Citi is expanding the team that serves the local units of its multinational clients in Asia, says the man leading the hiring drive. But the US firm is being “selective” with its recruitment, demanding bankers who can discuss industry trends instead of just flogging products.
Citi now plans to add more bankers into its global subsidiaries group (GSG), says Munir Nanji, the unit's Singapore-based APAC head, without providing numbers or a timescale. GSG’s clients are typically Fortune 500 companies (including not just Western-headquartered firms, but also those from China, Korea and other Asian markets) which operate subsidiaries outside of their home countries. “This is an important business segment for us in a high-growth region which is home to two-thirds of the world’s population,” says Nanji.
GSG operates in 15 countries in Asia and manages client relationships across all corporate and investment banking products, from M&A and ECM, to corporate loans and project finance. It has regional bankers based in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore as well as onshore bankers covering individual markets, some of whom are also subdivided by industry.
Nanji, however, says he’s not interested in recruiting candidates who are purely salespeople. “If you’re just meeting a client to sell them a particular product because it’s the flavour of the month, the discussion could end pretty quickly,” he adds. “We want to hire bankers who are able to identify problems that our clients are facing and find solutions for them. You must understand the challenges that multinationals face in Asia, and that means knowing their business inside out. Only then can you bring in the right product for them from across the bank.”
You will also need to be an expert in the wider trends affecting your clients and their industry. “I’m increasingly seeing that multinational firms want their bankers to have a keen understanding of how external influences affect the business environment. For example, how US-China trade relations or the Belt and Road initiative might affect their operations in Asia,” says Nanji. “That’s not something that all bankers can do, so we’re selective about whom we hire.”
Aspiring GSG bankers also need to show they are “passionate” about the markets they are covering, especially those who’ve taken on a new overseas assignment, says Nanji. “Even if you’re moving somewhere and don’t fully understand the culture yet, you must demonstrate your cultural curiosity.” Nanji has had to adapt to several different cultures during his 26-year banking career, most of which has been spent at Citi. He joined the bank as a management associate in his home country, Kenya, in 1992 and two years later found himself in charge of establishing a new transaction banking business there.
In 1996, Nanji swapped tropical Africa for mid-winter in Bucharest, Romania. “I was employee number two and I set up transaction banking for the country, and for Bulgaria. I became known as ‘the startup guy’ within the bank,” he says. “It was just after the fall of communism and was a challenging environment. I’d often have to travel to Austria to shop because of chronic food shortages in Romania,” says Nanji.
His career then took Nanji to Nigeria, Poland, Italy, and the UK, before he moved to Hong Kong with Citi in 2010 as APAC sales and marketing head for treasury and trade solutions. “The clients were large banks, an area I hadn’t fronted before, so once again Citi took a leap of faith in me with another mobility opportunity.”
Nanji says he’s always ensured that a local employee takes over from him once he’s finished a foreign assignment. “If you’re an overseas manager, it’s also important not to arrive claiming to know everything. Be humble even if it’s a big role, and learn from your new employees,” he says. “You must also know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s very hard to be an expert in a complex product that’s new to you, for example. Don’t try to be someone you’re not as that will take up too much time. One of my strengths is building teams, so that’s what I concentrate on.”
Nanji, who relocated to Singapore last year to take on his current job, does not subscribe to the traditional belief that Singaporean banking professionals are generally reluctant to move abroad for work. “I’ve posted people overseas just in the past six months. If the job is exciting enough, it’s not difficult getting Singaporeans to be mobile.”
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