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What interviewers really want to know in Asian private banking interviews

If you are a successful private banker in Hong Kong or Singapore, the potential job opportunities on offer should make you the envy of those in other parts of the finance sector, especially in the current subdued job market. Private wealth is growing more rapidly in Asia than elsewhere, and relationship managers (RMs) remain in high demand and short supply, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Private banks from Goldman Sachs to HSBC are hiring in 2020.

Yet private banking interviews are notoriously tricky to navigate, not least because banks are perpetually anxious that RMs won’t convince enough clients to move with them. If you are heading into a private banking interview (whether in person or via video), get set to be grilled on a wide range of topics – here’s what interviewers want to know.

The size of your AUM

“All interviewers want to understand the size of your current assets under management [AUM] as well as your business plans so they can judge whether you’ll meet their revenue expectations and what level of job you would be suitable for,” says Sunny Kwak, a private banking consultant at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong.

The structure of your AUM

“You may manage a $300m book, but if a lot of it’s taken up by loan products, the new bank may not be so interested,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. "Make sure your overall portfolio is well diversified across multiple product categories."

Your current compliance processes

“In an increasingly regulated market, banks are digging deeper into bankers’ current compliance processes,” says a private banking headhunter. “This is to ensure you’re a compliance-savvy banker and won’t be a risk to the firm. It’s also to understand whether your clients are likely to be accepted by their compliance team – there’s no point hiring you if they’re not.”

Why your clients use you

“Wealthy clients have a choice between numerous private banks and between different bankers at the same firm,” says the headhunter. “So explain why your clients use you. Banks are interested to learn two things: your ability to sell yourself, and how you attract your clients. If you have a track record of transferring clients from bank to bank this will also be a big plus.”

Whether you’ve helped clients through tough times

Banks want to know whether your client relationships have survived any major market downturns. “It’s the ultimate sign of client loyalty – if they’ve stuck with you during the bad times it proves their ‘stickability’ to you and shows the interviewer that your clients are likely to more to the new bank,” explains Sen.

The weaknesses of your current bank

If you can point out weaknesses in your current platform you are essentially also telling the bank why your clients will want to move with you, says the headhunter. “What product and services can your firm not offer? Where is your bank uncompetitive on pricing?”

How many of your clients are duplicates

Asia's millionaires and billionaires almost always use more than one private bank, so interviewers will want to find out the extent of any client duplication. “The discussion will then move on to whether or not you could take over sole management of that client at the new bank, or whether it would split the client’s assets between you and their existing RM,” says Sen.

The depth of your product knowledge

“The interviewer will want to know how much of a product expert you are, especially if you originally moved into private banking from another industry. You might have great client connections but more limited product knowledge,” says Sen. “This is potentially not a deal-breaker, but banks do need to understand what degree of investment support you’ll need from their in-house product teams.”

The products your clients want

Private banks aren’t just looking for relationship managers with loyal clients and large AUMs. The products that your clients need must match those the new bank can provide, says Clarence Law, a business advisor in private banking in Singapore. Not all firms can offer investment banking services or large credit facilities, for example.

Your approach to winning new business

“There’s clear evidence that client loyalty to wealth management firms is increasing, but loyalty to RMs is decreasing,” says Mark Miles from consultancy McLagan. “So focus on how you will generate new business from outside your existing client base. Simply talking about how many clients you can bring with you is becoming outdated.” Kwak from Morgan McKinley adds: “Share the channels you use to win new business – for example, social events, referrals from existing clients, and networking with intermediaries like M&A bankers and lawyers.”

The strength of your referrals

Of all the methods for snaring new business, interviewers will hone in on how successful you’ve been in getting current clients to introduce you to their friends, family or business associates. This has the added benefit of showing that your clients like you enough to recommend you. “If you became the private banker for your client’s uncle, for example, you should tell the interviewer all about it,” says Sen from Boyden.

How you deal with demanding clients

“Clients sometimes have lots of money without a good understanding of it, and interviewers expect you to manage all different types of clients if you join their bank,” says Kwak. “So prepare a few examples of how you’ve handled difficult requests from demanding clients in the past.”

Your understanding of the bank’s business

“As well as demonstrating a strong client centric mindset, it’s critical to frame your capabilities in the bank’s business context,” says Miles from McLagan. “For example, demonstrating how you can help improve the firm’s net new assets and can ensure a fast-as-possible return on its investment in you will help mark you out.”

How well you will fit into the team

While your success as a private banker largely depends on hitting personal revenue targets, interviewers will still want to make sure that you’ll fit into their team culture. “Team working is essential in private banking – with all the travel involved banks need people who will cover for each other,” says Sen. “Goldman Sachs will make sure you’ve met everyone in the team before they’ll hire you.”

How much money you want to earn

Interviewers want to know this in order to further test the above point – the 'cultural' fit between you and the new firm. “Earning big bonuses and making quick bucks – this fits some cultures very well and others very badly,” says Singapore-based Dominic Gamble, a former private banker at Credit Suisse who know works in wealth technology. “So research which banks match your style and avoid those that don't as you will continually be trying to be someone you’re not, which leads to frustration on both sides.”

Image credit: Hunters Race, Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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