Being from a wealthy, well-connected family in Singapore will boost your chances of securing a finance internship, but it won’t help you get a full-time role, nor will it give you an edge on the job, say young bankers in the city state.
The juniors we spoke to (we’ve used pseudonyms to protect their identities) were reacting to a UK report released earlier this month which linked hiring and success in that country’s banking sector to social status rather than ability.
Non-upper middle class students in Britain are struggling to break into banking, says the study. But does this hold true in Singapore?
“Compared to the UK, students here don’t need as much social ‘polish’ to get into banking because the class structure is less well-defined,” says Li Qiang, a finance student and front-office intern at a US bank. “Singapore prides itself on being a meritocracy, especially in education. If you’re smart and hardworking at university, you should be able to get into banking regardless of your background.”
Li admits, however, that having “connections” within a bank can help wealthy students clinch internships. “As well as academic results, connections are still a factor in the internship hiring process in Singapore unfortunately. The measure of your performance as a student extends to knowing the right people.”
Other 20-somethings we spoke to in Singapore agree. “It’s well known that people from privileged backgrounds can land internships due to connections that their parents – who are clients of the bank – have made. This is especially so in private banking,” says Alistair Chua, an AVP at a European bank.
Junior banker Stacey Ong says rich Singaporean students can get a “faster foot in the door” into front-office internships because of the “glamorous and upper-class vibe” they take into interviews.
But your connections will only get you so far in Singapore. Young finance professionals say wealthy interns who fail to perform over the summer don’t receive full-time offers.
“Yes, there are a few so-called VIP interns in Singapore, but these people won’t necessarily get jobs,” says Sarah Wang, a Singaporean banker who now works for a global firm in London.
Graduate intakes in Singapore may not be classless melting-pots, but neither are they dominated by social elites.
“I feel the barriers highlighted in the UK report don’t exist so much in Singapore. In my grad year there were no obvious signs of nepotism or favouring the wealthy,” says Wang. “Around 80% of the Singaporeans hired came from working or middle-class families. Many of the wealthier people were from countries like India, China, and the Philippines.”
“I honestly don’t know of anyone receiving better treatment at my bank in Singapore – apart from the occasional hello from department heads – as a result of their social status,” adds Wang. “There are pretty strict guidelines in place preventing that. For example, an ex-colleague wasn’t even able to work in our global corporates team due to a conflict of interests because his family’s business was classified as a global corporate.”
But do rich young bankers in Singapore flaunt their money on the job? The UK reports says wearing the right apparel and having posh pastimes, for example, means wealthier grads can more easily fit into the elite culture of the London banking sector.
“Again, I think the situation in Singapore is better than what was described in the British study. Even the ‘well connected’ people I knew were actually more down-to-earth and wore fewer designer items than the average grad,” says Wang. “Most of them had no expensive hobbies, at least at the start of their careers.”
Singapore’s hot climate also makes office attire slightly more casual than in other financial centres – there’s less need to spend money on clothes in the first place, say the five finance professionals we spoke to.
Finance student Li says he has experienced no pressure to change the way he dresses in order to fit in during his banking internships, other than to have “decently fitted” business clothes.
“In Singapore banking this kind of thing doesn’t appear to be that important – it’s your personality, interest in the field, and work performance that matter most,” says Li. “I know plenty of people who aren’t from upper-middle class families and have managed to break into front-office jobs, so it should be very achievable for me.”
Image credit: visualspace, Getty