Alvin Tong’s finance career began far from the gleaming towers of Hong Kong – or any major financial centre for that matter. From 2007 to 2012 he was plying a steady trade as a retail wealth advisor in Edmonton, Canada. Now, with an MBA from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) under his belt, Tong has recently joined insurance giant AIA in Hong Kong as a senior analyst.
“Within the investment advisory business, if my manager back in Edmonton decided to retire, it would have been a natural progression for the associate to buy out and manage the existing clients. But that would have meant doing the same job for the foreseeable future and I wasn’t quite ready to settle down,” explains Tong. “I decided that while I would stay in financial services, I also wanted to make a major career change by moving from retail clients to institutional clients, either on the buy-side or the sell-side.”
He also set his sights on Hong Kong. “I wanted somewhere with more career options in the institutional space. As a Canadian, I looked at Toronto, but because I spent my early childhood in Hong Kong and I already spoke Cantonese and some Mandarin, it seemed a logical choice to relocate back. The only problem, of course, was how to actually make my career change happen – you can’t easily jump from retail to institutional.”
Tong decided to relocate to Hong Kong and enrol in CUHK’s MBA programme, but only after doing his homework. “I looked at a Masters in Finance but it seemed too specialised. I needed to keep my career options more open. The CUHK MBA gives you flexibility, and that’s very important in a sector that’s so volatile. The management skills you learn provide additional flexibility by letting you apply for management traineeships and setting you up for future management roles. Some employers go specifically to MBA schools to recruit and train their graduates to become their future leaders.”
Getting a taste of banking
Like Tong, Jeffrey Ng chose the CUHK MBA to help advance his finance career. After graduating in 2012 Ng has moved up the ladder at BNP Paribas in Hong Kong – from business analyst to head of global coverage solutions in Hong Kong corporate and institutional banking. He says the MBA gave him a taste of some of the banking jobs that he hadn’t experienced during his earlier career.
“For example, the derivatives trading course provided a real feeling of what it’s like being a trader by simulating trading and enabling me to understand how traders’ performance is measured and how trading desks are divided up,” says Ng. “And the M&A course dealt with negotiating M&A pricing as well as quantitative ways to analyse deals.”
But it’s not just the technical skills they learnt during their MBAs that are now helping Ng and Tong on the job. “Being together at the CUHK campus, I got to know classmates from diverse backgrounds across the business world and exchanged experiences with them,” says Ng. “And I got to know myself better – my strengths and limitations – by benchmarking myself against other professionals.”
“We also had plenty of alumni networking events and guest speakers,” adds Tong. “When you’re a student these people have more patience to answer your questions than they normally would. So if you’re working out how best to advance your finance career after graduating, you must seize the moment and ask them about the type of opportunities out there.”
Tong says that doing an internship during the MBA was also crucial in shaping his career choices post-graduation. Towards the end of the course, CUHK’s career management centre helped him land a 10-week placement at ANZ’s bond sales desk in Hong Kong. “While I wasn’t licenced to talk to clients, I was tasked with keeping track of new deals and performing valuation analysis on them. Internships help you decide the type of roles to aim for when you’re thinking of a career change within financial services. Having only worked in retail, I wanted to see the institutional sales side first hand, so it was a great professional experience for my career.”
CUHK’s career management centre also helped Tong after graduating by connecting him to the senior analyst job at AIA that he ended up securing in September 2015 after several vigorous interview rounds. “I’m now working in the group investment office, helping local investment teams across Asia to look for outsourcing opportunities, mainly in stocks and alternative asset classes such as private equity. With operations in 18 different Asian countries, it makes sense for us to evaluate opportunities at a group level – whether to invest in a new fund, for example – and make recommendations to our subsidiaries.”
“I’ve managed to move into a totally different part of financial services and I’m really enjoying the new challenges,” adds Tong. “I’d never worked as an analyst before – I was a wealth manager for my whole career previously – but I’ve got here because of my MBA.”