Speedboats, not spreadsheets: inside the life of a 26-year-old private banking professional in Singapore

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The private banking sector may be expanding across Asia and suffering from chronic talent shortages, but students in Singapore are largely unaware of job opportunities in the industry, says a recent graduate now working at Credit Suisse.

“I don’t think many students here, even those studying finance, generally have enough understanding about what private banks do and what jobs in private banking involve,” says Singapore-based Jacelyn Ng Sin Yee, an assistant relationship manager (ARM) covering the Philippines ultra-high net worth (UHNW) market. “This is despite private banking having become a very dynamic part of financial services in Asia, thanks to rapidly rising levels of private wealth.”

Ng says there’s “typically a lot of discussion among students” about graduate roles in investment banking, asset management and technology. “But the perception is that there aren’t many junior opportunities in private banking,” she adds. “This means we need to do more to educate students about how to get into private banking and about why it’s such an innovative sector to work in.”

The young Ng, however, never needed any convincing that wealth management would be her future career path. “When I was 12 my dad gave me a book about investment and that hooked me on the idea of letting money work hard for you,” she says. Aged just 15, Ng decided to focus her education purely on finance, so instead of joining her peers in junior college, she took a Diploma in Financial Informatics at Singapore Polytechnic. After graduating top of her poly cohort, Ng then completed a Bachelor of Business Administration at NUS and joined the Credit Suisse private banking analyst programme in 2016.

But while being an investment banking analyst traditionally involves spending long hours working on pitch books and Excel spreadsheets, what does a graduate in private banking actually do all day? The PB analyst programme that Ng has just been through has at least three things in common with many IB traineeships: it lasts for two years, includes about a month of classroom-based learning, and involves rotations across several different parts of the bank.

Ng’s stints included the COO office, Indonesia desk, and various product advisory teams. “It’s not just about learning to become a banker right away; it’s about learning how the bank works from the back to the front end,” says Ng. “For example, I spent some of my time in the trust estate and advisory unit. While that may not sound like an obvious team to include in a rotation, estate planning is increasingly core to the private banking sector in Asia as more wealth is transferred to the next generation.”

Having finished the programme earlier this year, Ng is now an assistant RM, a job which can potentially lead to becoming a fully-fledged RM with your own set of clients. In investment banking, however, a third-year role doesn’t come with an ‘assistant’ tag. Ng says that while ARMs do support bankers, the position is far from subservient. She works with a single RM and a team of product specialists to help provide services such as financial planning, portfolio management and trading.

If that still sounds a bit plain vanilla, Ng insists that it’s not. “Many of our clients are entrepreneurs running a variety of businesses, so we get very different product requests every day,” she says. “It’s not just about buying and selling stocks – I might be asked to manage the purchase of a new private jet or boat, for example.”

Graduates shouldn’t opt to work in private banking because they think it will be any easier than a job in IBD. “Be prepared for a fast-paced and intensive work environment. Clients can put in challenging requests, and I’ve spent a few late nights working on client projects,” says Ng. “And be aware that the amount of compliance you need to do can be daunting at first. But having received great compliance training, I now enjoy that part of my role.”

Above all, Ng recommends that young private banking professionals take advantage of the contact they have with senior bankers. “As a junior it’s good to work so closely with seniors because you can observe how they build relationships with clients, and use this to improve your own communication skills,” she says. “I’ve already accumulated a lot of knowledge about how clients can behave and how bankers should react to them.”

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Image credit: DKart, Getty

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