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The ultimate guide to fast-tracking your career in Asian banking

Banking career

Want to boost your Asian banking career, but don’t want to leave your current bank? Clinching a place on a high-potential (hi-po) programme could be your ticket to a fast-track promotion into a leadership role.

Almost all banks run hi-po courses under different guises – UBS, for example, has two “key talent” schemes – and in Asia they are becoming a more important way of tackling a growing shortage of senior leaders.

But what does it take to get on one?

1. Know the process

Banks often have different hi-po courses according to seniority – UBS’ Ascent programme, for example, is for associate directors and directors. “If you want to get selected on one of our key-talent programmes you first need to understand the selection criteria – the process is transparent, with your managers working with HR as part of the talent-review cycle,” says Moira Roberts, head of human resources at UBS in Singapore. “So speak to your line manager in a meeting or as part of your performance review.”

2. Push for it

Once you know the nuts-and-bolts of how the hi-po scheme works, push to be on it – don’t wait to be chosen. “Ultimately, you have to be proactive to drive your own career, so ask questions and work out what you need to do to be selected,” says Roberts. “The problem in Asia is most employees are bashful about asking for what they want,” adds Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore. “You really have to speak up – make it clear that you want to be on that hi-po.”

3. Have skills with future significance

If you’re a star performer within a business-as-usual niche, your hi-po dreams could be dashed from the outset. “Employers typically align hi-po programmes directly to business priorities, looking at the capabilities needed to sustain current and future performance,” says Lauren Houghton, a leadership consultant at Executive Development Associates in Singapore and a former APAC head of organisational learning and development at Credit Suisse. “Rather than starting by looking at an individual employee’s high potential, they first identify their most strategically important jobs.”

4. Act like a leader

“To position yourself to get on a hi-po programme you should have conversations around the leadership competencies that are used in your bank,” says Tony Latimer, a training director at the Asia Pacific Corporate Coach Institute in Singapore. “Find out what makes someone considered a good leader at one, two and three levels above your current position. Then find opportunities to demonstrate these behaviours.”

5. Don’t get too fixated on promotion

Hi-po schemes help banks pipeline future leaders and banks measure their success partly on the percentage of participants achieving a significant promotion – 75% is considered good – within 18 months of completion, says Latimer. But it’s best not to tell your manager that your main motivation is to move up the ranks without your current function. “Our programmes focus on developing your leadership capabilities, but there is no guarantee of a promotion. Beyond the programmes, you still have to work hard to show your capability to operate at the next level,” says Roberts from UBS.

6. Do it for extra exposure

If you’re asked why you want to go on a hi-po programme, “more exposure to the business” is a good reply. “Your main motivation should be increasing your skills and gaining a broader understanding of the bank beyond your current role,” says Roberts. “For example, as a wealth management client advisor in Singapore, you would get the opportunity to work with staff from the investment bank and global asset management, and with staff from around the 13 APAC countries UBS operates in.”

7. Enjoy teamworking

Joining a hi-po scheme may ultimately be about your own career success, but your ability to work with others is a crucial component of being selected. The Ascent programme at UBS incorporates a “business challenge” teamworking project designed to generate revenue or make cost savings, says Roberts. “From a skills perspective it builds confidence in problem solving, while also increasing knowledge in an area of the bank which you are generally not familiar with.”

8. Perform well

Smashing your KPIs is the minimum barrier to enter a hi-po programme. “Results do carry weight in the early identification of potential, particularly in sales-driven jobs, but they are only half of the equation,” says Houghton from Executive Development Associates.

9. Show ability and aspiration

The managers selecting you will need convincing that you have both of these factors, says Houghton. “Resilience, learning from mistakes, adapting your strategy, persistence and tenacity are all part of the ‘ability’ criteria. Aspiration means that it’s visible to others that you have personal ambition – you’re motivated to be a leader and to take on a leading role that may put you at risk.”

10. Be committed to your bank

You must also show that you’re engaged with your bank’s strategy – that your goals match, says Houghton. “This commitment criteria is less objective than the other two, but behaviours such as ‘showing up’ in front of leaders at crucial meetings and events are important. Does the leadership see that you want to grow your career within their company, going beyond the call of duty to achieve results for them?”

11. Don’t stress about selection

“These programmes aren’t the be all and end all. Some junior people especially get wrapped up thinking that if they don’t get on a key-talent programme their career will suffer, but in reality only the top 3% to 5% of performers get into them,” explains Roberts from UBS. “There are many other opportunities – learning from role models, job rotation, stretch assignments, exposure through key projects and robust development conversations. The key is to own your own development and seek out opportunities proactively.”

Image credit: stockfoto, Getty

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