Previously a banker of 10 years, San Li has held positions such as a private banker, investment advisor and stockbroker at Coutts, Citibank, DBS and more. He left banking in 2005 and pursued a career as a specialist recruiter for the Banking and Finance sector. Having direct banking and recruitment experiences allowed him to analyse both worlds from a unique vantage point.
San Li is currently working at Good Job Creations as the Banking and Finance Team Lead.
1. Your colleagues know you to be passionate about your job. What keeps you going, especially in the face of challenges?
I was fortunate to have turned my passion into my career. At a young age, my relatives exposed me to topics and discussions about the financial market and stocks— I was intrigued and curious about its complexity. I joined the Banking and Finance industry in my early 20s, stayed for about ten years, and then ventured into the recruitment industry, still taking on the Banking and Finance portfolio.
Even the best careers have ups and downs, especially the Banking and Finance industry, which is ever-changing; yet it still piques my interest. I make it a point to keep myself updated with the latest trends, constantly educating myself with new knowledge and information about the industry. My passion is the foundation of why I love doing what I’m doing, but I’ve also invested consistent effort and time. It makes what I do worthwhile, and it’s been a rewarding learning journey for me.
2. What trends and changes in the Banking and Finance industry should professionals be aware of?
Professionals should be aware of changes such as Fintech (financial technology), Robo platforms and Artificial Intelligence. Times are changing. With the introduction of highly advanced tech and equipment, what once required the hands of many is replaced with automation. Before Covid-19, the banks were bustling with people who worked at the front desks and booths. Two years later, you realise there’s an increase in more advanced technology; plenty of banking services are now automated.
However, these machines will still require human expertise to operate, manage and improve on the technology. Learn more about Fintech, Robotics, and AI and how to evolve with them; get certified. There’s new knowledge to be learned every day, but don’t be left behind thinking you know everything just because you have gained a piece of paper.
3. As an experienced recruiter, what’s the selection procedure like for fresh graduates, and what’s your advice for those seeking a career in Banking and Finance?
Fresh graduates looking to do so can apply for the Management Associate programs launched by most banks. The new graduates hired are groomed to specialise in a specific area. In the first two years, they will be rotated around the departments, learning about the specialisations of each and getting a ‘taste’ of what each role entails. After two years, these candidates will be evaluated on their suitability and interest, and from there, they will get a clearer picture of what they will pursue.
My advice is simple: constantly develop yourself, whether it’s your character, knowledge tank, or even your skillset and make sure you’re progressing as you go. Build a strong network with your peers, colleagues, managers, and bosses and get to know them. If you genuinely desire a fulfilling career, you’ve got to grow as you go. Don’t assume you know it all, be humble and teachable.
4. If someone decides to make a mid-career switch into Banking and Finance, with its stringent acceptance rate, is it possible? Some may argue that they have transferable skillsets as their advantage.
It is possible, but the Banking and Finance industry does require candidates to have had a certain level of exposure in the sector. It is also the most regulated sector in Singapore by Monetary Authority Singapore (MAS). Most key players in the industry find it challenging to train an individual from scratch if the individual doesn’t have the required hard skills. They need plug-and-play candidates with at least 70% Banking and Finance knowledge and hands-on experience.
However, for individuals already in financial institutions such as insurance and securities firms, there’s a slight chance that banks might consider them. Although some might argue that skillsets are transferable, the skills all banks require are hard skills such as head knowledge, hands-on experience, and technical skills.
If we look at the interviews that feature some of the biggest, most successful bankers, most of them rose from humble beginnings. Whether it was a sales or admin role, they all made their way up through years of hard work. So, if you do desire a mid-career switch, you must be willing to start from ground zero.
5. What are the three most crucial soft skills a Banking and Finance professional should harness?
The first soft skill to adopt is effectively managing your internal stakeholders. From juniors to seniors; this skill will help you communicate and listen effectively and understand the needs and concerns of your team, create room for mentoring and coaching, and build trust to facilitate success in your job.
Next is cultural intelligence and acceptance. It’s essential to learn and respect the culture of others; try to observe their mannerisms, patterns, and how they react to a situation and be flexible around it. Remember that what we consider normal might be alien to others.
Effective communication is critical – it means being clear and concise while making your intentions known. Avoid beating around the bush or expecting people to read your thoughts, to avoid unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings, as well as to increase teamwork and productivity among members.
6. Why did you leave your career in Banking and Finance, and what have you learned after you made a career switch into the recruitment industry?
There was a time when I thought my banking career couldn’t provide me with the organic growth I wanted. While I’m not implying I was right about my perspective then, I have grown tremendously in the recruitment industry and don’t regret switching careers.
Since joining recruitment, I’ve developed a strong network of professionals from junior to C-level in the Banking and Finance sector. This sparked the development of deep knowledge with my analytical capability beyond private wealth management, such as corporate banking, investment banking, private equity and asset management. I’ve also developed a knowledge of the intertwined dynamics and relationships among all the sub-sectors mentioned above.
It is important to note that this article reflects my journey and the insights I have gained throughout my experience in the field. It is always important to exercise discernment on every piece of information you receive or absorb.
This article is contributed by Good Job Creations.