Investment Banking & Investment Management

Career Myths Debunked: Private Banking

It’s not all about networking and fancy dinners with clients! A career as a successful private banker requires a constant commitment to building meaningful client relationships.
Joel Quah
Treasury & FX Sales – Trading at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management

Myth: Living the high life

Mentioning that you enjoy wining and dining clients is a common myth that will not win you any favours with the interviewer. Rather, you should portray yourself as a hardworking and diligent individual with an entrepreneurial mind-set.

Graduates are expected to handle all the administrative matters (which include account openings, trade reconciliations, investment presentations, etc.) and this is no different from roles in sales and trading or investment banking. Put simply, you have to do the grunt work until you have proven yourself.

So what is so exciting about private banking? Why are so many graduates eager to enter the industry?

If you enjoy interacting with clients, understanding their needs and tailoring solutions to meet those needs, then this is an industry well-suited for you. Along the way, you will receive exposure to different product groups, develop your relationship management skills, and eventually manage your own book of clients.

Managing your expectations

This is a crucial interview question that might make or break your chances of scoring the internship or job. Let’s play out a scenario that usually happens:

Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in 2-3 years’ time?

Graduate: I would like to become a junior private banker at the end of 2-3 years.…

Interviewer: (Stares at the graduate with wide eyes/shakes his head/looks stunned – either one or a combination of all these) 

Private banking is a whole different ball game from the rest of banking. Private banks work with high net worth clients, and these individuals are sophisticated investors who demand the highest level of service.

It takes time and maturity to earn their trust and convince them to entrust their assets to you.

Therefore, for most graduates, the initial years will be for you to ease yourself into the industry. You have to build your own networks, increase your product knowledge, work alongside a senior banker, and develop the necessary skillsets that will allow you to transit from the graduate programme to a more permanent role in the organization.

Breaking into the industry - Graduate programmes

This is the most prestigious way of entering the industry. All top-tier banks have such programmes, though they each differ in some ways. Some are front-office private banker programmes (i.e. you are groomed to be a junior private banker) while others are product programmes (i.e. you become a product specialist in FX, Structured Products, Active Advisory etc).

One is not better than the other, and ultimately you should decide according to your interest and where you see yourself in the years to come. Other benefits of a graduate programme include international rotations (I’m writing this from Hong Kong), mentorships, support for CFA & CAIA exams, etc. Most banks place great emphasis on these programmes, and they actively help their graduates to do well.

However, competition for a coveted spot in these programmes is tough. The number of positions on offer is limited, and cost pressures are likely to cause this figure to dwindle further in the coming years. Hence, it is important to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd in order to increase your chances.

Below are some ways you can do so:

  • Internships are of utmost importance. It will be ideal if you have multiple internships in private banking, as this underscores your desire to join the industry. Having a broad understanding of the business will also help you tackle interviewers who like to ask about the structure on a private bank.
  • Be prepared for your interviews – research the industry and the bank you are interviewing for as extensively as possible. You should also find out what differentiates the bank from its competitors. Lastly, convey to the interviewers your passion for the business, and your well-reasoned motivations for wanting to do private banking.

My journey

A little about myself: private banking was my dream job since NBS days. I did my wealth management internships with BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and Julius Baer before joining the Barclays Graduate Programme. Contrary to the belief of some, the level of competency required and the competition that you can expect during the recruitment process is no less intense than with other front-office roles.

Hence, it is critical to work towards identifying your career objectives as soon as possible, and put in the effort to work towards securing a job in the industry.

The journey from your degree to the hallowed halls of the big names in finance will not be easy. But with the right support, knowledge and determination, you can eventually reach your goal!