How mentors give you a leg up in Asian banking

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The growing emphasis on hiring locals for management roles in Asia is putting pressure on banks to mentor home-grown talent and groom graduates for leadership roles to reduce the reliance on expat hires.

United Overseas Bank (UOB), Singapore's third largest domestic bank, is now in its ninth intake cycle of its Management Associate Programme, and to date has hired about 150 graduates for it. Historically, the programme focused on Singapore, but in 2012, the bank extended it to Hong Kong.

Catherine Chia, managing director of human resources for UOB, said that on average, 15 management associates are taken on each year, depending on the quality of each intake.

"Candidates must be academically strong, and demonstrate leadership qualities and a drive for excellence. They must have strong  ethics, the right attitude and a discerning mind to do what is right for the customer. It takes not just the right skills set, but the right mindset and values," she said.

Candidates undergo a comprehensive selection and assessment process, including interviews with senior management. If they make the cut, the management associates are put through a 16-month training programme run in-house by the group human resources division. The programme pairs associates with senior managers who act as mentors, providing guidance and advice for the duration of the training.

"Mentorship is seen as a development opportunity for both the management associate and the mentor. It gives the mentors an opportunity to hone their leadership and managerial competencies. About 10 to 15 mentors join the programme each year."

Alongside classroom and on-the-job training, UOB rotates the associates to various divisions to give them exposure across the business. Each associate is also expected to contribute to a corporate project that is overseen by the strategic planning division.  Chia said they are assessed on each rotation or assignment, with a final review after each associate presents to senior management.

Deric Tee, one of the management associates in the 2012 intake, said the programme gave him the chance to tap into senior management knowledge and expertise. In addition, he was able to learn from his mentor's personal experiences during informal meetings, and get valuable advice. "For new graduates starting a career in banking, having a mentor eases the transition to the workplace."