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Ng Sier Han
Sier Han graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours, Cum Laude) at Cornell University, USA. He furthered his studies and attained a Master of Science at Columbia University, USA.
I studied Computer Science and Financial Engineering, and was familiar with databases and numerical computation. Combining technical knowledge with finding the best solution in a universe of imperfect information appealed to me, and I was always interested in how financial markets work. Being able to combine both interests and apply my technical training was a large part of my decision to be a derivative structurer.
DBS was my first full time job. Our relationship started in 2000 when I took up a scholarship with the bank. I wanted to pay for my own tertiary education and DBS stood out as one of the Asian banks with ambitions to grow beyond Singapore. That was post 1997 when Asia had not quite regained its footing after the crisis. As part of the restructuring of Singapore banks, there were major mergers and acquisitions in the banking space.
As a young student, I followed these business developments and felt that local banks would come out of the crisis stronger, making it interesting to work for them. Today, DBS is one of the leading financial services groups in the region, and I am proud to have contributed to our growth over the years.
Building my reputation
A young person will struggle to gain credibility. The best way to overcome this is to produce consistent work and work smart to deliver above expectations.
During one of my rotations under the Management Associate Programme, I had to gain the trust of colleagues who did not see the value of tasking me with more important assignments. To them, I was a fresh graduate who would be with them for only six months and rotated out before I could be of any real help.
I convinced them to give me as much information as possible about the products, sat in a corner to read everything and helped out whenever I could. Along the way, I started building tools to help them monitor the performances of their clients’ products, and they realised that I could contribute.
Ups and downs
The global financial crisis in 2007 to 2009 was a critical point in my career. It created many testing situations as the industry was in a flux. However, it also created opportunities in both the workplace and the financial markets. While it was the toughest period in my career, I emerged with an opportunity to build a new team in a slightly less competitive market.
My biggest and most memorable achievement is an on-going one – to build a team that works well together and punches above our weight. In doing so, I got to set the tone on the kind of culture, long term goals, business strategies that we would pursue. I believe that the results at the end of the day will vindicate my efforts.
Work on communication
Having communication skills is one of the most important traits of a leader. Although this may sound easy, there are so many different dimensions to it – managing upward, motivating team members, and sharing your vision with other areas in the firm to get support for your goals.
There are also different cultural aspects of communication. In an increasingly globalised setup, we will often find ourselves working with people from multiple countries and diverse backgrounds. My team works with colleagues to distribute our products in China, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, etc. Once, I shared a product and pricing to a Japanese client who said “Let me think about it” and then hung up the call. My colleague covering the Japanese market told me that this reply implied a "no" – they were just too polite to say no!
So find time beyond your books to work with a range of people in different situations as a student. Travel and make friends from different countries!
Technology and finance
Technology has become such a large part of Finance. It is playing a larger role in all aspects of banking, from consumer banking to trading. It is also especially relevant now as DBS has embarked on our digital journey.
My advice is to place equal importance on understanding both finance and technology. While it is not necessary to know how to write computer programmes, you need to know what jobs can be easily performed by machines as well as what tasks are complicated and impossible for machines. At some point, you may work with people who will build these tools, and you need to be able to articulate the features required. This is a skill that will help you to shape the future of banking.