Here’s how to break into the upper ranks.
Job seekers in Singapore are increasingly trying to join the city state’s local banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB. The three firms have all expanded their headcounts over the past year and have historically been less willing to cut jobs than their global rivals.
But what does it take to make the upper ranks at these banks? We trawled through LinkedIn profiles of managing directors at Singaporean banks and come up with a few general trends that could set you on the right path for reaching MD yourself.
Don’t work for rival Singaporean bank
Either build your career at one Singaporean firm – group research head Timothy Wong is a 22-year veteran of DBS, for example – or work for international banks before going local. A surprisingly low number of MDs have done stints at rival Singaporean firms at any stages of their careers and fewer still have made the leap at a senior level.
Do work for Standard Chartered
Standard Chartered seems to be the main headhunting ground for Singaporean banks. MDs with Stan Chart on the resumes abound as the firm is a key competitor in corporate banking and employs some 7,800 people in Singapore – its largest headcount in any market. In May last year, for example, Swee Siong Lee left his role as head of global corporate products at Stan Chart to become cash management product head at OCBC. Dennis Khoo, meanwhile, had a 12-year career at Stan Chart before joining UOB as head of Singapore personal financial services in 2013.
Or Citi or HSBC
Experience at Citi or HSBC – two other banks with huge Asian footprints – will stand you in good stead at a Singaporean firm. OUB poached Collin Tan, country head of the global subsidiaries group at Citi, last year and made him its boss of multinational banking.
Attend a US business school or the National University of Singapore
The profiles of Singaporean bank MDs are littered with MBAs and most are from US rather than Asian or European schools. Arjay Gavankar, head of analytics and innovation at DBS Digital Bank, has an MBA from Harvard Business School, for example. When it comes to undergraduate degrees, however, the National University of Singapore is (unsurprisingly) the most popular choice.
Don’t work in investment banking
Want to leave a bulge bracket for an IBD job at a Singaporean bank? This would appear a difficult move – the overwhelming majority of MD profiles are in other divisions. None of the three firms feature in the top-20 banks for 2014 Asia ex-Japan M&A deals, although DBS ranks 10th for Southeast Asia, according to Bloomberg. First quarter IBD revenues at OCBC and DBS fell by 6% and 30% year-on-year respectively.
Do work in fintech or digital banking
Global banks may be offshoring some IT functions into lower-cost locations, but Singaporean banks are more firmly rooted in the city state – their IT staff and the MDs they reported into are mainly based in Singapore. Not all their fintech MDs are poached from other banks, however – DBS internet banking MD Sandeep Lal, for example, was formerly the head of PayPal in Asia.
It’s ok if you’re an expat, especially at DBS
The Singapore government is encouraging employers to hire more locals and many MDs are indeed Singaporeans, but there’s also a good sprinkling of foreign talent among the upper legions, especially at DBS – widely seen as the most ‘international’ of the three home-grown banks. Michael Power has been a consumer operations MD at DBS for four years, while Sandra Stonham, MD of technology and operations, has been with the firm since 2008.
But be based in Asia already
MD-level relocations from the West are now rare – when Singaporean banks hire foreigners they prefer those already based in the city state or elsewhere in the region. And Asian experience isn’t only needed for client-facing roles. Neil Tottman, for example, an MD and COO of credit risk management at DBS, is an archetypal long-term expat, having held senior Asian roles at Deutsche Bank and HSBC since 2005 before choosing the Singaporean firm in 2011.
Try to get a job offer in private banking
Singapore firms are becoming larger players (in terms of both assets and employees) in Asia’s booming wealth management sector and now have the resources to recruit and retain MDs from European private banks. Yeng Fang Ong, head of private banking at UOB, was poached from Julius Baer last year, while Marc Lansonneur, head of investment products DBS, decided to stay on board when the Singaporean firm took over the Asian wealth arm of his then employer, Societe Generale, in October.
Begin your career in India
China may be the key overseas growth market for Singaporean banks, but in Singapore itself the three firms employ very few mainland MDs. By contrast (and even excluding roles directly servicing Indian clients), several MDs have graduated in India and/or begun their banking careers there. Yazad Cooper, head management accounting and analytics at DBS, started out at KPMG India in 1994, while his colleague Vivek Batra, head of sales, global transaction services, studied at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta.