Insights on Banking and Finance

By Jamian Chan

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 4 January 2022, Advisory hosted Discover+: Banking & Finance, the 49th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Mona Carvalho (Moderator) – Managing Director, Corporate and Institution Banking Transformation, Standard Chartered Bank
  • Andy Tan – Head of Loan Syndicate, South Asia, Credit Suisse
  • Tashya Zhuo – Director, Business Development, Equities & FICC Sales, Singapore Exchange (SGX)
  • Wenbin Wong – Head, GrabPay & Merchant Business, Grab Financial Group Singapore

Attendees included students at various levels of education with a desire to know the different career paths in Banking and Finance, and how to best position themselves for such roles. Below are some key points shared during the session:

Before the pandemic, we could often travel to different countries on business trips. This depended on which country we were in charge of.

Now, due to the pandemic, a day at work involves countless video calls. Specifically, we look at the performance of our businesses and the issues we had faced the day before. We also have team catch-ups and leadership catch-ups. 

Aside from that, we may attend client meetings and networking sessions to ensure that we are aware of what the market wants. Finally, we will also do some admin work, ranging from managing loans to various deals and transactions.

The ability to create new things and make a real impact makes work really fun and meaningful. These motivate us at work. Specifically, hunting for deals, closing them and knowing that you have helped numerous companies grow by providing them with the capital drives us at work. 

Moreover, the chance to learn about the products provided by the different companies also gives us the drive to learn more. Meeting different clients and handling the myriad of situations that could occur is also really interesting. 

There are also external factors that motivate us at work. Firstly, having a good boss helps. Your boss is really the most important person at work. This will enable you to decide whether you are motivated to stay in your job or whether you should move on. Secondly, your company should also feel like a good fit. One factor that can determine that would be the opportunity to switch roles and experience the various job scopes in the organisation.

Working with people can be one of the most challenging things at work. We need to learn how to navigate through this process, especially within the hierarchy and dynamics of the organisation. Being aware of these dynamics and building a reputation for yourself is important. This can be particularly difficult for females in the finance industry, especially at the higher management level, since Banking and Finance is still somewhat male-dominated. 

Of course, many banks have recognised the need for gender equality and have been working with their employees to promote it. While managing people and navigating the workplace can be tough, people management can be fun too. In finance, there are many different stakeholders and we can split them into two main groups – internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. Often, these stakeholders want different things. So, there is a need to craft a story to allow both sides to understand each other and work together. 

Another thing that can be challenging at work is our insecurities. We need to battle our insecurities and be ready to punch above our weight. This can come in the form of willingness to share our opinions, but doing so in a respectful way.

There is a wide range of memorable events that had occurred in our careers. One such example includes watching a business grow into a million-dollar company and maintaining close relationships with the founders over the years. On the flip side, we have also seen companies that were under our charge for supervisory and regulatory work collapsed. These experiences are memorable because we got to learn while having to deal with the problem we were faced with. In addition, having the freedom to push our limits to try new things has also created more memorable experiences for us. We could experiment with the things we had and even when they failed, we were not questioned excessively.

Yes, it is possible. We need to set priorities at work and adopt a give-and-take attitude. Nowadays, hybrid working has replaced the standard 9-to-5 working hours and our schedules are often more flexible. For example, some of us may start work later but also end later as we need to engage with our colleagues in other time zones as well. Of course, this sort of flexibility also cuts both ways. Sometimes, we can work with our own schedules but there are also times when we need to work around other people’s schedules. It is up to your discretion to handle them.

Additionally, we pace ourselves too. Sometimes, we need to sprint and complete our work quickly, while other times, we need to slow down and take a break. More importantly, we need to gain the trust of others. They need to know that regardless of how you manage your responsibilities individually, you will still do your work and submit your deliverables on time. 

Work-life balance is really something that we need to manage ourselves, and not something an organisation can give to you. For some of us, work can also feel like our life, especially when we are younger. As long as you enjoy your work, it will not feel like a burden to you and there will not be a vast distinction between work and life. Make sure to find something that gives you fulfilment. Nonetheless, we all need to rest and rejuvenate. We are all empowered to take a break sometimes, regardless of the style of work-life balance we adopt.

