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COMMENT: My seven tips to transform your Asian banking career in the Covid era and beyond

After speaking and teaching for more than a decade at various universities including Cambridge and Tsinghua, I think I know how to train aspiring bankers of the future. In the early part of my teaching career, I taught financial engineering and derivatives structuring. Over the last several years, I’ve been teaching investment banking and career skills.

The world is changing, banking is changing, so the way we train bankers must also change. Teaching our students Modigliani-Miller theorem and efficient market hypothesis won’t cut it. You’ll need to learn more than finance concepts as a student. On top of the standard finance training on modern portfolio theory and corporate finance, you’ll need the seven skills below to get through job interviews and become a successful banker.

1. Be a Zoom master

Even when Covid-19 is under control, video conferencing will be here to stay. It will still be the norm for HR to conduct interviews via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms. Only the final stages of an interview will be in-person. This will extend to client roadshows. Given a choice, many clients’ senior management will prefer not to travel to far-away cities like London and New York for roadshows to pitch their IPO or bond issuance. They’re likely to choose presenting via video conferencing.

Not only must bankers become Zoom masters themselves, they must also help clients deliver a convincing growth story over a video conference. No matter how good you are at public speaking, if investors can’t hear you properly or see you clearly, your proposition may not come across as convincing. The best way to practice is to create a video CV or bio to hear how you sound and see how you look. Click here for more tips on becoming a Zoom master.

2. Be a “combo specialist”

Given that many industries will be disrupted in the near future, banks will need to hire bankers who are adaptable and able to keep up with these changes. Banks will take on people from a wider range of educational backgrounds. Candidates who can combine two fields will be in demand – for example, a quantitative finance graduate who minored in psychology, or a physics major who took several modules in philosophy, or a real estate specialist who’s taken courses in credit analysis. The National University of Singapore is proposing to set up a College of Humanities and Science to give students a broad-based education. I would like to hire from that college in due course.

3. Be culturally aware

Banking is an international business. Successful financial institutions, large or small, are likely to serve clients from different countries. Bankers with high cultural awareness will be in demand. To be able to work with international colleagues is also important. An Indian friend of mine just became the CEO of a Chinese financial institution in Singapore. Although not mandatory, someone who is familiar with Singaporean, Indian and Chinese culture will naturally have an upper hand in his firm.

4. Be tech savvy, very savvy

Understanding last-mile monetisation, data science and how technology is going to change people’s life is probably more valuable than knowing DCF (discounted cash flow) because finance concepts can be learned on the job. A large part of banks’ revenue is going to come from tech companies, so you need to know about fintech, payments and customer online engagement. Consumer banks will be looking for staff who can work on mobile tech. Knowing how to use apps and gadgets to improve your productivity will be important too.   

5. Be an online networker

Big events won’t come back anytime soon, and opportunities to meet new people won’t be as plentiful. Knowing how to reach out to people and build relationships without a physical meeting is a valuable skill these days. Networking online is more important than ever. But if you’re only thinking of extracting value from others when you network, you are doomed. Think long term, think about what you can offer the other person, and have an interesting online profile that people can trust right away. Click here for more tips on social media networking.

6. Know credit

With non-performing loans on the rise, banks will want to hire people who understand credit structuring, credit risk management, credit trading, and credit analysis. If you know credit, you’ll also have a chance of becoming a portfolio manager at private banks or insurance companies. Rating agencies are hiring too.

7. Aim for MMHH (money, meaning, happiness and health)

A student recently reached out to me saying he’s keen on investment banking. I asked “why?”. He said he thought investment bankers lead a glamorous lifestyle. But the actual life of an investment banker, especially a junior analyst, isn’t glamorous. It involves long hours and stress. There’s nothing wrong with wanting money, but you should also try to have meaning, happiness and health as you progress through the ranks.

Making MD at a bulge bracket bank is only one of many ways to measure success. How you treat the assistants and the coffee lady says a lot about you as a person. No matter what rank you reach and which firm you work for, if you do your job well, have great work ethics, are generous with your time, and make the lives of the people around you better, that signifies success to me. Here are some tips on finding meaning in life through having a second career.

Eric Sim, CFA, PRM, is a career coach and lecturer who was an MD at UBS and an Adjunct Associate Professor at HKUST. He also founded the Institute of Life (IOL). He currently guest lectures at NUS and Queen’s University, and is a senior career fellow at Nanyang Technological University. He writes for 2m followers on LinkedIn.

AUTHOREric Sim Insider Comment

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