Avoid “banker restaurants”...and other career tips from top Asian bankers in 2017

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Are you planning to move jobs in Asian banking in 2018 or wondering how to advance your career at your current firm?

We’ve spoken to several senior finance professionals in Hong Kong and Singapore throughout this year who offered their top tips for getting ahead in your career.

Realise that banking is more boring than it used to be

“While I don’t blame the regulators for being hawkish, there’s no doubt that financial regulations have made front-office jobs less interesting and less fun,” said Agnes Liew, the former head of Citi’s Asia Pacific corporate bank, who now runs a gym in Singapore. “All the bankers I talk to these days bemoan how difficult it is to do their jobs. From simple account opening to lending standards and foreign exchange – everything has become (and is still getting) more challenging. Many bankers now spend much of their time making sure they don’t inadvertently misstep on regulations.”

Move to a Chinese bank

“The big Chinese banks are still growing. There are still truckloads of opportunities for Mandarin speaking bankers who understand how to operate in China,” said Liew. “Hong Kong bankers are best placed to take advantage of this growth, thanks to their city’s strong nexus to the mainland. But I think Singapore could potentially be a large talent base for Chinese banks in the near future. The big question, though, is whether bankers in Singapore will be adventurous enough to want to spend a lot of time in China. These roles will require either relocating there or doing frequent business trips.”

Be like Jamie Dimon

“You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you can’t relate to colleagues and clients you won’t succeed. If all you can talk about is the Singapore dollar or interest rates, you won’t cut it as an investment advisor,” said Christophe Aba, regional head of investments for Southeast Asia at J.P. Morgan. “Jamie Dimon is a wonderful example of someone who’s both very intelligent and very plain spoken.”

Take risks in your career

“Don’t always go for the easy option. If you’re asked to work in Indonesia, for example, don’t say ‘will I get clean towels and water?’, think seriously about the opportunity it will give you,” said Satya Ramamurthy, who heads KPMG’s management consulting practice in Singapore. “The majority of us in Singapore are used to a very comfortable standard of living and level of infrastructure. Sometimes young people here find it hard to pack their bags and go work where they’re most needed. So we generally need a change of mindset.”

Start your career in TMT

“Technology is the best sector to cover in Asia as there are constantly new companies and concepts being developed, which provide you with new clients and keep the work interesting,” said Jeff Chen, the former head of technology investment banking for Asia Pacific at HSBC, now chief strategy officer for Chinese online healthcare firm WeDoctor. “It’s also the only industry where companies can go from zero to multi-billion dollar valuations in only few short years.”

Don’t go to restaurants that are packed with bankers

“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,” said Eric Sim, a former UBS managing director who’s currently a guest lecturer at Renmin University. “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.”

Don’t be a short-term superstar

“I prefer to hire someone who fits into our culture long-term, rather than a short-term superstar who might generate revenue for a couple of years and then destroy the healthy environment here,” said Lawrence Lua, deputy head of DBS Private Bank. “We don’t want narrow bankers who are only exposed to one or two products. We want people who can help with succession planning and have wider conversations with clients.”

You don’t need banking experience to work in banking technology

“Banks are competing for the same talent pool and it’s become more difficult to find technologists who also have strong banking skills,” said Charles Gillet, Asia Pacific chief information officer at SocGen. “My team already employs people who have banking backgrounds and we already know how markets work. So now we’re focused on hiring people who have a passion for technology, an innovative mindset, and can work in a collaborative way in a fast-paced environment.”

Ditch your job description if you join a start-up

“The main challenge for me personally over the past two years has been learning SEO, and digital and content marketing as I had no prior knowledge,” said Anna Vanessa Haotanto, a former UOB banker who now runs The New Savvy, a Singapore fintech firm targeting female investors. “In a fintech start-up, every day is a struggle because there are no limits on what you can do – you don’t have a tight job description like at a bank.”

Don’t make errors!

“If you want to succeed as a junior team member, it’s essential that you produce very high quality, accurate and comprehensive work for your seniors – nothing hurts you more as a banker than errors in your work,” said Rohit Chatterji, head of investment banking for South and Southeast Asia at J.P. Morgan.

Image credit: Photodisc, Getty

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