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I’ve worked at Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. Now I run a bar. I have no regrets

Singaporean Colin Tay went from banking to beers when he left the financial industry after nine years. Formerly from Deutsche Bank, he now runs two businesses with a partner: Old Empire, a gastro bar, and TSA Wines, a beer and wine distribution company. He speaks to eFinancialCareers about his decision to give up the corporate life.

My former life as a banker

I studied economics and finance at the University of Sydney, so when I returned to Singapore in early 2002, I started looking for banking jobs. I saw banking as something lucrative, a safe route, especially since the sector was booming in Singapore. When I first started, I didn’t have any specific preference on which area I wanted to get into, I just wanted in. I am a people’s person though, so I thought a role where I dealt directly with clients would suit me.

My first job was at OCBC. I worked in retail banking, quality assurance, and finally I assisted a private banker. Three years later, I joined Goldman Sachs where I switched to operations, working in corporate client services. Moving from a front- to back-office function was not an easy decision, especially because I was being groomed to become a private banker at OCBC. I finally decided on the move because I wanted exposure at a global bank.

Goldman was a really good experience. I handled clients in various markets like Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia, Japan and Singapore who traded futures all over the world. But most days I worked 14 to 15 hours – I didn’t have much of a life. I kept at it for another three years until I couldn’t do it any more.

I then moved to Deutsche Bank as an AVP in client services for the Asia Pacific team. This was a bigger role, with better pay and hours. My role there was more client-focused, less operations driven, I also travelled to Hong Kong, Australia and Japan to meet clients so I enjoyed that.

A business is born

In 2008, while I was still with Deutsche, the idea for setting up a wine distribution company came about while having drinks with a long-time friend. Both of us have always been passionate about wine and we decided to become business partners.

He worked full-time in our new firm, while I helped out in the evenings and on weekends, so it wasn’t too hard. But the plan eventually was to also have our own gastro bar after a couple of years, and I knew that if I went into the business full-time we could grow it much faster. So when we found a potential site earlier this year, things moved quickly. The bar’s soft launch was in late February and I finally left banking in April.

Why I quit banking

I was still unmarried and didn’t have kids, so striking out on my own was something I could do. It was now or never really. It wasn’t an easy decision. I didn’t hate banking, although I was tired of it. When I quit, I was still asking myself whether I was doing the right thing.

Here’s my analogy: In a bank you are a small screw in a big machine, whereas when you run your own business, you’re more like a wheel. When a screw falls off, the machine’s still able to run, whereas the vehicle can’t move when the wheel isn’t working. But the faster the wheel spins, the further you and the business go. So I left and have no regrets. Still, I don’t regret having been in banking either. Nine years of corporate knowledge has been a great asset in how I manage my business today.

Want to leave banking? Here’s my advice

Think really hard about what you want to do. You need something to fall back on in case things don’t work out. So yes, I invested money in our business, but I kept aside savings for a rainy day. Also, don’t burn bridges. Working in a bank is never a lost cause. Life is unpredictable, so who is to say that you won’t return to banking again one day?

If you do want to set up your own business, realise it’s something that goes on around the clock. It can be longer hours than working in a bank. I do have nights where I can’t sleep because I’m thinking of ways to grow the business, so there’s no such thing as switching off. But seeing your ideas and efforts pay off make it all worthwhile.

Comments (26)

  1. I am so encourage to read stories like this!

  2. hats off to you Colin, I currently work for GS and would love to venture out someday few years down the line..

  3. Well done Colin! You had the courage to make a bold move and I hope it pays off. I have spent too long in banking and there is too much politics and not enough job satisfaction these days. At least you are your own boss.

  4. good and bold decision…well done.. i too would want to move out of my corporate career one day!! lets hope..

  5. Thanks guys for the encouragement. It’s been good but it’s been tough as well with less sleep and a whole new spectrum of stress. For one , no more KPIs, Annual Performance justifications and 360s! But there goes the annual bonuses too!

    A new twist to a famous phrase; the grass is always greener on the side coz there more s***.

  6. Banking is a Sunset industry..huge bonuses and boomtown is over – get out fast!

  7. To run my own business is always my goal, well done, Colin, it is very encouraging

  8. I went to your bar with my bf. We loved it and love the great selection of beers. Good job! FYI we r from banking and hopefully one day we could do something like this :-)

  9. It takes a huge amount of courage to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in such an entrepreneurial way. Great job!

  10. Well the fact is hes from the backoffice of both i.banks so its easier for him to leave – I doubt he would have left if he is from the front office. Its much harder to walk away from the huge base compensation and bonuses then.

