Jacqueline Tan, vice president, institutional banking group, DBS, tells eFinancialCareers about her move to China.
BC (before China)
I made my first foray into banking as a management trainee in the private banking arm of a German bank. After two years, I decided that I wanted to experience corporate banking because I felt it would make better use of the skills and knowledge picked up during my university years. It was challenging to make a transfer in my previous workplace: although my application for transfer was accepted by the receiving department, my then boss was reluctant to let me go. During the same period, an opportunity opened up in DBS and the rest is history.
I joined DBS’ corporate banking department during the Asian Crisis and started off as an account manager in the general industry, doing marketing and credit. DBS has been moving towards industry specialisation and I went on to focus on the telecommunications, media and technology (TMT) sector. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with colleagues in different locations and originate deals in Singapore, Greater China, Indonesia and the US.
In 2010, a new team was formed to turn around and work out solutions to improve the financial positions of DBS clients that have viable businesses but may be experiencing some difficulties. Recognising a good progression opportunity, I requested for a transfer to the team. My current role allows me to continue to do what I like (customer engagement) and expand my skill set (credit and restructuring). Even after 13 years in DBS, there are still new experiences and challenges daily.
Why China proved irresistible
In 2002 or 2003, I applied under a Ministry of Trade and Industry programme where Singapore companies, including DBS, sponsor officers to work with their China operations. However, I had to pull back my application for personal reasons. Although I did not move to China then, I had opportunities to work with Singaporean companies moving to China and companies operating in China. I also supported origination in the TMT sector in Greater China. I wanted to move there because China is a growth market and DBS China has many exciting plans. Sometime last year, I requested to be relocated.
On the professional front, I hope to establish a strong network locally, work on early identification of risks in China, and work with clients who may need advice to turn them around and manage their financial situation. I hope to also deepen my knowledge and experience, and share these with colleagues locally and in Singapore.
DBS supports staff development and encourages job rotation for career development. I have bosses who are very open minded and their response to my desire to relocate was positive and encouraging. The process of application and approval for the relocation took two to three months. The bank helped to arrange for my work permit and residency permit applications.
A Shanghai introduction
We moved to Shanghai around Christmas last year and it was really cold! I have travelled and worked with companies operating in Shanghai, so there were no major shocks when I first moved. It’s relatively minor things like the significantly higher prices of basic necessities like milk. Going on business trips is not the same as living and working in Shanghai, but having friendly and helpful colleagues helped me settle in faster.
Communication is one of the challenges. Although I am a Chinese Singaporean and speak the language fairly well, I could say one thing and it might mean something else to the Chinese nationals. In addition, things cannot be taken at face value. You need to read deeper to get a better understanding. It is not easy to win the trust of the Chinese, but once earned, it means stronger relationships and the opening of doors.
The toughest thing about moving
The biggest challenge is speaking the same language and conveying the meaning across to the locals accurately. I try to practice my Mandarin as much as possible with my PRC colleagues so that I can learn how to express myself better and avoid misunderstandings with clients.
I am fortunate to have my immediate family with me in Shanghai. Technology has also made communication easier. I keep in touch with family and friends back home via email, WhatsApp and Skype. I fly back to Singapore sometimes for business and during the school summer holidays.
Shanghai has many good restaurants but the food I miss most is home-cooked food and hawker fare. Since moving to Shanghai, I have learnt to cook Hainanese chicken rice, which is surprisingly easy to prepare with my ready mix. I also get frozen roti prata from Carrefour and make curry with ready-mix paste brought over from Singapore.
The road ahead and relocation advice
My contract is for two years and I have been in Shanghai for about six months. I hope to make the best out of my stint here and learn as much as I can and contribute further to the organisation.
Come to China with an open mind: be humble and acknowledge what you do not know. Do not be afraid to ask for help or guidance, accept challenges, and give it your best shot.