Seven senior Asian bankers on what it really takes to reach the top

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Seven senior Asian bankers on what it really takes to reach the top

What does it really take to reach the senior ranks – and stay there – in the Asian finance sector?

In recent months we’ve asked several leading bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong about their key advice for career success. Here’s what they had to say.

Make big internal job moves

Rohit Chatterji, head of investment banking for South and Southeast Asia at J.P. Morgan, has been with the same firm since 1993 and credits his longevity at the bank to the “diversity” of his career. Chatterji has moved between India, Singapore and Hong Kong eight times and worked across different products – he’s been head of Southeast Asia M&A and head of Asian debt capital markets, for example. “I’ve moved to a new role every three years, so I’ve never got bored or run out of opportunities. When your organisation enables this, why change firms?”

“Embrace” technology

Bankers should “embrace” technology and see it as an “enabler” to better understand their clients, not a threat to their jobs, says Lawrence Lua, deputy head of DBS Private Bank. “We’re in the service industry and there’s only so much a machine can do. But we need to remain relevant and use technology to our advantage.”

Become a sensitive banker

As Asian revenues fall in investment banking and margins tighten in wealth management, front-office staff have had to deal with more disgruntled clients. Jullie Kan, vice chairman of South East Asia private banking at Credit Suisse, says she wants to develop “sensitive” relationship managers who are able to deliver bad news to clients. “We want our bankers to be equipped to have this kind of conversation, in a tough market environment and not just when it’s a bull run. We want them to experience upheaval situations where they understand that it takes a lot more sensitivity when handling a client’s emotions.”

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 Pascal Lambert, Societe Generale’s head of Southeast Asia and group country head for Singapore. “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.”

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’.”

Be relentlessly efficient with your time keeping

“CEOs have personal assistants to remind them of everything. Most bankers, even senior ones, don’t,” says Eric Sim, a former Hong Kong-based UBS MD who's currently a guest lecturer at Renmin University. “But we don’t want to waste time trying to recall every appointment or task in our personal and professional lives either. So when anything new comes on my radar – be that a client meeting, must-read book, or school performance – I immediately put it into iPhone Notes or my calendar.”

Be more light-hearted

Adding an appropriate touch of humour in the office “can help you get through difficult situations with a smile”, says former Deutsche and UBS banker Benjamin Quinlan, now a Hong Kong finance sector consultant and part-time comedian. “It’s not about making a mockery of your work, it’s about enjoying your work more.” Quinlan says his stand-up act has improved his professional skills. “The more shows you do, the better you get at reading the audience. This is an important skill when you’re making a presentation as a banker or delivering a difficult message as a consultant.”

Image credit: lzf, Getty

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