"Singapore just doesn’t have decent banking jobs. So I’m applying to Hong Kong instead"

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I recently finished an internship at a leading European bank in Singapore and I also received a ‘return offer’ for a full-time risk-management role starting in 2019. That’s the stuff of dreams for most Singaporean students like me – it’s my ticket into a stable job at a big-name firm a year before I even graduate.

But get this: I’ve just turned down the offer! How come? As much as I enjoyed my summer and loved the culture at the bank, I’ve decided that the middle office just isn’t for me. Having done a front-office internship in 2017, I now know that I’m better suited to a front-office investment banking job where I can meet clients and deliver solutions. I’m a people person; I like to share and present ideas.

It’s very important to be honest to yourself (and to the bank you interned with) about what you want to do when you graduate. I know I could have succeeded in risk management (I performed well this summer) and I know that risk is a ‘safe’ function in which redundancies are rare. But I didn’t want to start my career already feeling disinterested. Moreover, transfering from risk to the front-office is difficult/impossible at an investment bank – risk would not have been a short-term ‘stepping stone’.

During the latter half of the internship, I made it clear to HR that I wanted my first graduate job to be client-focused, a point I restated when I rejected the return offer. The HR manager actually said it was refreshing to get such honest feedback. She said there may be IBD roles in Singapore for me in the future, but there weren’t any 2019 front-office analyst positions available locally.

This is not just the case at my former bank – it’s a wider problem in Singapore. A lot of students in Singapore are still keen on investment banking. But although our country is a big financial centre generally, it offers limited opportunities in IBD at global banks. Things aren’t improving either. Growth in the Southeast Asian markets that Singapore serves hasn’t been as strong as in Hong Kong/China.

Large banks are further shifting their focus to China, with more expansion on the horizon as China liberalises its joint-venture ownership laws for foreign banks. The bank I interned with bases the vast majority of its ex-Japan Asia IBD front-office in Hong Kong. This has always been the case, but the HK/SG gap is more extreme now.

As a result of all this, I have been forced to apply for 2019 graduate jobs in Hong Kong, despite having no connections there. And to further increase my chances of getting into the front-office, I’m currently applying for 2019 Hong Kong-based internships, too. Most banks let in final-year students as 2019 interns, and those who get return offers either start full-time soon after the internship, or have to wait until 2020.

I’m also now broadening the scope of my front-office job search in Singapore beyond IBD. While I wouldn’t go into front-office retail or SME banking in Singapore, I’m considering corporate banking (serving large multinationals on the institutional side), asset management and hedge funds.

Jobs in the front-office…in investment banking…at global banks…in Singapore…at a graduate level are niche x 4! I have to keep my options open if I want to avoid a career in the middle office.

Bernadette Bao (not her real name) is a student in Singapore and is graduating next year.

Image credit: ronniechua, Getty

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