“Bankers in Asia aren’t tech savvy. This has to change,” says ex-MD

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Bankers in Asia technology

From trading becoming automated to robots taking over the back-office, it’s no secret that technology is transforming (and sometimes replacing) jobs in the Asian banking industry.

Front-office roles are also feeling the effects of technological change – and not just because investment bankers have swankier internal IT platforms at their disposal.

More importantly, bankers must get to grips with how tech is impacting clients (and potential clients) in the industry sectors they focus on.

In my opinion (I’ve held several senior jobs in Asian IBD), bankers need to be able to spot Asian tech trends in advance. They need to know and network with the emerging tech-driven companies across Asia that might one day have M&A or capital markets requirements.

While in the recent past tech-trend spotting was the domain of TMT specialists, now every sector banker must be tech savvy if they want to succeed in their career.

Even if you’re not a TMT banker, tech is now eating into your industry and into your job. Banking is no longer neatly compartmentalised.

Real estate sector bankers have traditionally worked on deals involving commercial buildings and hotels, but companies driven by technology are shaking up their industry. Co-working firm WeWork, for example, is expanding in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Healthcare bankers are witnessing their industry being revolutionised by pharmaceutical technology companies, while those in FIG are grappling with the rapid rise of fintech in China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Meanwhile, for consumer bankers, technology is changing patterns of consumer behaviour – online delivery companies are expanding across Asia, for example.

Country coverage bankers don’t need to be quite as tech savvy, but they do need to understand tech trends in their markets, in particular how governments support technology.

These trends can come to light very quickly, especially in emerging Asian markets. China was a primarily cash-based economy until recently – foreign credit cards weren’t widely accepted – but now it’s common for even small merchants to accept the mobile payments system WeChat Pay.

That’s the kind of trend that a good China coverage banker should have picked up upon a few years ago.

But while bankers should ideally keep abreast of (and help predict) tech-driven market shifts in their sectors, too few of them are.

It’s the nature of investment banking that people are focused on the next six to nine months of their deal pipeline. That’s what will keep them afloat in the short term.

Bankers will often say they don't have enough time to study future trends – they’re too busy. However, when a big tech trend or new tech company hits your sector, it’s too late to catch up and win business. Someone else will already be advising these clients.

So devoting time to uncovering the technology shifts in your sector will pay dividends long term.

To do this you need to get out there and speak to the tech community. I don’t mean your clients or even big prospective clients; I mean small start-ups – companies that aren’t ready for an IPO in the near future, but might be in the longer team.

In banking, tech savviness means more than keeping up with technology, it means staying ahead of the game.

Hong Kong-based Eric Sim is a former investment bank MD who is now a career coach and writer.

Imae credit: James Brey, Getty


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