You can’t forge a successful career as an investment banker solely based on your technical ability – that’s what I’m trying to get across to the next generation of finance professionals.
I worked as a banker in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong for more than 20 years – most recently as an MD at UBS – and I now teach career skills to finance students at HKUST, NUS and Renmin University.
Naturally, these students need to know how financial markets work, but they must also understand the more subtle factors that will help get them to the top at a bank.
To achieve success in banking, I think you need to ask yourself the five questions below. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, everything I’ve mentioned is fundamental to careers in investment banking, especially here in Asia.
Since the financial crisis, clients have become much more sensitive to the issue of trust – alarm bells are ringing more easily these days. So step back and ask yourself: are you overselling and not properly highlighting the risk of your deals? Do you place more importance on your own personal interests than on clients’ interests? Are your social profiles portraying you as potentially unreliable? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then clients may (rightly or wrongly) perceive that there are more trustworthy bankers out there.
It’s a misconception that investment bankers just ‘do deals’ and never have to work too hard on fostering good relations with clients. To succeed in this industry, you must have a long-term mindset and not take a hit-and-run approach – so spend more time with your clients, and make the time count. Tailor your conversations to interest them (whether that’s chatting about their children or their investments) and entertain them at interesting restaurants, not just the standard ones which are full of other bankers. Importantly, introduce them to people in your network who could help them with their business needs – whether that’s another client, or another banker with products you can’t provide. You might not see immediate benefits from this, but they will be more likely to come to you in the future.
Even if you’re great with clients (see above), a weak internal network will hamper your ability to deliver for them because your deals will get less attentions from others at the bank. Ask yourself: Are your internal credibility and connections strong enough to convince the credit department to do the deal? Can you make sure that the operations team gives it priority? In my experience, some bankers are definitely better than others at internal networking…but we all have to do it.
I’m highlighting this because it’s becoming more important. The companies and industries that bankers cover are now changing more rapidly than when I started my career, because almost all of them have been heavily disrupted by technology. Product cycles today are much shorter than they were in the 1990s, or even 10 years ago. This means that bankers must do more (read more news, analyse more data) to understand the rapidly changing concerns of their clients. Whoever can squeeze even just another 15 minutes into their day – for an extra phone call, more thinking time, or to read an industry report – has an advantage over other bankers in the long run. So take time management seriously (click here to read my top tips).
If you regularly appear in the social media feeds of clients (or potential ones), you will be front of mind and they will call you more often. That’s why more bankers are starting to write and post articles on platforms like LinkedIn. Equally important, you must be easily available to answer quick questions – and here in Asia that increasingly means being active on WeChat. It’s common for Chinese clients to send out WeChat messages (instead of emails) when they need some simple advice or an opinion. Your competitors are almost certainly on WeChat and they will follow up (and could even get a meeting with the client) if you’re not responsive.
Eric Sim is a former Hong Kong-based UBS investment banking MD, and is currently a guest lecturer at HKUST, NUS and Renmin University.
Image credit: Robert Daly, Getty