Insights on Banking & Finance

By Jolie Fong 

The Discover+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, that give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship. 

The Discover+ online panel on Banking and Finance, held on 26 May 2020, featured four professionals in the sector: Edmund Twohill (Moderator), Vice-President, Consumer Banking Group (CBG) Digital and Customer Experience at DBS Bank; Bryan Low, Senior Client Advisor at Credit Suisse AG; Jacinda Loh, Director of Leverage Finance at Maybank Kim Eng; and Vicki Wong, Assistant Vice President (APAC Intelligence Analyst) at Bank of America. 432 students and young professionals attended this event.

Automation has definitely changed some aspects of management and operations. Bank transactions can now be completed online, and lower-level jobs such as customer service or bank teller roles are being displaced by chatbots and virtual machines. Banks will gain an edge if they can tap on these advancements, to better address customers’ needs. For instance, newer developments such as blockchain technologies are also affecting the finance industry, particularly the corporate banking space because they can help to facilitate secure transactions. 

Additionally, many areas of banking and finance are placing an increasing emphasis on data science and data analytics. Many new hires in our industry come from very strong quantitative backgrounds, with degrees in Mathematics, Analytics or even the Sciences. Financial services companies are also harnessing big data in order to upscale and expand. 

Banking and finance is the hub of everything that happens. Without it, capital, people and opportunities cannot get connected. With the proliferation of large companies with technical products, the industry is continuing to adapt by recruiting people who have the relevant technical skills. The sector as a whole is undergoing digital transformation, and the type of portfolios that people are looking at in this industry are undeniably changing as well. For the foreseeable future, bankers and financial institutions will continue to play a big role.

Trust from our clients is essential for our work. Essentially, we have to prove that the clients or companies can trust us and our companies with their money. In order to build trust, particularly at the junior level, you should be knowledgeable in the financial products you are selling. Avoid conflicts of interest, and follow up with your customers to build rapport. While quantitative skills are important throughout the industry, a basic understanding of finance and economics is still crucial. 

You should reflect on how you can add value to the work you do. Whether it is a skill or your experience or knowing a second language, think about what can give you an edge in the hiring process.

It would also be good to build up on soft skills and learn how to network effectively. Be interested, keep an open mind, and be kind in order to build relationships. The ability to listen, empathise, and connect the dots makes great bankers. 

This career demands an attention to detail, the ability to be fast and adaptable, and a willingness to go the extra mile to improve on the work you are assigned. You ought to have a bit of hunger, curiosity, and a drive to learn. If you are patient and remain true to yourself, people are bound to recognise your effort and your sincerity.

At the undergraduate level, recruitment is a numbers game. It can be quite competitive. It will be a good idea to secure an internship, and subsequently do well in that internship, in order to increase one’s chances of being hired. 

Regarding postgraduate qualifications both Masters’ degrees and the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) course will offer opportunities for progression. For undergraduates, a CFA would be more useful as it provides you technical skills that allow you to contribute from day one.

Companies do not prefer one over the other. However, one observation is that overseas graduates tend to speak more openly, and leave a larger (but not necessarily better) impression on employers. Some employers may find that attitude refreshing. 

Do keep this comment in mind, but do not let it shape what you can or cannot do. In general,  it would be good for local students to break the mould and speak their minds more.

From the investment banking, corporate finance and loans perspective, deal flow has become laggy and a lot of deals are being postponed. Restructuring loans are on the rise because companies are running into more cash flow problems.

For client-side frontliners who depend a lot on personal contact with customers, that personal touch is essential to their roles. However, the pandemic has hampered this, so a lot of business has dropped off.

The pandemic, in general, has affected the way we conduct business and operate. Travel across regions has dropped to virtually zero. There is only so much that one can do via online meetings. That’s why teams in the banks are exploring options and conducting research, so directors can make decisions on how to continue operating.

Work-life balance depends on the individual. You need to decide on what makes you happy and how you can achieve that through your work, be it crunching numbers, writing reports or dealing with clients.

Many areas of banking and finance are competitive. The hours are long and the deadlines are tight, especially in a foreign bank. Your time doesn’t seem to be fully yours, especially in the first few years when you are just starting out. But the job can be fulfilling. Not only is a job in this industry financially rewarding, it can help you build a diverse, strong network, a solid economic understanding of the world, and skills like discipline and resilience.