My road to a client-facing role: How I went from operations to enterprise banking

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Editor's note: This Q&A was first posted on our Singapore site.

Marcus Tan interned in two different departments – corporate communications, and operations and technology – at OCBC, but when he graduated from Singapore Management University last July, his heart was set on a client-facing job.

Q: What first got you interested in banking?

A: I always had an interest in banking, although I didn’t have a specific area I was keen on. I just knew that I wanted to be in a role that was client-facing because I enjoy interacting with people. When you deal with people, the challenges are always different; you need to manage their expectations – it’s something "live" and tangible. More importantly, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I am able to help customers meet their banking needs.

Q: You did internships in two very different areas of OCBC. Why was that? Also, what sort of industry knowledge did you learn during your intern days?

A: I wanted to explore my options and also to get a better understanding of what goes on in a bank. I got both internship opportunities through my university. My first internship experience at OCBC was in group operations and technology in 2008 for three months. My work was mainly IT-related, so I did a lot of case testing using the bank’s internet banking platform. It was my first time in a corporate setting, so it was interesting to see how things actually run in an organization. I picked up technical skills, learned about back-office processes and got to work with really helpful colleagues. I had such a positive experience during this internship that when the opportunity to intern with the bank’s group corporate communications (GCC) division came along, I decided to take it up as well.

I later did a five-month internship at GCC in 2010. I was interested in the job scope and thought an internship would be the best way to learn more about the work involved. During my work experience, I got to write and edit articles that were internally distributed. In addition, I compiled daily news clippings that were sent out to high-level staff, including senior management.

Q: Why did you go into enterprise banking after your internship? And what made you stick with the same firm?

A: I found out about the full-time position at OCBC through my university career portal. The enterprise banking position with the global corporate bank division in particular caught my eye because it was client-facing and involved interacting with corporate clients.

I also decided to go for the role precisely because it was with OCBC. I interned twice at the bank and had a very positive experience during my eight months. I really felt that it values its employees and invests heavily in its people. In particular, when I was with GCC, I got to learn more about the bank’s core values. What impressed me even more was that I could see fellow colleagues really living out those values from the top down. I knew then that OCBC was a company that I aspired to be part of after graduation.

Q: What steps did you take to prepare for your interview?

A: I made sure I knew my strengths and weaknesses and read up on market news. My interview was with a panel of four senior bankers, all from the corporate bank. One of them actually picked up the fact that I had spent eight months with the bank as an intern. That helped settle my nerves and set a positive tone for the rest of the interview.

Q: Now that you’ve secured a permanent job, what is your advice for others looking to break into the industry?

A: I think it’s important to never say never and try out different things that interest you – you never know what you like or don’t like until you’re actually in it. Internships are a good way of doing this and of discovering your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also important to look beyond just what your starting pay is and ask whether or not this is an environment which will recognize your talent and help you grow.

Q: Are internships necessary to secure a full-time position?

A: I do think internships matter. If you are interested in working for a particular bank, it would obviously make sense to intern with it, but ultimately it also depends on the aptitude and qualifications of the applicant, as with any job opening. Other than internships, it may make sense to enroll in courses that could help equip you with the relevant skills and knowledge for your intended career.

Q: What is your current job like in enterprise banking?

A: I interact a lot with SME owners. The best thing about my job is that every day is different and I am constantly learning something new. My work isn’t just about facilitating loan drawdowns, or looking at balance sheets and numbers when doing credit reviews. It is also about understanding clients and their business needs – and most importantly, finding an appropriate solution to these needs. What I enjoy most is the interaction with clients. It’s very challenging and rewarding at the same time because I’m managing people and their expectations in order to forge a positive and lasting relationship with them.

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