Global investment banks can still offer careers to match or beat those in technology, private equity or hedge funds, says Pascal Lambert, Societe Generale’s head of Southeast Asia and group country head for Singapore.
But moving countries and/or job functions is now increasingly essential to success in the banking sector, he adds.
“A few years ago the best graduates of this ‘digital age’ would go to the likes of Facebook instead of the banks. But now I think banks are at a turning point in terms of the profiles we recruit as we are also going through a digital transformation,” says Lambert, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of the FT Asia Banking Forum in Singapore. “For example, fintech is now being incorporated by banks and making them more agile, which is appealing to graduates.”
“In banking the burden of regulations is high and for good reason – banks support the economy,” adds Lambert. “While some may find these regulations too much and may prefer to join hedge funds or private equity firms, I believe banks offer a wider breadth of job opportunities and products than these smaller firms offer.”
Lambert says graduates can still “make a big difference to society” if they work at banks. “For example, in an area like project finance you get the opportunity to contribute to the building of a country’s infrastructure.”
Above all, Lambert advises graduates and young bankers to be “flexible” with their careers – having a rigid long-term career plan no longer works. “If you have the curiosity to move between job functions – or even better, move locations – banking is a fantastic place to be.”
He puts his own success partly down to his willingness to relocate. “I chose banking as a career primarily because I was keen to get an international experience – this actually appealed more than the technical aspects of the industry.”
The Frenchman’s first international assignment was with Banque Indosuez (later part of Crédit Agricole) in Djibouti, a country on the Horn of Africa, in the early 1980s.
He then worked for the same bank in India between 1986 and 1989. “I started working in India just at the time when the Indian market was liberalising. It was a big step up for me at quite a young age – but I got it as I was willing to work overseas.”
In any banking career two or three people will be your “game changers”, says Lambert. “You may have benefited from their mentorship and they may offer advice which could create opportunities for you to consider..”
After India, Lambert’s second “big career break” came when he followed a former colleague to Bear Stearns in 1993. “I became their first Hong Kong employee and I set up the derivatives team for them there. It was new and exciting.”
After stints with Bear Stearns in Dublin (as the local CEO) and London (as head of European prime brokerage) Lambert returned to Hong Kong in 2007 to become APAC chief administrative officer, a position he remained in when J.P. Morgan took over the firm the following year.
Lambert joined SocGen in Hong Kong in 2009 as its APAC COO for markets and then (in 2010) corporate and investment banking.
He became the French firm’s Singapore boss in October 2012 and says his experiences in other markets helped him adjust quickly to the new role.
“The past four years have been about growing the business in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Interestingly this job has a lot of commonality with some of the ‘building’ roles I’ve had before, for instance setting up a bank in Dublin, and similarly in Hong Kong. In a bank like ours, you need the capacity to work as a team with both colleagues and clients. Banking is about people – and working well with them is what I like most about my job.”