How to get a junior relationship manager job in Singapore or Hong Kong

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The hiring boom may have faded, but relationship managers (RMs) in Asian corporate banking are still in demand right now as banks look to eke out more revenue from corporate clients. What’s the best route to getting your first RM job in Singapore or Hong Kong?

The answer is not as straightforward as in investment banking, where internships typically lead to analyst traineeships. While banks in Asia often source new RMs from graduate programmes, they also hire juniors from other banking jobs or even other industries. Here are some of the main ways in.

Graduate training programmes

Some banks in Singapore and Hong Kong offer graduate training tailored to people wanting to become RMs. OCBC's 2019 Graduate Talent Programme, for example, features an option to work in its corporate bank. The DBS Graduate Associate – Small Medium Enterprise (SME) Banking Programme offers front-to-back office job rotation, classroom training in core financial skills, and on-the-job training in relationship management.

Among the global firms in Asia, Citi and Standard Chartered are currently hiring graduates for corporate banking jobs starting in 2019, but deadlines close soon.

If you don’t get on a corporate banking course, a more generalist graduate programme could also ultimately lead to an RM job, says former ANZ corporate banker Jerald Chen, now a recruiter. For example, some of the people who recently completed the one-year graduate rotation at Standard Chartered then went on to become assistant RMs.

A stint as a junior

When your training ends you may not immediately have your own clients or even assume the job title ‘relationship manager’ – most banks will require you to do an intermediate stint as a junior/associate/assistant RM.

“After completing our training, you become a junior RM, guided by a team leader. Then in order to progress, you’re expected to perform on the job, and develop a strong foundation in sales, product knowledge and credit analysis,” says a spokesperson for DBS.

“Relationship associates at OCBC are assessed on their performance before they’re appointed as junior RMs and given a small portfolio. Only then can they progress to becoming full-fledged RMs, managing their own clients,” says Jacinta Low, head of HR planning at OCBC

Some people can spend up to three years in RM purgatory, says Chen. “Building relationships – externally with clients and internally with product partners – takes time. RMs often pitch to clients’ most senior executives, so they need to come across as credible. When dealing with large corporates there’s little margin for error – RMs must be adept at matching their bank’s products to their clients’ needs, while striking a balance between risk appetite and credit policy.”

Other routes into RM jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong

If you’re a young finance professional in Asia and you haven’t done any of the above, it may still be possible to get a corporate banking RM job. Gary Lai, managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership, says most of the RMs he interviews started out in a different part of banking. Several junior credit risk professionals with “sales personalities”, for example, have transitioned into RM roles, says Lai. Credit assessment is a vital part of most RM jobs.

Staying at your current bank is the easiest way to make such a move. “Employees up to the rank of assistant vice president who’ve worked for two years in their current role are eligible to apply for positions within the bank,” says the DBS spokesperson. “We’ve had a case of a credit risk manager who became an RM and was then successfully promoted to a senior management role.”

Chen says he’s also seen RMs move from corporate finance, commercial banking, retail banking, pricing analysis, sector research and even compliance. And because of skill shortages in corporate banking, people from outside the finance sector are sometimes considered. “If the corporate banking RM vacancy covers the telco industry, for example, the candidate may come from a telco sales background,” explains Lai.

Chen adds: “But the journey will be longer for candidates from outside banking, so grads should aim for a banking position as early as possible in their career. Moving from industry is still more exception than norm.”

Image credit: Sam Edwards, Getty

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