I’ve now made it to the middle ranks at one of the largest foreign banks in Singapore – and I didn’t even start my career in banking. My first job was as a Big Four auditor.
But despite having forged a successful banking career, I’m now thinking of rejoining the Big Four firm I was once so desperate to leave. Here’s why.
In my graduate job in the Big Four I was auditing financial institutions in Singapore, but I soon craved even more exposure to financial services. Even after doing a lot of audits on finance firms, I never felt I could make much of an impact on the sector as an auditor – I needed industry experience to do that.
Meanwhile, by my third year of auditing I was worn out by the drudgery and sick of all the late nights I was putting put in.
I could also see the crazy hours that the senior guys were doing and I couldn’t see myself progressing to their level. It didn’t seem worth the effort.
A job at a bank seemed to be the best solution at the time (this was about four years ago) and I was lucky enough to get an offer from one of the major global players in Singapore. The job was in product control – a role which was in demand back then and provided the most sure-fire way for auditors in Asia to break into banking.
You may think that product control sounds dull, but actually it’s a very interesting job. You get involved in trade flows end to end, you deal with stakeholders right across the bank, you talk to the front-office about trading strategies, and you learn about valuation techniques.
For me, moving into product control wasn’t a steep learning curve – in fact if you’ve worked with financial institutions as an auditor it should be quite a natural transition.
But it wasn’t just the skills of the job that appealed. I was, I admit, attracted by the higher pay on offer in banking and the glamour of working for an international bank and having its name on my CV. While the hours can be long, they’re not as bad as in external auditing.
Fast forward to 2016, and while I still enjoy working in product control, I am starting to get worried about the stability of the function as a whole and my long-term career prospects within it.
Over the past couple of years it’s been seen as a sunset industry in Singapore because many banks are offshoring PC jobs to places like the Philippines and India. We’re going through a period of real pain, and morale in many PC teams, including mine, isn’t great.
A lot of people working in product control in Singapore are now starting to plan their exit routes into other parts of banking.
I’m looking to escape too, but for me the Big Four is a better bet. I would never go back to the daily grind of audit, but I am considering working for the finance-sector consultancy unit of my old firm (or one of its rivals).
If I returned to the Big Four now, with finance industry expertise under my belt, my skills would be very transferable and I would be in demand as a candidate.
In Singapore I know that the Big Four want to hire back people who have networks within the banks and can speak their language – especially at a mid to senior level.
I don’t regret working in banking as it’s the only way I could have ever got the experience I wanted. But it’s an increasingly unstable industry to work in, and if people like me are suddenly sought-after at the Big Four why not go back?