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Early starts, no networking: What it's really like interning at a Singapore bank

Singaporean banks aren’t just poaching experienced staff from global firms – they’re also competing to hire the best and brightest summer interns. But now that interships are on the horizon, what’s it actually like to work as an intern at DBS, OCBC or UOB?

To find out, we spoke with three interns who’ve done summer stints at one of the banks: Peter Meng, Daniel Cao and Katy Long (we’ve used pseudonyms to protect their identities).

Here’s what they had to say.

What kind of work did did you do?

Meng: I supported the research team by collating and proofreading their reports. It was a bit manual, but it allowed me to appreciate the nature of bank research and gave me an overview of regional economic developments. It also forced me to interact with economists when I had a question about their work. I helped the economists with their modelling and forecasting too – so I contributed to our macro-outlook presentations.

Cao: I was helping to build financial models, update daily reports, and complete other mundane tasks. But my supervisors also encouraged me to read their research papers and write papers on companies by myself, which was interesting and challenging.

What was the best part of your internship?

Long: Having the freedom to visit other departments to learn new skills. For example, I was in the asset liability management department, but was able to move into structured products for a time.

Meng: The work-life balance was good, which surprised me given all the talk about long hours in the finance sector. My superiors hardly called me in on weekends and often asked me to leave at the end of the day, despite my insistence to stay on. While I started early, at 7.30am, I got to leave by 6.30pm. The longest day I had was from 5.30am to 9.30pm.

What were the bosses like?

Cao:  I was lucky to have supportive supervisors because I saw interns in other teams doing things like packing staff lunches. My internship programme wasn’t very structured and the bosses gave me a lot of tasks beyond my initial job scope.

Meng: They didn’t micro-manage and there was a flattish hierarchy. Despite having highly qualified and experienced people in the team, conversations were hardly ever awkward and ideas were taken seriously regardless of rank. This level of openness made me feel comfortable to chip in myself during team meetings.

Long: I studied the VBA programming language at university and when my supervisors found out, they asked me whether I was interested in doing VBA-related work in the department, which I did.

So what didn’t you enjoy about the internship?

Long: There wasn’t any direct interaction with customers, largely because of the Data Protection Act – and sometimes that meant that my workload was too limited.

Meng: The most challenging aspect at first was just getting used to the demands of the work. There was no handover from a previous intern, so I had to learn a lot of things on the job and I did make mistakes in the first couple of weeks.

Were there many formal networking events?

Cao: No really. But I was very close to a few full-time employees. One of them regularly sent me to road shows, where I met people from other banks and financial organisations.

Long: On Mondays we usually had lunch with the head of departments to get to know more about each other – but that’s about it.

Meng: The bank didn’t organise networking events – this was done at the initiative of us interns.

What are the main differences between internships at Singaporean banks and Western banks?

Meng: I actually think they are now of equal standing overall – your success at either ultimately boils down to the nature of your job and the personality of your boss. At a Singapore bank the work is just as demanding, but you get better work-life balance.

Cao: At Singapore banks there are fewer opportunities for interns to be converted to full-time employees the following year. Even during my interview, my supervisor said the internship wouldn’t be converted. By contrast, foreign banks usually hire most of their grads by giving return offers to past interns.

What skills did you learn during the internship?

Meng: Being part of the research team allowed me to learn economics from a more practical perspective than at university. I now have a better understanding of what makes Singapore’s economy tick and what key indices to look out for when analysing any economy. I also learnt several econometric concepts that help in forecasting methodology.

Cao: The internship developed a lot of my soft skills, such as being more proactive about learning and helping – that’s how I was given more opportunities and people around me trusted my work and believed in my capabilities.

What’s your key advice for succeeding as an intern at a Singapore bank?

Meng: These are large firms locally, so go out of your comfort zone and learn more about the whole organisation. And always be seen putting in your best work – the finance industry isn’t huge in Singapore, so influential people from different banks often know each other.

Image credit: baona, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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