By Brendan Loon
Xianjie is currently Associate Director, Corporate Finance & Capital Markets at CLSA, an investment bank. He has been in banking for the past 10 years, having joined DBS Bank in 2008 after having obtained his BA in Economics and MPhil in Real Estate and Finance from the University of Cambridge. He spent his first 2 years with DBS as a Corporate Relationship Manager for DBS’ institutional clients which included a 6-month stint in DBS Taiwan. He later joined the Capital Markets division at DBS and put his Real Estate Finance degree to good use, handling some of the most complex IPOs in the Singapore REITs and Business Trusts space.
What does your typical workday look like?
XJ: When I talk to people about investment banking, I’d usually tell them not to expect to find any day ‘typical’. Besides the more day-to-day sort of marketing and following-up, it’s better to look at it in terms of project cycles rather than day-to-day operations. We’re project-driven, so you need to hunt for deals and projects; and once you’ve gotten them in the bag, you need to make sure you execute these projects properly.
And these projects can vary greatly! You could have someone whose company is getting bigger and bigger and wants to list on the Singapore Exchange, or you could have someone whose company is already listed but needs to raise more capital. You often have to work with many different professional parties for each project – lawyers, accountants, tax advisors and consultants all working together to get a company listed on the stock exchange. The variety also comes from the wide range of industries these companies could be in – and in a generalist team, you learn to do everything or at least a little bit of everything – from shipping, oil tank terminals to real estate. What you need changes based on the industry and how it changes, and who you’re engaging.
How did you get into investment banking?
XJ: I had been a corporate RM at DBS for 2 years and a spot had opened up in the Capital Markets team. At that time, investment banking was where everybody wanted to be so I thought I’d give it a shot and did an internal transfer.
These days, the best way to get into investment banking is probably through an internship. Its tough these days – you really have to show interest and fight for it. After you get in, then you can see if it’s really for you and really your interest after all. Another way into investment banking would be the path I took – sign up with a bank and later transfer internally into their investment banking division. There are certain banks with Management Associate Programmes that facilitate this.
What’s gives you the motivation to continue working in this line?
XJ: Despite the stress, pressure and difficult hours, you get a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment helping entrepreneurs to accomplish major milestones in the life of their company. This is especially true in the case of helping Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and even in the case of helping the bigger players to execute major corporate actions and achieve corporate milestones in the company’s track.
How has your experience been like as a career mentor?
XJ: In the Young NTUC Youth Career Network, students and youths typically approach me for advice on investment banking and finance. I didn’t really have a mentor in finance and investment banking early in my career – I can’t change my own fate but I can help others who may need the resources, whether its information or networking or guidance! So, when Young NTUC approached INSPIRIT – of which I am a part of – for volunteers, I stepped forward because I saw this as an opportunity to be the change that I always wanted for myself personally. And so far its been pretty fun and rewarding!
Do you have any stories in particular of your mentees’ success to share?
XJ: There was this one guy who wanted to break into investment banking and I’d advised him that given his circumstances, he should work as an unpaid intern just to get the experience! Most people would baulk at the idea but he eventually came around to it and secured a full-time job when his senior above him left the firm. Today, he has moved on from investment banking and is now working for a major private equity firm.
How would you help someone through mentoring?
XJ: I have experience as an interviewer so I explain the interviewer’s thinking and mentality to my mentees and let them know what interviewers are looking for. I review my mentees curriculum vitaes (CVs) and work with them to improve their CVs, so that they stand the best chance at their interviews. In a way, it’s making time to do what nobody really teaches you as you grow up, so I sit down to walk through the process with my mentees in a group of 4-5 mentees per mentoring session. This is a safe space to help them to polish up and coach them on interview skills, to help to them examine their CVs and provide constructive comments on how best to polish up their CVs from the perspective of an interviewer, provide encouragement, and act as a resource to these mentees who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to build up their social capital.
Social capital is important; if you don’t have physical assets then you need to have social assets. I have mentees who all come from different backgrounds, so besides connecting them to each other, I also mentor and guide them to broaden their network. Sometimes, it’s about having people who aren’t at the same stage as you and know things that can elevate you.
How would you advise someone trying to get a job in your field?
XJ: In general, it helps to know what you want or the general direction you’d like to take in your career, if not: firstly, you can’t focus; secondly, it’s hard for people to focus on you – they can’t decide on whether you would be good for them, on where to place you, how to help you to grow … But if you know roughly what you want, it is easier to explore further down the line and easier to get help to find resources you want and need. So, find out what’s out there and find out what you want – not necessarily in that order – and it gets easier moving from there.
Polish up on your CV and interview skills. Ask yourself what skills you need for that job: what should you read, read up on, and/or know. You might be an engineer at first and later go into to banking because you find you’ve picked up relevant skills and knowledge over time.
What professional competencies would you consider the most relevant to your daily work?
XJ: I would say, while many are relevant, I would prioritise Impact, Building Positive Working Relationships, Delegation, Follow-Up, Formal Presentation, Quality Orientation, Sales Ability/Persuasiveness and Communication.