"Internal mobility in Asia is a bit of a scam. Banks should stop banging on about it"

eFC logo
Internal mobility

I work at a big American bank in Singapore and for the past year or so my team has been trying to encourage more 'internal mobility' within the firm. We want more staff to make career changes into functions like risk and audit. And when we need to relocate people from overseas into Singapore, we'd much rather move existing employees than make costlier and riskier external hires.

The trouble is, however, that many employees feel distinctly uncomfortable about revealing their real careers aspirations to their bosses. And despite our mobility push, many of our managers aren't exactly happy to hear that their staff what to move teams.

So instead of constantly banging on about our immediate internal-mobility vacancies, HR should make it easier for staff to have these initial discussions with their managers. In the meantime, if you're a banker wanting an internal move, you need to take matters into your own hands and decide whether to tell your manager that you ultimately want to quit their team.

Should you be that honest when it could backfire and affect your relations with your current manager? The bad news is that only you can make this decision – don't trust this one to your friends or family. The good news is that you can solve this dilemma by asking yourself a few key questions:

How have I performed over the past two years?

This question is pretty easy. If you’ve been killing it at work and your boss agrees (via your performance appraisals), you’re in a good position to ask them for career advice without much fear of repercussions. If you haven't been towing the line, it's not a good time to have this potentially difficult chat – shelve the discussion for a later stage.

Are my career aspirations realistic?

If you don’t have realistic aspirations, don’t bother talking to your boss about them – it’s not worth the risk. I'm not saying forget about a move from the back to the front office if that's what you really want; I'm just saying be aware of the current environment in your bank and the job market generally.

So don't sit down with your boss and say simply “I want to move into X area”. That's not going to cut it. Ask yourself the question beforehand: “How do my career aspirations fit into where my bank is going?”. If your interest is in wealth management and this is an growth area for the bank, your chances of moving are higher, so a chat with your manager is certainly on the cards.

Am I presenting my boss with a problem or a solution?

As an experienced people manager myself, I really like it when someone in my team brings me a scenario that they have applied a good amount of thought to already. In other words, they aren't just dropping a bomb on me. If, for example, you are keen on moving into a project role, what have you already done to prepare yourself for this move?

Have you completed a relevant project manager course? Have you networked internally and are therefore aware of existing opportunities within the bank? Are you willing to take a pay cut to make the move? Are you happy to wait for the right role, as long as there is a level of commitment from the bank? Taking this kind of initiative illustrates that you are thinking like a problem solver rather than just another person who wants something for nothing. Your boss is therefore much less likely to be annoyed by your desire to chat about a move.

Does HR at your bank support internal moves?

I'm not sure if you’ve noticed, but internal mobility is a top priority for a lot of banks (not just mine) in Asia at the moment. A lot of them even have dedicated teams of people in human resources focusing on facilitating internal moves for staff.

Take a look at the existing opportunities and let your boss know how they relate to what you are looking to do. Most importantly, do this with an open mind. If your aspirations are very focused on one particular role in the bank, it's going to be harder for them to help you. If you’re open to hearing about other options, you will probably find that there are way more opportunities than you initially thought.

Is the timing really right for this type of chat?

Once again, you will need to use your own good judgement here. If the bank has only just announced a round of redundancies, this may not be the best time to be having this kind of honest discussion. It may seem obvious, but by paying attention to what's happening more broadly within the bank, you illustrate a level of maturity that your boss will appreciate.

Overall, if you ask the questions above, a career chat shouldn’t put you on the wrong side of your boss. It's important that they are aware of where you see yourself going in the future so that they can help you get there. If they don't know, how can they help? You will probably find that not only will they be quite supportive, they will probably be able to offer you advice and tips on how to get to where you want to go.

The author works for a US bank in Singapore. He has been recruiting in the banking industry in Asia – in both agencies and in-house – for more than 10 years.

Image credit: bjdlzx, Getty

Related articles

Popular job sectors


Search jobs

Search articles