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5 hard truths about a career in finance

March 17, 2016

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5 hard truths about a career in finance


By: Gerry Ong | 17th Mar 2016


Ever since, I was young; I had always dreamed of working in a bank. The prestige, the high pay, working in a high-pressure environment alongside highly driven individuals who would compete against me, giving me the chance to prove my worth again and again, drew me in like a moth to a flame. Having worked for a few banks across several functions, I have come to realize that banking isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. So for the fresh grad/ undergrad that’s looking for a career in finance, here are five hard truths you need to know about, so you don’t become a deer in the headlights.

  1. You’re not done studying

If you’re sick of studying, and never want to see a textbook ever again, finance probably isn’t a field that suits you. Forget about career advancement; local license requirements hold that whether you want to be a trader, dealer, private banker, insurance agent, or almost any other client facing role short of being a teller, you’re required to take a series of Capital Markets and Financial Advisory Services (CMFAS) exams

So even before you begin your career formally, there’s a ton of exams that you’ll need to take. This is not to talk about career advancing qualifications such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Chartered Financial Planner (CFP), Masters degrees and even doctorates. It’s not uncommon to see high flying analysts hold doctorates from Ivy League schools.

  1. You’re not going to be the Wolf of Wall street, or anything close to that

The local banking scene is very different from that of the overseas one. Lavish parties filled with drinking and extravagance are not the norms here, especially so if you work in the back office, so put that at the back of your mind.

Like most other industries, entry level positions in financial services are for the most part a grind. Beginning your career in any industry is always tough, in banks this is doubly so, given the amount of work and dedication expected of you. So, keep your head down, focus on your work and don’t expect to change the world from day one, that’s not going to happen.

  1. The money isn’t as good as it used to be

The local banking sector just isn’t what it used to be. From top to bottom, almost every segment in the local banking scene isn’t earning as much as it did in the past. Back office jobs are being pulled out from Singapore and transferred to lower cost locations like India or the Philippines while front office jobs are harder to come by, even as property, equity and other financial markets continue on a downward trend. Ask any broker who’s been around for the past 20 years what he thinks of the market activity now and he’ll most assuredly tell you the same. Volumes are down and times are tough all around the financial sector.

There still is undoubtedly money to be made, and banking does tend to pay higher than average, but if you joined banking because of the money, I could assure you that within the local context there are higher paying industries.

  1. Be Humble and learn from experience


Almost every fresh graduate that joins any industry for the first time, tries to relate the work that they do to the things that they’ve studied. In certain job functions within a bank, such as operations that may be almost impossible, but even when you can, you would be much better off learning from your seniors in the position, since banks and markets don’t always work as they should in theory.

It’s a common mistake for fresh grads to try to force their theoretical knowledge upon more senior staff. Often, I have seen individuals try to slam their superior’s ideas based on textbook knowledge.

First off, while there is room for debating ideas in any work environment, forcing your ideas upon someone more senior never helps you in the long run. Secondly, your superiors have probably seen similar instances and can point to multiple reasons why their idea is probably better.

A frank open and honest discussion helps you learn, trying to dominate the conversation and have your way, does not. Always be open to learning from experience, because anyone can read a textbook or memorize a factsheet, but it’s far better to learn in 20 minutes, the experience of a man with 20 years behind him.

  1. The office politics are terrible

When you work in an extremely competitive environment, where almost everyone has similar qualifications, people will try to get ahead by other means. Office politics is a reality that you’ll have to face in any work environment, but in a bank it really kicks into overdrive. Harden your skin a little, and be mindful of yourself.

With that, I hope we’ve been of some help to anyone looking for a career in the financial services. Think this article might be helpful for a friend? Share it! Disagree with something we said? Share your view by leaving a comment below and we’ll discuss it.

[mk_fancy_title tag_name=”h6″ size=”20″ font_weight=”bold” margin_bottom=”0″ font_family=”Muli” font_type=”google”]About the author[/mk_fancy_title][mk_divider style=”thick_solid” margin_top=”0″]


Former banking lizard, startup ninja and trainer turned writer. A coffee to content conversion system who writes by day and codes by night. Lives simply, thinks deeply and exercises never.

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Gerry has spent time working in 5 different banks in various capacities, across a range of functions from back to middle and front office. After leaving banking, he spent time working on market research for consumer banking with a focus on the Chinese and Singapore market. He now serves as a home loan consultant and business manager of Easyrates.

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