Private banking as a career

Serena Wong talks to us about her career as a Vice-President in Private Banking and the interconnected nature of the business.

A psychology major in her university days, Serena made the leap into banking and finance through her work in Singapore, Europe, and the USA. Throughout her experiences, she has relied on her network of friends and colleagues to augment her business knowledge and offer her clients an exceptional service that JP Morgan is known for.

Challenges are part and parcel of her work, and she relishes the opportunities to extend her knowledge and experience, not to mention keeping her on her toes!

How did you get started on a Private Banking job, and how long have you been in this line? I was recruited by the bank while I was doing my MBA studies at Tuck School of Business. The recruiting system in American banks is fairly structured and the team at J.P. Morgan approached me to sound out the possibilities of returning to Asia to work in the Singapore office. I’m thankful they did, as I’ve now been with the company for about four years now and still enjoying myself everyday

During the recruiting process, the J.P. Morgan representatives I spoke with were all so passionate and accomplished in their work. I knew I wanted to be part of the firm.

Let’s talk about your current banking job. What does it entail? As a Private Banker, I get a lot of opportunities to work directly with clients. But I don’t do this on my own. Every day, I work with and rely on an integrated team of Bankers, Investors, Wealth Advisors, Capital Advisors and Client Service Specialists to meet our clients’ many needs.

It became quickly apparent to me that in Private Banking, you really get to know your clients, become their trusted advisors, and develop long-standing and non-transactional relationships. It was also obvious that bankers at J.P. Morgan really cared for their clients. This both impressed and inspired me.

Being a Private Banker is a challenging vocation. What inspired you to be a Private Banker and how did you get to where you are now? Private Banking demands that you draw on your own wealth (pun intended) of professional and personal experiences to first understand the needs of, and then provide solutions to your clients. It is a dynamic career path, and suits well for folks who are very relationship- and results-driven.

What are the challenges you face in your line of work and how do you overcome them? As I serve the Indonesian market, language was my first challenge, as I did not speak Bahasa Indonesia. However, an intensive course and support from my fellow workers, I became somewhat functional in the language.

Networking was another challenge. The financial markets around the world are complex, and finding solutions for our clients depend on me reaching out to my colleagues and contacts. JP Morgan conducted a three-month training programme when I started, that allowed me to develop a close network of friends and colleagues on whom I regularly depend on for support and help.

Which aspect of your job do you enjoy the most and why? I’m proud to be a Private Banker because my work impacts clients, their families, and their businesses directly. It is the client’s personal wealth we are managing and there are so many sensitivities and emotions involved. My clients are often founders or key executives of a business, and it is a great privilege to share their ambitions and successes. The work is even more satisfying when two or even three generations are served in the relationship. The variety of tasks I handle each day is vast, and not always predictable. This makes the job at once challenging, fun and interesting.

What does the phrase work life balance reminds you of? I believe in the need to maintain a social network beyond that of work, so I actively interact with my family members and friends during my down time. I enjoy family get-togethers, just for a meal or a chat, and travel to countries I’ve not visited and exploring what other cultures offer – seeing new things with fresh eyes I don’t really believe in “balance”, but rather I try to give my best when I’m at work, and try to focus on family when with loved ones.

What do you do to rest and relax? I read widely, not only for work, but for enjoyment. I find that my core training of social sciences at NUS has given me an appreciation of human psychology and curiosity for life. I do very normal things to relax, like grocery shopping, cooking, and going to the movies. No secrets there.

Any career advice for jobseekers and fresh graduates who intend to go into Private Banking? It is important to be comfortable speaking up and asking for help. We are always facing the markets and working under time constraints, and our clients look to the bank as their trusted advisor. We spend so much time at work, and when I have colleagues I can turn to for advice and help, my work becomes so much more enjoyable.

For those considering a career in Private Banking, do not be put off by market turmoil. This is such a rich environment to learn from. Private Banking is a career where success depends on your persistence and entrepreneurial spirit. It really is more a marathon than a sprint as client relationships are built over time.

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