  11. Sometimes it’s not the money but going for something one is passionate about. You are not wrong entirely but I have known many who have left the front office to pursue their passions. I would have done the same in a heartbeat. Some say again it’s easier for these people having racked up a big pot of savings. For me, it was all tougher getting a double whammy of a massive pay cut and pumping a large portion of my savings into a new venture. Well, Im hoping it’s a case of penny foolish, pound wise! Ultimately, I’m absolutely loving my new life and something I hope to look back 30 years from now and be glad I took that leap of faith.

  12. No regrets. banking career has a short shelf life. Once you are on your own and learn to run business you control your destiny to great extent. Of course there are business failiures and need for good partners and workers. Not easy if you have not too much cash to splurge. Good luck and hang in there.

  13. Balls of Steel. Smart Man. Not like the monkeys you worked with that ask those ” how many little peanuts fit into my tiny i banker’s skull” type questions they try on for size. You escaped these morons…my hat and skirt off to you!!

    michelleissmokinghot Reply
  14. Wow. Colin.. I envy abt the bold decision you have made.. Good luck and a success for your future endeavor . For me, I graduated from NUS with economics in year 2009, has always wanted to do banking sales but always unsuccessful from interviews. Am in a shipping industry but not sure whether that’s my right direction .

    However, have the dream of setting up automobile detailing workshop with friends as I have passion for the love of cars since young . Bt I will see hw it goes . Like what you have mentioned, gaining corporate experience Is important.

    Anyway , your stories do inspire me . Hope to achieve the dream of becoming own boss as well. Btw, ur beer outlet is located at where? Maybe I can drop by lending a support to you as well too. Cheers …

  15. Collin, wish you success in your new business, I totally agree with what you said

  16. Its a great pub 2 :) While worth multiple vists!

    A fan of old empire Reply
  17. Thanks guys again for all the encouragement. It’s been very enjoyable despite all the hours and sweat so far and every bit worth it. I guess if u truly enjoy what you do, work is not really work. Bmwm5, am a car fan like yourself too! Look me up on facebook, under old empire gastrobar for my address details and drop by. I think we will have plenty to chat about over a few pints. Cheers!

  18. It takes more than just capital to run a business. You need luck, opportunities, network, foresight, versatile strategy and lots lots more. Its like you promoted yourselves from a sailor to the ship captain now helming your own ship.

    For me, i worked 3 years with an american bank here in operation back-office. You feels like a robot everyday. Dirty politics are omnipresent in banks, and even if you stay neutral, you will still feel the ripple effect somehow. Moved on to commodity industry after 3 years which rewarded me with handsome salary and bonuses. However, life in a trading house sucks further with faster pace and higher stress level. These 2 jobs have something in common – i can’t be the real me.

    I asked myself this one question – What have i achieved after working for 4 years plus? Do i have my own storefront, brand name or anything tangible which belongs to me? All i had was saving accummulated over the 4 years. I own NOTHING.

    My friend who failed to find a job upon graduation eventually followed his passion – be an educator. He started giving one-to-one home tuition for 1 year plus, then moved on to giving group tuition and now owns his OWN tuition empire.

  19. My dream job is to work in SCS Some day . Behind bar(s) is your Futures.

  20. Well done, my advice to those who wants to start a business..don’t go into anything that the NTUC, government linked companies that has already participate in!

  21. I am contemplating to do the same. Kudos to you!

  22. Great Job Colin and admires your courage. You are spot on to say its now or never when you do not family commitment yet. All the best to your endeavors and I’ll sure drop by someday with my gf for a pint or 2. I’ve been in the back-end units of banks for 9 years and I see where you’re coming from.

  23. the small screws,and the big machine and now the big wheels of having and owning a vehicle its two different worlds.its always good to own something.Like myself used to work in Citigroup and now a 24/7 mobile biz online….its fun to create your own things and simply sell it:)worth it..

  24. Liked your decesion. banks comes up with a new strategy and process everyday. following there strategy and process becomes hectic and ultimately it results into long work hours. We become small fish in a big ocean of bank..

  25. Nice job Colin, good to see there are still some people out there who value true life over money, although hopefully the latter will come too. I also left banking (front office!) to escape the moronic lifestyle that I saw there, as I didn’t want to be hauling myself through months of boredom just for the sake of my bonus. The true bonus is enjoying your life while you’re young enough to do so. Hopefully people like “Katy” will realize this before it’s too late.

  26. Thanks Richard. As they say, different strokes for different folks. But I must also count myself lucky for finding my passion at some point in my life and actually make it count at the same time. Believe me, leaving a well paying job was very tough but 5mths on…. I can safely say I am Happy! Each day counts and I can see rewards however small they may be. I really hope to see all the nice well wishers on this thread at Old Empire some day. Colin

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