Conversations with Yuvan Mohan

By Jolie Fong and Donovan Sim

Yuvan Mohan is a Senior Risk Analyst in an American bank. He has been in banking for the past four years spending stints in Internal Audit, Finance, Treasury, Corporate Affairs & Consumer Cards. Apart from being in banking, Yuvan actively contributes to the community. Currently he serves as a  Youth Corps Advisory Committee Member, Co-Chair of the Young ChangeMakers grant program & Vice-Chairperson of SINDA Youth Club. He also serves as a mentor for Conjunct Consulting & the Youth Action Challenge. Yuvan graduated from SMU with a Bachelors of Social Sciences (Political Science) & holds a Masters in Management from SMU as well. In this interview, Yuvan shares more about his experience in the banking industry and advice for youths interested in joining the industry.

I work in an international bank as a senior risk analyst. I’ve been in banking for four years. I started my career as a Management Associate (MA) and went through a three-year programme, where I rotated across 4 departments. These rotations lasted from 6 months to a year and straddled across the consumer, corporate, technology and support function teams.

Risk analysts can cover a wide range of businesses. In my experience, I have worked on projects that are requested by regulators. Regulators have annual reviews with banks and I had to work with other teams from the bank in order to deliver these reviews in a timely and accurate manner.

Regulators play an important role in the financial system. They help set standards and frameworks to protect not only customers but also banks. They can exert influence by crafting policies and enforcing these policies.

Day-to-day, I work on presentation decks and regulatory reports for the bank, as well as look at regulatory trends and government actions. As a risk analyst, you have to go through a lot of data but you also have to try and tell a story. Understanding the data is quantitative. The qualitative part comes when you are trying to present the data to others. How do you create a story? Just because you bring data doesn’t mean you don’t present a story, so you need a balance of both.

You have to be insanely precise as each dollar counts. The data that you work on will eventually be sent to senior management and regulators as well. Any mistake in data may result in you writing reports. Hence, its best to get it right the first time.

Everything carries some sort of inherent risk. You have to judge risk based on the current climate.

We use trends to predict risk. The predictability comes from past experiences. Based on that, you have to judge whether there are certain economic cycles or patterns that will repeat themselves.

Banks are one of the few institutions which oversees the flow of money. The risks associated to that process is immense. Furthermore, with the rise of FinTech and digitization, new elements of risks have to be taken into account. I felt that the risk space was unique as it would me a glimpse at businesses would balance profitability and sustainability. 

Nope. After my masters’ in Management at SMU, I was still unsure as to which industry I should join. Hence, I chose to apply to firms offering MA programs in the tourism, healthcare, and financial sector. I was fortunate to join a bank.

There are two points where individuals can join MA programs. The first is people who become MAs upon graduation as an undergraduate, or after a few years of work experience. The second is people who become MAs after completing their MBAs.

Going through school helps to set your foundation in the banking sector. Let’s say you want to go down a specialised route, such as becoming an upcoming investment banker, it is important to understand corporate finances and how mergers and acquisitions happen.

Technical skills are only important at the entry level. I think the skill that most graduates miss out is how you work in teams. Because at the end of the day, you will likely have to work with people from different cultures, especially if you want to work for a multinational corporation.

Banks tend to have a consumer business and corporate business. The consumer banks, deals with the needs of everyday individuals. To this segment, banks offer credit cards, loans and investments In the corporate business space, banks tend to offer credit solutions and other financial services. There is a wealth of roles that are needed to support these three products. Increasingly, there are roles needed to support the growing digitization of how banks interface with consumers.

As an MA you will be expected to do rotations in these sectors, both in the front end (more client-facing work) and in the back end (to get a holistic view of banking operations). Hence, the advantages of being a MA is the flexibility it provides. You can pivot to multiple roles based on the rotations you are involved in. You can then be deployed to various parts of the bank once your rotations have ended.

The bank consists of a wide range of individuals from multiple countries, various leadership styles and interests. However, one thing that is consistent is that individuals have a high level of excellence.

Different departments have different cultures. But as a whole I would  say working in an international bank allows you to interact with individuals from different cultures and working styles.

Banks tend to be big on learning and development as well. Undergoing training is quite commonplace and the banks provide you access to resources to ensure that you skills are kept up to date.

It is also rare for employees to stay within the same team for a prolonged period of time. Employees are encouraged to rotate every two years.

One popular misconception is that people view finance just based on what they watch on documentaries or movies like The Wolf of Wall Street. When they think of banking, what comes to mind are the investment bankers, private bankers, traders… but a bank is actually a big institution. Those people make up just 1% of all the jobs available. The bank needs people to oversee other areas like digital banking apps and operations staff to sort out complaints, et cetera. Many people aren’t really aware of what happens at the back end of the bank and assume that all these processes happen miraculously.

From a banking perspective, a lot of people also like to look at these 1% of jobs because they come with a higher pay. But they may not necessarily understand the kind of trade-offs that come with the job, like sacrificing family time, missing out on special occasions and many other commitments for a good four or five years at least. It’s really hard to work as an investment banker, unless you’re very, very committed. Among the high-end corporate jobs, this notion is particularly acute in the banking space because these roles are highly targeted in nature.

It really depends on what you consider harsh. Many of these high finance bankers actually make their work their identity — a badge they wear with honour and pride as they love the pace of work and the satisfaction that comes from sealing the deal. However,  not everybody will like this. So before you commit to that lifestyle, you have to have a good understanding of your preferences and interests.

