A few weeks ago, a young man approached me and asked me how I got to where I am, as head of a regional team in a fast growing part of the industry.
I told him that it was a combination of passion, hard work and a secret ingredient called 'being in the right place at the right time.'
You see, I never really planned my career from the start. And if I would be honest with myself, I think I sort of stumbled upon banking as a career.
My first job, after graduating from university, was in my family's company in the travel and tourism trade as a trainee. Starting at the very bottom, I had to learn the ropes of handling tourists and welcoming foreigners to India.
It was hard work because of the sheer amount of paperwork, logistics and administration that had to be done. This is on top of having to always deal with people, even with the unreasonable ones, with a smile.
I spent some time traveling across Northern India, accompanying people from all over the world in coaches, introducing them to the country.
One day, my mother happened to meet a chief executive officer of a bank and asked if there was a spot for me to do an internship. It was a way to expose himself to a different industry, she said. The CEO agreed; after all it was just a short internship.
I agreed to go because I thought it was a great opportunity, although I wasn’t sure if I would actually enjoy working at in a bank.
The next week, I left my first job and plunged into the world of finance, an industry which I had zero experience. I worked in operations at the trade finance department, learning about the nuts and bolts of corporate banking for about six months. I realised that I enjoyed working with the people there and decided that yes, banking was something I wanted to do.
I left the internship and returned to the bank after completing my post-graduate studies in international management.
However my qualifications didn’t seem to do very much for me. Instead of being given a nice position, I was made to start at the management trainee level . But I was just happy to be given the opportunity to enter the industry and I dedicated myself to the job.
One afternoon, about six or seven months into the job, the head of financial markets visited my branch and spoke to the manager. There was an opening at his department and he was looking for someone to help him.
My manager gestured to me and said: "What about him?"
The department head glanced over to me and asked my manager if I would be able to handle the rigors of financial markets, given the sheer numbers and stress.
"Good enough," said my manager. The department head shrugged and said something along the lines of "OK, he will do."
Of course, no one actually asked me if I wanted to move departments. But I went along anyway, spending about seven years in financial markets.
The next opportunity came by when I was playing squash with the regional head of the bank. After about one hour of sweating it out, he asked me if I was open to taking up a position as the head of the commercial bank for northern & eastern India. This was a new division he was setting up from scratch, directly under the CEO.
I'm not sure exactly why I was offered the job - I'm thinking it was because of my sporting skills - but I took it anyway.
After spending about three and a half years in that role, I was moved to head private banking sales for the bank in India
That was a key turning point for me – I've spent the last 12 years in private wealth, eventually joining Barclays and then moving to Bank of Singapore last year, with the bank's acquisition of Barclay’s wealth and investment business in Singapore and Hong Kong.
The road less taken
Many young people aspire to join the banking industry today, for good reason. It is an exciting industry, full of opportunities and huge potential for growth.
But many also believe that it is a glamourous role, perhaps even an easy road to success.
So here is my first piece of advice to anyone who wants to build a career in banking: Expect to work very hard.
Looking back at my own career, I can safely say that the success was not handed on a silver platter. I was given many opportunities, perhaps by sheer luck. But I also worked hard and gave it my all in each job.
Patience is key.
Today, many young people expect instant gratification. Hungry? Tap on the mobile phone for a delivery guy. Need a ride? Uber is a few swipes away.
Careers are, however, much harder to achieve. You need to learn the ropes, practice each skill and master every craft. In other words, earn your stripes.
Take pride in your work and excel in every job given to you.
At each stage of my career, I had to almost start over again. Operations is different from financial markets, which is different commercial banking. Commercial banking is different from private wealth. I applied myself at each posting, acutely aware that I only had one real shot at each opportunity. Another one might not come by again so I took every opportunity to learn and do my job well.
Finally, if you want to get ahead in life, learn how to deal with people. My stint in the travel trade showed me that relationships matter. My career in banking continued proved it to be true.
Trust is key. Everyone makes mistakes but if the client truly believes that you have his interests at heart, the trust is maintained.
My career was not one of those which had been planned out at the start. I took quite a few turns, even U-turns, to get where I am today.
But I am sure that - with a strong work ethic where one takes pride in his or her work and a dose of good fortune - everyone can achieve success in their careers.Disclaimer applicable to recommendation
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