The most important interview questions in Asian corporate banking
If you work in a relationship manager job in corporate banking in Singapore or Hong Kong you were until recently practically assured of gainful employment. The job market was almost perpetually buoyant.
Now things are starting to change. Most immediately, Covid-19 has slowed down hiring in front-office banking. And there are longer-term threats. A report from the Monetary Authority of Singapore last year said that RM jobs are at “high risk” of being impacted by automation over the next three to five years.
As a result, corporate banks in Asia are set to become even more selective about who they hire, which could make corporate banking job interviews even tougher. If you’re applying for an RM job in corporate banking, here are some questions you are likely to be asked at an interview (probably via video) – and here’s how to answer them.
What big names have you brought to your bank?
This is your chance to show off. “If an interviewer is looking for an industrials relationship manager, for example, they will want to see that you’ve attracted important names in that space for your current bank,” says an in-house recruiter at a corporate bank.
How did you win these clients over your competitors?
“The interviewer wants reassurance that you can accomplish the job, so impress them with your track record of success,” says the in-house recruiter. “They want to know how you won a client over competitor banks to see if it’s something you’ll be able to replicate with them. What skills and strengths of yours made this possible? Or did you just have a strong brand name and competitive pricing behind you?”
How much revenue did you generate last year?
You will probably be asked this question before you’ve even taken a seat in the interview room. “At this time of economic uncertainty, banks want to ensure they employ a productive RM who’s able to justify their investment,” says Maggie Li, head of Greater Bay Area at recruiters Executive Access in Hong Kong.
And what have you done to achieve your targets so far this year?
An obvious follow-up to the question above – banks want to know about your ongoing performance, not just your track record. “Be very specific on your monthly, quarterly and annual targets and show that you’re matching your bank’s goals,” says Ellen Lai, a director at recruiters Michael Page in Hong Kong. “But don’t just focus on your own billings – talk about clients who you helped to break in and projects you facilitated to maximise the bank’s revenues. Banks are interested in your sales style.”
Would you consider yourself a hunter or a farmer?
Unless the job description suggests otherwise, you are advised to describe yourself as a hunter – someone with strong sales skills – rather than a farmer, who merely manages accounts. Say something alone these lines: “I have an independent portfolio of clients that I grew from 10 to 30 in a span of just one year, so I would definitely consider myself a hunter as my strength lies in originating new deals.”
How do you build strong relationships with clients?
Hunters and farmers alike need to have a good answer to this question. “Show how you take time to learn everything there is to know about a client and their business needs,” says a corporate banking agency recruiter. “RMs with the strongest relationships will go the extra mile and also take an interest in clients’ families and their personal interests. Prove how you’ve exceeded expectations to build trust and gain long-term commitment.”
Tell us about a key role you’ve played in a major transaction
Interviewers don’t just want to know that you’ve brought big clients to your bank, they want details of the deals you’ve done with them in the meantime. “This question is to see if your can back up your list of clients with real transactions, ideally ones that are well known in the market,” says the in-house recruiter.
How strong are your credit skills?
Some RMs jobs require writing your own credit proposals, while in others you will be fully supported. Either way, make sure you can talk in detail about your credit-assessment ability, says Jasmine Tan, a director at recruiters Kerry Consulting in Singapore. For example: “During my early career I worked as a credit analyst for three years supporting RMs to write credit papers. This gave me 360-degree knowledge into credit processing and onboarding.”
How have ever you managed an entire mandate?
Interviewers will be impressed if you’ve taken a corporate-banking deal from origination to revenue conversion, so come armed with examples. You need to talk through the process step-by-step, explaining how you first listened to the client’s challenges, proposed potential solutions, implemented them and then followed up with the client.
How many clients can you bring to us?
Banks obviously like to hire RMs who can transfer some of their portfolio, so emphasise the strength and length of your relationships as evidence that your clients would be happy moving with you. For example: “I’ve worked with mid-tier energy-commodity companies since the start of my career and have an independent book of 20 legacy clients. So yes, I do have a transferable portfolio.”
What is the turnover and size of the companies that you cover?
You should answer in detail about the turnover size of your clients. For example: “I cover a range of corporates in the mid-markets segment that typically have a turnover of $100m to $300m.”
And what industries and geographies do you cover?
“Banks always need to ensure that your client segments align with their own business objectives,” says Lai from Michael Page. Make sure you focus on clients and markets that are similar to those covered by the new bank.
How would you advise your clients about dealing with falling oil prices?
Not all the questions in a corporate banking job interview will be about revenue and relationships – some, like this one, are designed to test your market knowledge and therefore your ability to advise. Your answer should show that you understand your clients’ challenges and how a new regulation or market trend, for example, will impact their business now and in the future, says Norman Leung, a vice president at recruiters Charterhouse in Singapore.
What kind of products do you sell?
Even if you have brilliant all-around product knowledge, you need to focus your answer on products that the new bank specialises. “RMs from different disciplines have various product areas that require unique skill sets,” says the agency recruiter. “RMs in SME banking are more focused on vanilla products like deposits, trade finance, insurance and investment products, while those with global clients have more experience with structured products and strategic deals.”
How do you probe your clients to understand their product needs?
“You should talk about your soft skills – your capability to listen and ask relevant questions,” says Leung. “And give specific examples, without divulging client names or confidential info – show how your dialogue came to a fruitful conclusion and how you closed the deal, enhanced revenues and benefited the client and the bank.”
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