The term ‘banker’ is quite broad. My hours aren’t any shorter than the investment banker, but it’s stretched over multiple weeks. Different bankers also deal with different areas of concern. For example, while the investment banker works based on his client’s demands, I have to report to regulators and be extra careful with my numbers.

It really depends which area of banking you want to be in. If you want to go into digital banking and, say, work in the cybersecurity department, then you’d obviously need to have some sort of accreditation for that. But what I can see is by and large, the higher your go, the less important your technical accreditations and grades are. On the other hand, your ability to influence and to see problems from multiple perspectives becomes more valuable. The further you are from formal education, the less technically sound you will be compared to the newest batch of analysts. That’s because they will be dealing with much more complex technology than any one of us could ever work with; you just can’t compete with them. You will have to rely on your experiences and anticipate how change is going to happen.

Technical experience is just one small aspect. As a Management Associate, I can’t prepare in advance for any of my roles, because I don’t know where I’m going to be deployed to next.

The emphasis on skill sets allow many people from other industries to come into the banking sector. I have seen senior managements of e-commerce and digital service companies come into this industry to make it more consumer-friendly and digital in nature, because they understand what customers’ financing needs are and can offer a different perspective.

A lot of banks have initiatives that mobilise their employees to do community work and charity through fundraising activities like online fitness and cooking classes, and getting senior management to do something funny if a funding milestone is reached, or other things like charity balls with their clients. My bank grants its employees a day of volunteer leave which we can utilise to give back. Beyond monetary giving, though, we also partner with non-profits and organisations to organise programmes.

I’m very active as a member of the National Youth Council, involved in initiatives like the Young Changemakers Grant Programme and Conjunct Consulting. I usually work together with a team on a particular area as it’s easier and more enjoyable. I also do more of volunteer management rather than event planning manage volunteers as I derive more satisfaction from that. Right now, I’m focusing on how we can engage and develop the next generation of leaders within each space.

I think having prior experience helps — I started volunteering in Primary 6. I don’t see volunteering as a commitment, but more of a way for personal development.

Through volunteering, I’ve learnt how to handle teams, which is something you normally wouldn’t learn when you start your career, unless you’re running your own company. It’s one way to hone and showcase your leadership skills as you’re leading a team, owning a KPI and trying to develop it.

Volunteering also helped me better define myself as an individual and not put too much attachment to my work performance, which is really only one part of life. You will always have a bad day at work. But because I volunteer, I can get affirmation from sources other than work too.

Furthermore, in my line of volunteering, we are engaged with a lot of senior civil servants, political office holders and industry leaders. Over time, I become more comfortable speaking to them, which translates to being more confident when working with senior management in the bank.

My work also involves going about creating narratives for my deck, which was a skill that I used when volunteering as well. I ask myself, “What kind of data points am I looking at?”, “when I make a decision, what are my risks involved?”, “how do I plan volunteer management and how do I translate that into meaningful KPIs?” In my opinion, there’s a lot of intersection in that regard.

I might stay within the sector, or I might not. I just hope that I can add value to the community around me. I don’t have to achieve it by being part of the same company or organisation but I would like to be, as a holistic individual, making a net impact to the community, based on and beyond my occupation. That’s my broader life goal, not necessarily how my corporate career is going to turn out.

I would have been less concerned with grades and instead taken more time to explore multiple internships. I maybe would have even taken a gap year or two to explore what I like. When I was in school, gap years weren’t really popular. I hope that they catch on, though, because I think it allows graduates to spend more time exploring and finding their purpose, provided they don’t use it to while away time. Go for different internships, like at a startup or in a social enterprise or in a nonprofit space, so that you are able to explore different industries. You’ll come to a point where you can start a career with a better understanding and grasp of who you are as an individual and what you gravitate towards.

Second, I would have taken more courage to network. Right now it’s quite heartening to see younger folks approaching me on sites like LinkedIn and I’m very impressed by it. When I was their age, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do that. There’s really no need to be scared of talking to someone much older than you, because at the end of the day, they also want to share their knowledge with you. I do that a lot now, but I wish I had done so earlier. That would have given me more clarity in making decisions.

Making friends with my professors is also something I should have done a lot more. Just hanging out, having coffee or drinks with them and understanding their thought process can be very insightful. I think most people don’t tap on these readily available information especially if they were to spend the most of their time studying.

I also wish I had travelled a bit more, particularly to other parts of Southeast Asia. I did go abroad to places like Turkey and Vietnam, but I feel like I could have done so earlier and have been more deliberate when planning it. When thinking of undergraduate exchange programmes, most people will think of going to exotic places like Europe and Scandinavia, which is perfectly fine. However, I would rather do an exchange closer to home, maybe in Indonesia, Vietnam, or Thailand, to see how these markets operate as that’s where the growth areas are in terms of pure percentage. It’s also much closer to home and it’s good to understand these different cultures.

Banking is a very big space. You can join in any kind of function, not necessarily in Finance. I find it strange that so many of my friends in university were dying to go into finance, but in the end they didn’t. Meanwhile, I was a Political Science graduate who didn’t take any classes in finance, but ended up in the finance industry. That’s the irony of life.

Don’t let your major or degree define who you are, but rather, think about how your major or degree helps you to be relevant to the organisation you want to join. Because when you’re doing that, you’re putting yourself at the center of focus, rather than force feeding yourself to fit into a certain organisation.

There’s a really robust diversity of majors in banking. Communications, HR, tech – these are all valued in any bank. We even have people who studied physics, people who were engineers before working here. Any degree can be useful to the bank – it just depends on your skillset and how you market it.