What it takes to become a corporate banker in Asia
Even in times of economic or political turmoil, relationship managers (RMs) in the Asian corporate banking sector remain sought after in the job market. Banks are typically open to hiring RMs because they can (in theory at least) bring new clients with them, opening up new channels of revenue almost immediately.
But what’s the best route to getting your first relationship manager job in Singapore or Hong Kong?
The answer is not as straightforward as in investment banking, where internships typically lead to analyst traineeships. While corporate banks in Asia often ultimately source RMs from graduate programmes, they usually move them into assistant roles as an in-between step. And they sometimes hire junior RMs from other banking jobs or even other industries. Here are some of the main ways into a corporate banking relationship manager job.
How to get a corporate banking relationship manager job
Do a corporate banking-specific training programme
Some banks offer graduate programmes that are purely focused on corporate banking. Citi’s two-year APAC corporate banking analyst programme – which it runs in Singapore, Hong Kong and five other markets – is a case in point. If you get onto this traineeship (most of those who do interned with Citi while at university), you’ll be rotated across three desks within corporate banking, such as the financial institutions and global subsidiaries teams. During your first few weeks you’ll also fly out to New York to attend Citi’s ‘banking, capital markets and advisory’ (BCMA) training sessions, and to network with other analyst from across the world.
Add an international rotation
Most successful relationship managers in Singapore and Hong Kong serve multinational clients – so getting global experience on your CV as a graduate could be invaluable for your career. Citi’s Asian analysts, for example, can apply to the BCMA global rotation programme, involving a one-year stint to another region and business within BCMA. “Corporate banking offers opportunities for graduates to work with some of the most exciting and innovative companies in the world – from your traditional household names to some of the new tech titans,” says Gerry Keefe, head of Asia Pacific corporate banking for Citi. “The career path can literally take you all over the world,” he adds.
Secure a broad-based traineeship
It’s also possible to get corporate banking skills within a broader analyst programme that allows you to work in other departments of the bank. For example, OCBC’s two-year graduate talent programme is customised to prepare graduates for division-specific roles in the firm, including corporate banking. However, alongside at least one rotation in your “home division”, you’ll also do stints within functions such as compliance and operations.
Build experience as an associate or assistant relationship manager
When you finish your analyst rotations, you won’t be thrown into a fully-fledged corporate banking relationship manager job straight away. Most banks in Singapore and Hong Kong employ assistant or associate RMs – a half-way house role which allows you to deal with clients without having full responsibility for them. In these jobs you’re get the “on-the-ground exposure” that is critical to learning what it takes to be a successful corporate banker, says Ng Chuey Peng, head of global commodities finance at OCBC. “Experience is built incrementally – relationship associates shadow more senior RMs to meet clients, and as they progress to become junior RMs, they will be given a small portfolio to handle,” says Ng.
Transition from another job, such as credit risk
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 some 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,” a DBS spokesperson told us last year. “We’ve had a case of a credit risk manager who became an RM and was then successfully promoted to a senior management role.”
Move from industry
Because of skill shortages in corporate banking, salespeople from outside the finance sector are sometimes considered for relationship manager jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong. “If the corporate banking RM vacancy covers the telco industry, for example, some candidates may come from a telco sales background,” explains Lai.
No matter how you enter the function, Ng from OCBC says you must enjoy the “non-static nature” of being a corporate banker in order to succeed over the long term. You’ll need to keep in touch with daily news relating to “macroeconomics, social factors, calamities and geopolitics” that all have an impact on the business of your customers. “To stay in the game, you must feel excited by these constant changes, uncertainties and surprises,” she adds.
Photo by Simon Launay on Unsplash
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