Calvin Ong, Graduate at DBS Bank

Calvin Ong

Executive Director of Group Finance Corporate Treasury
Calvin believes that leadership is about earning the trust and respect as a mentor.

I chose banking as a career to contribute to Asia’s progress. I believe that effective and stable financial intermediation by banks is critical to sustaining Asia’s growth. Banking offers a first-hand opportunity to do one’s part in understanding and supporting economic development in and across diverse Asian markets.

Moreover, the quality of people you are given the opportunity to engage with is a good reason to embark on a career in banking. I’ve worked on innovative financing solutions with some of the most driven and brightest across the region, be they established corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, authorities or peers.

Setting foot in DBS bank

I joined DBS as I was convinced that the group’s franchise, anchored in Singapore and Hong Kong, was ideally positioned to both facilitate and benefit from Asia’s growth, through multiple cycles of peak and trough. Also, DBS showed clear commitment to talent development with the scholarship programme then, and this commitment is even stronger today as the handful of scholarships previously offered have been broadened into a comprehensive cross-location Management Associate programme, which is directly supported by Senior Management.

Rising up the ranks

I first started in DBS Private Equity. It provided me with a rigorous grounding in corporate finance fundamentals which were the bedrock of my future successes. My current role is in DBS Corporate Treasury where I am Head of Balance Sheet Management for Group and Singapore.

My key responsibilities include Asset-Liability Management, Funds Transfer Pricing and the hedging of balance sheet risk. The most interesting recent addition to my role is the leveraging of advanced analytics and machine learning across the Balance Sheet Management space for deeper insights.

Making an impact

My role is interesting and challenging because businesses respond to internal strategies and decisions taken in balance sheet management, which have immediate impact on incentives and actions. There is also a need for in-depth understanding of external markets and market changes that have real-time impact. Furthermore, my efforts are critical as they steer business build-out over the long-run, where there is often a need to balance immediate objectives with future franchise sustainability and resilience.

A challenging transition

The key challenge I first faced as a new graduate entering the workforce was transitioning from book-learning to applying oneself in the actual job. The critical thing is that context determines how theory is best deployed.

So looking back, instead of rushing to dive into work based largely on abstract theory, I would advise new graduates to spend more time engaging seniors on the broader context within which the objective is situated, for example to understand the various stakeholders and their perspectives, practical trade-offs and/or externalities associated with options.

Important leader traits

Leadership is about earning, through example, the respect and trust as coach and mentor from teams under one’s charge. The role of a coach/mentor is key. This means the leader does not systematically intrude by performing the jobs of team members but managing a transparent and trustworthy system that supports individuals to become better in their roles.

Key skills include having a fair yet firm hand. A leader needs to be rational and consistent in managing the team, and to take firm decisions on a course of action when disagreements arise. They should be transparent so that members can understand the logic of decisions even if they disagree with them. It is also important to have empathy and humour beyond just the workplace. The ability to make decisions with a personal touch is often what distinguishes a great coach from just the good.

A successful leader builds high performance teams fundamentally grounded in a culture of openness, trust and receptivity to change. These teams harness the potential of diversity such that its sum is more than its parts, and are agile and empowered yet tempered by underlying values to act in the broader interest of the firm.

Advice for graduates

Always keep a breadth of perspective and not charge down the rabbit hole. Strive to always broaden awareness of context by building relationships with colleagues both in your team and other teams across functions. Continuously reflect on your own developing strengths and weaknesses to nd your best career fit over time.