If you want to become a relationship manager (RM) in corporate banking in Singapore or Hong Kong, you’ll need to go through a graduate programme or move from another department in your bank.
But either way, the skills you need on the job are varied and demanding. This is what it takes to succeed as a corporate banking relationship manager in Asia.
1. Industry insight
As you become more experienced as an RMs you may be given a specific sector to cover – and that means you must stay on top of industry-wide trends, not just the day-to-day concerns of individual clients. “You must embrace an agile mindset, have a finger on the pulse of business, and understand how trends such as technological shifts are disrupting industries,” says Grace Yip, executive director, group human resources, at DBS.
2. Interpersonal skills
You won’t just be using your interpersonal and communication skills to manage current client relationships – the corporate banking sector is becoming increasingly competitive and banks need RMs who can consistently expand their client books. “They want a balance between farmer (service) and hunter (sales) traits,” says former ANZ corporate banker Jerald Chen, now a recruiter at Kerry Consulting in Singapore. “These days banks’ performance scorecards emphasise both.”
3. “Consultative” sales skills
The ability to mount aggressive sales pitches isn’t necessary, however. “The selling skills you need are consultative and advisory – especially when dealing with small and medium-sized companies who don’t have a big internal finance team and are seeking support from the banks,” says Anamika Singh, a former BNP Paribas corporate banker now working as an HR professional. Banks want RMs who are adept at “driving a good conversation” and “engaging a client”, she adds.
4. Financial knowledge
If you’re considering a relationship manager career because you think your schmoozing skills will make up for your lack of financial knowledge, think again. You may have product specialists to support you, but you still require a good understanding of what you’re selling. “You need a sound knowledge of banking products, such cash management, treasury, investment banking, and trade finance,” says Jacinta Low, head of HR planning at OCBC.
5. Analytical skills
You’ll be supported by credit risk teams, but helping to assess your clients’ creditworthiness is still a vital component of a relationship manager job. Relationship managers need “good analytical skills to perform credit reviews and credit propositions”, says Low. “A credit background and understanding of the capital markets are useful to make a good RM,” adds Gary Lai, Southeast Asia managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership.
6. Leadership and teamworking
Contrary to the stereotype, relationship managers aren’t lone-wolf salespeople whose only objective is to meet their personal revenue targets – they must work closely with colleagues in compliance, client onboarding, product development and many other functions within the corporate bank. “Teamworking and leadership skills are essential for managing deal teams, influencing product partners and other internal stakeholders who have different agendas, advising senior management, and bringing all these people together to achieve the best outcomes for your client and the bank,” says Chen from Kerry Consulting.
7. Asian language skills
Corporate banking relationship managers in Singapore and Hong Kong are increasingly servicing the regional business needs of their clients. “Fluency in languages like Mandarin or Malay is often useful in this part of the world as Singapore is a regional headquarters for many companies with large business interests in Malaysia, Indonesia and Greater China,” says Lai.
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