There is an impression that the industry can be very competitive and stressful but it depends on how you manage your work. Sometimes, work can consume you but it helps to constantly remind yourself that you have done your best and just move on from it. It is really important to just do your best and manage your stress. Stress is something that everyone will go through in their career, whether they are in the financial industry or not. So, you are not alone.

In terms of competitiveness, it really depends on the sector in the industry. For example, top-tier investment banks may only hire 2-5 students a year. However, for other emerging sectors, especially consumer banking, there are a lot of financial institutions and banks that are hiring many students in order to expand their operations. In that case, it may be less competitive there.

You can go for more interviews to gain more experience. It is also important to find out more about the company you are applying to and to also know yourself. The latter can come in the form of knowing what you can offer the company and what qualities you have that suit the company or the position that you are applying for. Lastly, you should also show more energy and passion.

There are a few things we look for when we are hiring. Firstly, we look for tenacity. We want people who are willing to challenge themselves in the face of difficult situations. Secondly, we want people who are open-minded and creative. As with many other industries, the Banking and Finance Industry can go through quite a lot of changes, especially with the rise of Financial Technology (FinTech). Taking on people who are open-minded and creative will allow us to try new things and adapt to the changes. Finally, we want people who are willing to take feedback. As mentioned, there can be a lot of changes in this industry. As such, there can be a lot of new ideas, many of which will be turned down or require improvement. This requires someone who is willing to take feedback and change with the times.

You can build a network through internships and Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs). These activities are great ways to network and for you to get to know people outside of your social circle. You can also join other associations to network further. Of course, doing so requires you to grow a thicker skin and be comfortable with reaching out to people. Try not to think too much because the worst-case scenarios are merely not getting a response or getting a rejection. 

Similarly, you should be fearless when you interact with others. You should bring something interesting to the table, even if it is an odd fact about yourself. You can prepare questions to ask and be genuine in your interactions. You should also remember to maintain your network, stay in touch with your contacts and check in with them occasionally. Essentially, the more effort you put in, the more rewards you get.

Finally, try to be a connector. It is always helpful to link people up, especially if they have similar interests. This would encourage your friends to link you up with others as well. 

Nothing is preordained. Just make sure to have an open mind and follow your interest. Create your story every step of the way and just follow your heart. More often than not, we make better career decisions when we follow our hearts as compared to when we follow our brains. More importantly, joining the industry is not about credentials and training. Rather, we look for versatility and the willingness to take up challenges.

The industry will definitely face some changes. On the consumer banking side, it definitely seems more fun. There are a lot of new players in the industry such as cryptocurrencies and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has been implementing a lot of new rules and it is interesting to see how things will play out. 

On the corporate banking side, change will come but it will probably be much slower than consumer banking as corporate bankers are still needed to move large amounts of money for organisations. 

Finally, investment banking is also likely to evolve in the coming years. It is very exciting to see how it will evolve as it operates on trust and there are many new rules being implemented.

Disruption in the financial industry can occur due to technological innovation or through changes in business models. In terms of technological innovation, there are a few ways it can disrupt the industry. 

Firstly, new players can massively reduce the cost of operations and distribution. Secondly, new players can also create new technology to improve efficiency and do things much faster than their competitors. 

Another way disruption can occur is through innovative business models. One notable model that has come up in recent years is the “Buy Now Pay Later” model, where merchants and businesses provide credit for the items that they want to sell, allowing consumers to pay in instalments. While credit is not an innovation in the financial industry, the “Buy Now Pay Later” model has shifted the burden of credit risk from banks and financial institutions to merchants and retailers.

The shift in the industry is exciting as everyone will have varying opportunities to enter different sectors. This is especially so for the consumer banking sector where it is likely to be disrupted very quickly due to various technological changes. We can prepare by embracing the change. This requires us to be adaptive and creative about what can be done differently. From there, we should see everything as an opportunity to do things differently and for the better.