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How to blitz your way through an interview with a private bank in Asia

It’s only mid-February, but several private banks have already set out ambitious plans this year to expand their headcounts in Asia. Last month Morgan Stanley said it wanted to add 30 to 35 private bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong in 2020, while Goldman Sachs announced an expected three-year 50% rise in its Asian RM headcount and Nomura revealed plans to take on more than 40 RMs over the same period.

Despite the onset of the coronavirus, private bankers remain in high demand in Asia, where millionaire and billionaire wealth is surging. But relationship managers in Singapore and Hong Kong still face a gruelling interview process in a sector where it’s difficult to change jobs without your clients supporting the move. Here’s how to make it through a private banking job interview.

1. Prepare your business plan first

During the final interview rounds you will have to present a business plan on how you intend to build assets under management (AUM) and develop new clients, says an internal recruiter at Swiss private bank, who asked not to be names. But it’s best to complete this plan before your first meeting at the bank, because its content will help you to structure your early-round interview replies.

2. And pack in plenty of information

The more detailed your business plan, the more authentic it will appear. “Interviewers don’t always fully believe business plans as they suspect the figures may be inflated,” says Liu San Li, a former private banker, now a business partner at wealth management firm Avallis. “So your plan should show you’ve done adequate homework on your clients – for example, their current estimated bankable assets and the time you’ve known them for.”

3. Estimate your level of candidate support

Never walk into the first round of a private banking interview without knowing the approximate percentage of clients you can bring to the new bank. “You should also work out the percentage of transferable assets for each individual client – from 100% for clients who are like family, down to about 20% for the ones who you can’t guarantee,” says Abimanu Jeyakumar, head of recruiters Selby Jennings in Hong Kong.

4. Prepare for compliance and risk questions

“With increasing focus on risk management and compliance nowadays – especially with the highly publicised closures of BSI and Falcon Private Bank in Singapore – candidates must expect governance-related questions,” says a senior private banker in Singapore. “For example, you might be asked about how you balance business development with risk management.”

5. Get your presentation right from the first round

“During the first interview, the manager will be constantly assessing how you’d come across when meeting the bank’s millionaire clients,” says Jeyakumar. “So if you stumble over your answers, aren’t well presented or there’s something wrong with your body language, they’d assume you’d act the same in front of clients. You need to treat the interview as a business meeting.”

6. Look for ‘common threads’ in the following rounds

Your first interview will be with the hiring manager and/or HR and then you will move up the ranks to meet the market head. “In larger firms you’ll also speak to the heads of product and investment advisors, while in boutiques you’ll often get to meet the head of the private bank or the CEO,” says the in-house recruiter. “So meeting five or six people is quite common. Pay particular attention to any common threads in what they say that point to the real culture of the bank – this will help you decide whether you’re a good fit and whether you want to move there.”

7. Keep confident in a private banking interview

“In a private banking interview ‘confidence’ is the key word,” says Liu from Avallis. “There’s no room for error or ambiguity when presenting your business plan and convincing people of your ability to bring in new clients. Avoid using the term ‘I think’ and present your points with conviction, logic and substantiation.”

8. But remain realistic

Not all your clients will move banks with you, so don’t fall into the common trap of letting your confidence run away with you. “Be positive and realistic about asset transferability – otherwise it will come back to bite you. Remember that the interviewers were in your shoes once – they can often sense when you’re over-hyping things,” says Jeyakumar from Selby Jennings.

9. Explain how the move benefits your clients

Banks like hiring private bankers who are focused on their clients’ best interests rather than their own careers, says Jeyakumar. “So as well as talking about how many clients you can bring over, explain why the new bank’s platform would benefit them.”

10. Be prepared for product-related questions

“You’ll be asked about the products and banking facilities that your clients need,” says Liu. “Do your homework about the new product suite, and any cross-platform facilities available under the bank’s umbrella such as investment banking, corporate banking and direct access to securities trading.”

11. But don’t be a product pusher

Come across as a trusted client advisor, not a pushy salesperson. “If you are able to convince the interviewers that you have strong relationships with your clients, don’t sabotage your credibility when asked how you will move them to the new bank by replying, ‘using attractive rates’,” says Liu.

12. Don’t name your clients

While you will be grilled about your clients’ assets and the strength of your relationships, client confidentiality and banking secrecy means you won’t have to name them.

13. Be discreet in a private banking interview

As in all interviews, it’s important to provide on-the-job examples to prove your points, but don’t say anything that your clients would prefer you didn’t mention, even without naming them. “Illustrate with some story-telling, but keep this short  and be mindful that private banking is a discreet business,” advises the in-house recruiter.

Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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