Paul Pan is a Chinese national who was educated in China up to high school level, but came to the UK to study business management at University of Nottingham. After graduating in 2008, he joined Barclays’ graduate scheme in the group treasury department. In 2012, he left Barclays to start an MBA at London Business School (LBS). After completing a successful internship in HSBC’s debt capital markets (DCM) business last summer, Paul is due to join HSBC full time when he graduates from his MBA this year.
This is what he told us about his thoughts about starting a front-office career in banking now.
“When I left Barclays to study the MBA at LBS, my intention was to take a break and look at the different career options that might be available to me. I contemplated going into industry or consulting, but after a bit of soul searching, I decided that financial services was still the best career option for me.
Finance is my passion. I find the work intellectually challenging and I like working with smart people. The financial services industry still attracts some of the smartest people out there and this was a major attraction. I felt that I had good contacts already established in the industry, plus I’d taken the CFA exams while I was working at Barclays and it seemed wise to capitalise on all of this rather than suddenly changing direction entirely.
Sure, you work longer hours in finance than in most other industries. But in DCM, the hours are more manageable than in some other areas of investment banking. Some banks also have a better work-life balance than others. When I was at HSBC as an intern in the summer, I worked an average of 12 to 14 hour days and no weekends, which I thought was a really good balance in terms of work and life.
Is money still a big attraction for a career in finance? Yes – money will always be part of the draw, although we clearly won’t see the kinds of huge bonuses that were on offer before the crisis. Personally, however, it’s always been about a lot more than the money for me. I joined banking in 2008, so it was never my expectation to get a huge payout in a very short period of time.
I went into finance because I found the work challenging and the people interesting. Contrary to what politicians would say, I also feel that the industry has an important social role to play. Everything in society is driven by capital flows – whether you’re looking at scientific research or the construction of new housing. When you work in investment banking, you’re making sure that capital is well-allocated. When capital is allocated efficiently, society benefits as do pension funds which are providing the liquidity. This social purpose was a big factor attracting me into finance.
Do I think finance attracts a different kind of person now? Sure. Some of my MBA classmates aren’t keen on the industry because of its bad press, but it serves a good purpose in the long run. Nowadays people are joining the industry because they’re genuinely interested in the work and they think it does something valuable.
Which question did I get asked most in interviews? It was always ‘Why do you want to work in banking?’, or 'Why do you want to do this particular role'.” Nowadays, banks really want to understand your motivation for working in the industry. They want to see that you’re not going to be doing a one or two-year stint and then moving off and doing something else. They want people who are genuinely passionate about the industry and who will stick it out in the long term. It’s very important that your personal story leads up to why you want to do that particular job in that particular bank. Your motivation needs to make sense from the bank’s perspective – that’s the crucial thing now.”