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Working for the Big Four in Singapore was much worse than working for a bank

I work as a developer for a European bank in Singapore, but until about 18 months ago I was a consultant for a Big Four firm. I lasted only two years in consultancy and I’d never go back because the pressure and working hours are so crazy.

Singapore being a small island, I rarely worked with clients based here. I would be in other Southeast Asian countries for four or five days most weeks, only returning home for weekends. This was, of course, before Covid, but I suspect that within the next 12 months many consultants here in Singapore will return to a nomadic life.

At first, I found the travel exciting. I’d previously been in a tech role at a bank and hadn’t done many business trips before. Meeting new clients in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok seemed much more appealing than software development. But the travel started to grate on me, and after a few months I’d had enough and was already thinking about leaving my firm.

It wasn’t just the travel that annoyed me; the hours were extreme too. A good day was 9am to 11.30pm, with an hour or two for dinner.  There was great comradery on project teams – a feeling that “we’re all in this together” – but the hours took their toll on me. I was away from my social life and friends. I was longing to be on familiar ground rather than being stuck in a hotel room in Jakarta every night.

So I drew I line and returned to being a developer at my previous bank. The good news was that I landed a more senior role – with more business-facing responsibilities – than I could have got had I not gone to the Big Four, so I don’t regret my two-year career change.

When you’re ensconced with clients, you really have to raise your game as a professional. The expectations are high in banking technology, but there are even higher in the Big Four. Clients are paying you a rate that’s more than what they pay most of their own staff, so you have to meet their demands and satisfy them no matter what.

As I’m still in my 20s, the other great thing that being a consultant gave me was experience dealing with senior stakeholders. I got direct exposure to CEOs and CFOs. When you’re speaking with people at that level, you have to be adaptable and think on your feet.

I’d recommend a stint in consulting because it makes you more dynamic and able to get up to speed quickly with a variety of issues. For example, while I came from a banking tech background, I was dealing with clients from a range of sectors, such as pharmaceuticals and aviation. Moreover, when you’re a consultant you need to be very good not just at formulating strategy, but also at delivering your message – you need to look and sound confident enough.

All this means that now I’m back at my bank, I’m much better able to communicate with senior management and outline technology solutions to business problems. People at the firm take me more seriously as I have the soft skills to match my tech skills.

Mikaela Tsai (not her real name) is a technoligist at a European bank in Singapore.

Photo by Rayson Tan on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORMikaela Tsai Insider Comment

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