flew me from Japan to Singapore for a one-day assessment centre and final interview with senior management members from my division of choice, global treasury.

The assessment centre was pretty intensive. As the other selected MA applicants and I were from different career tracks and fields of study, we were put through more analytical tests to measure our key competencies such as adaptability and resilience, analysis and decision-making, teamwork and conflict management, instead of our technical skills.

One task which I found particularly challenging was to come up with a business plan based on a case study and having to present it. It did not seem so daunting at first but when I found out each of us had only 20 minutes to read the case study and come up with a good plan, my adrenaline went into overdrive and my stress level also hit an all-time high! Thankfully, I managed to conceive a workable plan within the allotted time. Following that, I had my final interview the day after and received my formal offer of employment about a week later.

Although the interviews, tests and presentations were pretty nerve-wrecking, it was definitely a memorable experience and gave me confidence on how to perform under duress.

5) How did you react when you got the job? What traits and characteristics helped you nab a place?

Naturally I was very happy and excited when told that I was selected. Besides having leadership potential, communication skills and business sense, I differentiated myself with my multi-lingual abilities coupled with the fact that I had some international exposure in the course of my studies. I can speak five languages, namely English, Mandarin, Japanese, French and Korean.

During my MBA studies, I went on an exchange programme in France and did an intensive summer Korean language programme in Seoul, Korea, as well. These skills and the openness to working overseas put me in good stead as global treasury was growing its regional team in line with the bank’s regionalisation plans.

6) Did you have any preconceived ideas about being a management associate? How have they changed now you’re in the job?

I was definitely expecting a steep learning curve as well as the opportunity to work with senior management and having a fast-track career. Now that I am in the job, the opportunities that I had been given have far exceeded my initial expectations. I have worked with senior management on strategic and even high-risk projects that gave me the visibility few had been given. But what impressed and inspired me is the great support from my division head, who has demonstrated his strong commitment to the MA programme by taking a personal interest in guiding and stretching my career potential to the maximum.

7) What has the journey been like so far?

The journey has been exhilarating so far. After the initial formal classroom training and attachments to other divisions, I was assigned to the international department within my division where my main function was to provide treasury-related support to our international branches.

After a while, I wanted to garner market exposure and therefore requested for, and was successfully transferred to, the asset liability management department. I learnt how to manage the bank’s balance sheet and also gained exposure to other departments within global treasury through high-profile strategic projects. I was also attached to the Malaysia treasury for a short stint to gain regional exposure.

I was given the opportunity for an overseas posting to the China treasury in October last year. I thought then that the timing and location of my overseas posting was perfect as China has started liberalising its financial markets. Working in OCBC China’s Shanghai office is definitely exciting and I look forward to more challenges and opportunities ahead as an OCBC MA.

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