People skills matter more than technical skills, says HSBC Australia commercial banking head
We speak to James Hogan, head of commercial banking at HSBC in Australia about his 25 years at the firm, his ideal candidate, why banking careers are becoming increasingly global, and why people skills matter more than technical ones as you get more senior.
How did you start out in financial services?
I started in 1987 at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which was one of the founding companies of HSBC. At the time the organisation comprised around 25,000 people, mainly concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, and is now over 10 times that size, with employees all over the world.
I joined the team at HSBC in Australia in October 2011, but most of my banking has been done across a range of different countries. I have been based in Asia Pacific, the UK, the US and had two separate stints in the Middle East. Before I came to Sydney I was based in Iraq as CEO of HSBC’s business there.
I have seen a few different financial crises over my career. The Monday after I joined the bank was Black Monday of October 1987. I was living in Indonesia during the Asian crisis from 1998 to 2000, and then of course the GFC more recently.
Has your career path been conventional or capricious?
Definitely a bit of both. Looking back over the past 25 years, I have worked in 12 different countries across four continents and a number of different business lines. The interesting thing about moving between countries or businesses is that there is an awful lot to learn about a new culture – often a new language or new ways of doing things. A key feature of HSBC's global strategy is to ensure a consistent business model globally across its priority markets, but the execution of that strategy will sometimes vary depending on local customer demands, regulations or practices.
What do you know now about working in banking that you wish you’d known 15 years ago?
When you start out in your career, you assume it is all going to be about your technical knowledge of banking or international markets. In actual fact, the more senior you become it is increasingly about people and ensuring you can build a strong team. I enjoy this feature of the job very much. Whether you are talking about customers or government or staff, it is the ability to make judgement calls with or about people that is critical.
What matters most: talent or hard work?
Both – and a bit of luck as well in terms of being in the right place at the right time. There is no point in having talent if one isn’t prepared to work hard, but hard work in itself isn’t enough.
What would you always advise people to do before they step into an interview with you?
The advice I would give is to try to be ready to differentiate yourself in an interview, recognising that an interviewer is potentially talking to lots of people like you. Having your own set of very good questions is absolutely critical. I think that gives a candidate for any type of situation, whether it is a new job or a promotion, an opportunity to shine and to show that you are different and have done some advanced planning.
You are only allowed to hire one person over the next six months. Can you describe their ideal profile?
Compared to recent years, the banking industry is probably only going to grow by a relatively modest amount in the next year or so. HSBC's ambitions far exceed this industry growth, so in order to expand we need market share from our competition. So if I was to hire one person I would be looking at someone who could really help us accumulate market share, who has the ability to identify potentially customers of other banks and is able to attract new customers to HSBC. This would be someone who is sales-oriented and relationship-oriented and is really able to drive a client-acquisition programme.
Can you describe what your business area will look like in 2016?
I would like to see much greater internationalisation in line with HSBC’s global strategy. That means that the customers we are supporting are active on a cross-border basis, both Australian companies working overseas, and foreign companies working here in Australia. I would like to see our people as being a lot more international.
Already that is happening; in HSBC we have a great proportion of Australians coming back to us who have worked with different parts of the organisation and returning with international experience. We also have an increasing number of non-Australians working in the bank. I guess I am an example of that, being originally from Ireland. Australia is becoming a very open and international economy and we want our staff to be open and international people so we can look after our customers.
I would love to see more women in senior positions in the organisation, which I am responsible for in our business area. I think that it is good business recognising that so many of our clients' decision making is driven by women, so makes good business sense.
I would hope, to the extent practical, the industry can continue to provide a rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable work environment. It is probably fair to say that over the last few years the word "fun" has not been associated with the financial services industry as regularly as before. There has been a lot of regulation, changes in governance and jurisdiction – all for good reasons and good for the industry, but we also need to create an environment where people enjoy work and enjoy working with their customers.
What would you do if you weren’t working in banking?
I would probably be in a sales role, selling high-value items like yachts or aeroplanes, but definitely still travelling a lot.
How do you relax?
I travel an awful lot for business, both in Australia and internationally so relaxing for me is keeping well away from an airport and spending as much time outdoors as possible, doing things like bush walking, mountain biking or trekking.