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In Asian banking, Christmas is no time to stop working if you want to make MD

It’s a common enough scenario in investment banking: you’re in the office over the Christmas season, but you don’t have nearly as much work on as usual (unless you have a bond deal to launch immediately after the New Year). Because Christmas in Singapore and Hong Kong isn’t quite as big an occasion as in the West, many bankers in these cities still clock in at work in between the public holidays.

I would often be among them during my 20-plus years as a banker (I worked in London, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and am now chief trainer at Institute of Life). I made sure I used the end-year period, especially the really quiet days between Christmas and New Year, to focus on my career and upgrade my skills in order to make managing director. And I’d strongly recommend that you do the same.

I was an engineer by training so in the first half of my career, I mainly used the festive season to improve my financial technical skills and product knowledge. I think it’s best to boost your knowledge in new products that your clients might need in the future. One December during the years when structured products were in demand, I programmed Black-Scholes option pricing models using Excel VBA. And most Decembers I tried to deepen my understanding of products such as bond total return swaps and single-stock financing. Or I improved my understanding of the risks involved in an M&A transaction (e.g. regulatory, funding, shareholder-approval, and interloper issues).

How did I manage to learn the basics in just a few days in late December? I chatted with my colleagues in other departments who’d worked on deals in the areas I wanted to know more about. I bought them lunch in exchange for in-house material to read. I certainly learned a lot more by reviewing actual pitch books than by reading generic textbooks or looking online.

Late December is also a great time to approach HR and volunteer to help at campus recruitment drives in 2020. One year, I also volunteered to design young leadership training programmes for the second generation of ultra-high net worth clients. Don’t underestimate these small gigs. They can build your profile within the bank, especially when you’re a junior trying to rise up the ranks. And later on when there are attractive opportunities for internal transfers or overseas postings, you will be considered favourably.

During the more recent years of my banking career, I used some of the festive period to work on my ‘social selling’ skills. I’d recommend this to all bankers. For example, make sure you have a consistent profile across all your social media accounts, and that your LinkedIn profile tells a good story and portrays you as a trusted advisor.

LinkedIn is no longer only for job searching; it’s important if you want to succeed at your current bank. I have successfully closed deals referred to me by my LinkedIn connections. Clients will often remember the banker whom they last saw online – perhaps they read a post of yours in the New Year that you took the time to write in late December.

LinkedIn is also a great tool for connecting with colleagues from other departments (wish them ‘Merry Christmas’ on the invites). December provides the perfect excuse to connect). From my experience, having a wide internal network from the back office to the front will help you get deals done more efficiently. Expanding and strengthening your online networks is now key if you want to bring in clients, hire people and make MD, And now is the best time to do it.

Eric Sim, CFA, PRM, is founder of Institute of Life, whose mission is to help young professionals become successful at work and in life. He coaches executives on their careers. The former Hong Kong-based UBS investment banking MD is currently also Senior Career Fellow at Nanyang Technological University and guest lecturer at Renmin University.

Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

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