Are you planning your next job move in Asian banking or wondering how to advance your career at your current firm?
We’ve spoken to several senior finance professionals in Hong Kong and Singapore this year who’ve offered their top tips for getting ahead in banking.
Here’s a summary of their advice.
1. Milk your tough times
Is your bank a stressful place to work right now? Perhaps it’s offshoring staff away from Singapore and Hong Kong? You may be able to use this to your advantage. Michael Dargan, Standard Chartered’s CIO of corporate and institutional banking, says he has no regrets about the tough times he faced helping Merrill Lynch with the Asian aspects of its merger with Bank of America. “While it was the hardest experience of my career, it was among the best because it prepared me well for any challenges I faced later.”
2. Don’t meticulously plot a long-term career
So in seven years you want to be on the buy-side and be working for Bridgewater? Forget it. Bankers must now be more “flexible” with their careers – having a rigid long-term career plan no longer works, says Pascal Lambert, Societe Generale’s head of Southeast Asia and group country head for Singapore. “If you have the curiosity to move between job functions – or even better, move locations – banking is a fantastic place to be.”
3. Get a ‘game changer’
Most banks dish out mentors to their staff. If you get one, work hard on the relationship as it could benefit you beyond your current firm. “In any banking career two or three people will be your game changers”, says Lambert. “You may have benefited from their mentorship and they may offer advice which could create opportunities for you to consider.” One of Lambert’s “big career breaks” came when he followed a former colleague and mentor to Bear Stearns in 1993. “I became their first Hong Kong employee and I set up the derivatives team for them there. It was new and exciting.”
4. Look beyond the glamour of a front-office role
Vincent Choo, head of risk at OCBC, was once given a choice of two roles at a previous bank: a senior sales job, or head of Hong Kong market risk. “I chose risk because I thought it would offer better career longevity and because I wanted to remain on the other side of the fence but still be connected with the markets.”
5. Be honest as a new manager
“On the first morning in charge I wanted to run back into my office and close the door,” says Russell Graham, a former head of service and solution delivery at Standard Chartered, of his initial experiences managing a big team. “So I formed a cross-mentoring society with the other manager and I was honest with my staff – I said ‘I’m new to this, so be open with me and say when you think I’m wrong’.”
6. Don’t assume you know what’s best for your staff
“During my early days in Hong Kong I’d go on late conference calls and tell my team I wanted them all out of the office when my call ended,” says Graham. “Then one day my secretary told me that while my heart was in the right place, I was a bit misguided. Some of the younger staff were living in overcrowded family apartments and wanted to stay in the office as long as possible because it was less stressful.”
7. You will never know all the technical stuff
“Earlier on, when I moved jobs within the firm, one of the biggest challenges was learning to work with my in-built desire to try to ‘know everything’ before changing jobs,” says Sophia Leung, Asia Pacific CIO at J.P. Morgan. “Over time I realised that this was unrealistic and that as a manager, building a strong team around me – with diverse and specialised skills and knowledge – is vital to both the team’s success and my own.”
8. Banking moves fast; you will make mistakes
When Han Kwee Juan, chief executive officer of Citibank Singapore, started out in banking he wished he’d been better informed “about the pace of the business”. “It was moving at the speed of the trading market and for a fresh banker, that was a lot to absorb. I’d advise all bankers to have the courage to suggest and try new ideas, and to not be afraid of making mistakes along the way.”
9. Be prepared to disregard your current skills
You may have to become a specialist in an entirely different area sooner than you think. “We primarily want people who are willing to learn new skills and are flexible to adapt to changing market conditions,” says Bin Wolfe, Asia Pacific managing partner for talent at EY. “The skills you need to succeed now won’t be those you need in five years, so you must be like a good athlete who can play different sports.”
10. Think twice before joining a start-up.
“I can see the career appeal of working for one and building a cool app, but there’s a big risk involved in that move,” says Dargan from Stan Chart. “The technology investment and resources available at banks dwarf that of start-ups. Standard Chartered has an overall IT budget of about $1.5bn over three years, and the top-20 banks globally invest more than $40bn a year.”
Image credit: XiXinXing, Getty