I did six internships as a student in Singapore, in sectors from insurance to technology. But the time I spent in corporate banking was the most inspiring. I was assigned to work with a young relationship manager, and after accompanying him to several meetings I was surprised by the amount of influence he held both externally and internally. I wanted to experience this “power” for myself, so I didn’t hesitate to train as a corporate banker when I graduated. I’ve now been in the industry for more than 10 years and have worked for two global banks in Singapore. Here’s why I enjoy my job.
You’re the face of the bank
As a corporate banker (or relationship manager – I use these terms interchangeably) you’re literally the face of the bank. Sure, you get to go to a lot of client meetings, but this isn’t just a vanity thing. When the CEO or CFO of a client wants to contact the bank to discuss any new issue, they call you first. You’re the gatekeeper. If the bank is negotiating a major deal with your client, you represent the bank, so you largely determine whether the deal goes ahead or not. You’re the main deal closer. You can’t say that about your colleagues in siloed functions like M&A, trade finance etc. That’s why I have no regrets about not being an investment banker, or any other kind of finance professional.
Everyone in the firm wants a piece of you
Your client connections make you very important within the bank too. You’re essentially the nexus for the bank’s different product teams. Everyone wants time with you; colleagues will actually lobby for your attention because they want you to sell their products to your clients. “We have a liquidity drive in cash management – can you promote it?”
When you want to reach out to a particular team, it’s easy. Fancy a meeting with someone in M&A today? No problem. Try doing that if you work in transaction banking – M&A might tell you to go away.
You know all the products
As a corporate banker, it’s up to you to know all the latest information about your bank’s products, so you can choose what information you then pass on to the customer. You mediate between the client and the bank. This means you need to know the whole range of products – from project finance and M&A, to trade finance and cash management. You even need an understanding of more obscure stuff like custodianship. This sets you apart from others at the bank, who have deep knowledge, but in a narrow area.
You know the C-suite
As well as product knowledge, your success as a relationship manager depends on the strength of your external relationships with the C-suite. I’ve closed many deals simply because I know CEOs and CFOs a lot better than rival corporate bankers at other firms do, so I’ve been first at designing the request for proposal (RFP). If a CEO of an Indonesian engineering firm, for example, thinks of me first for his new project finance deal, I know I’ve done my job. Being top of mind typically means I’ll get the deal.
You can create deals out of nothing
You can also be proactive as a corporate banker and create deals that the client wasn’t even thinking about. Know your client’s business and their industry inside out, so you can talk about both when you meet them. If you know they’re pivoting their business to a new area, surprise them at the meeting by giving them advice on a new capital structure. This kind of ad hoc information can capture a client’s attention, single you out as well-informed, and ultimately lead to deals.
I’ve clinched a mandate during a 45-minute coffee meeting. I did my homework on the client by looking at its average bank balance, outgoing payments, working capital spent on financing, approximate current interest rates etc. I told the client’s CFO that the company was on a legacy deal and I could save him $270k. When he heard that number he naturally wanted to know more.
It’s a stable job and the pay is ok
I’ve felt well paid in corporate banking because my bonuses track revenue, and my revenue has always been pretty good. As a rule of thumb, though, you won’t earn as much as an RM as you would in a product-focused job like M&A. Product jobs are more sales driven: you have one product, and you’re under pressure to sell it well. You’re motivated to do so by the rich rewards on offer. You need to be more aggressive than a corporate banker.
The flip side is that corporate bankers have better job security. If the M&A market is weak, you won’t have a great year as an investment banker, no matter how good your sales pitches are. You might end up on a revenue watchlist or even lose your job. As a corporate banker, you’re buffered by the range of products you sell. Your revenue shadows all business lines. If M&A is having a bad year, perhaps you’re selling more cash management products.
As a corporate banker I feel like the captain of a ship steering everyone on board at my bank to the final destination: the deal. Other people do important jobs on the ship, but ultimately I’m the one who says, “trust me, this is how we’re going to get there – here’s my plan.”
Kaden Siu (not his real name) is a corporate banker in Singapore.
Photo by Jeyakumaran Mayooresan on Unsplash
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