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Reaching the pinnacle of their profession

The six recipients of this year's IBF Distinguished Fellow title share their views on the skills required to succeed in the financial sector today

"I believe it is the trust and excellent client relationships built through the years that is the most important and portable skill set," says Ms Woon.

"At the end of the day, banking is a credibility game. Compliance protects our clients and investors by working hand in hand with the frontline to ensure the industry remains trusted and sustainable," says Ms Yuen.

"Risk management professionals must become more well rounded; it is not enough to know only the mathematics and science of risk management," says Ms Koh.

"Private banking is becoming less of an individual sport and more of a team sport; we need a scalable organisation structure with clear management and client career tracks for relationship managers," says Mr de Ferrari.

"Constant upgrades through training and development to equip our people to stay relevant, complementing what we already have ... will enable us to serve our clients better," says Mr Shaari.


  • Tracey Woon, vice-chairman, Asia-Pacific, Wealth Management, UBS AG
  • Francesco de Ferrari, managing director, head of Private Banking Asia-Pacific, and CEO South-east Asia, Credit Suisse
  • Carol Fong, CEO, CIMB Securities (Singapore) Pte Ltd and head of Equities, CIMB Group
  • Agnes Koh, chief risk officer, Singapore Exchange Ltd (SGX)
  • Bahren Shaari, chief executive officer, Bank of Singapore
  • Loretta Yuen, OCBC group general counsel, OCBC Bank

Moderator: Francis Kan


How has the role of investment banking in wealth management evolved in recent years?

A large proportion of the wealthy in the region are first- and second-generation entrepreneurs and business owners whose wealth is closely correlated to their businesses. In light of this, they typically require not only personal investment advice but also investment banking and asset management services.

So it's important to also be able to advise them on their business, and that is where the experience in investment banking comes in, as it will put us in a good position to advise our clients on their business in addition to their personal and family wealth affairs.

Would you say that there are skills that are portable between investment banking and private banking in servicing the wealthy?

Yes, I believe having the right technical skills and the relevant experience in dealing with a wide range of corporate finance transactions remain very important. However, I believe it is the trust and excellent client relationships built through the years that is the most important and portable skill set. I have had the privilege to know and work with some of the top corporates and business owners in Singapore and the region in my many years as an investment banker.

My new role in wealth management has given me the opportunity to broaden and deepen my relationships with them to encompass not only corporate vehicles but also to help manage their holistic investment, family and personal wealth needs.

How has this affected the skill sets required by investment bankers?

Besides the relevant investment banking and financial advisory skill sets, having the right platform is also critical. Solutions for the UHNW (ultra high net worth) clients, for example, typically demand a high degree of complexity and customisation.

UBS's integrated bank platform allows us to draw on the global resources and expertise throughout UBS, which gives us the capabilities to deliver holistic and tailored solutions, helping us build stronger relationships with our clients here in Asia.

How does UBS ensure that its wealth management professionals have the skills to service today's private banking client?

Our scale and commitment has allowed us to build one of the largest and highest calibre multi-lingual wealth management teams in the region. Our client advisors are trained to gain an intimate understanding of client needs and goals and to provide holistic advice, in the client's native language, which both satisfies the demands of an increasingly stringent regulatory environment and the challenging market conditions.

Satisfying these demands requires significant investment in education, compliance and technology. The UBS Business University Asia-Pacific based in Singapore has consistently tailored and delivered robust curricula to equip our staff across the region with the skills and capabilities necessary to provide our clients with the best service.

For example, our Wealth Management Diploma is accredited by the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) Singapore, whereby client advisors and desk heads who have achieved the UBS WM Diploma will be entitled to the award of the IBF Advanced qualification in Wealth Management. UBS is one of the few banks that have its internal programme accredited by IBF.


What have been the key changes in the compliance landscape in recent years?

There is no doubt that the compliance landscapes both in Singapore and globally has changed dramatically. To me, the three key driving factors behind this change are the following:

  • Increased visibility - Compliance has moved sharply from an afterthought to the very forefront of critical business considerations. We now actively participate in business discussions concerning business strategy, product development and business decision-making with senior management.
  • Increased regulations - The regulatory requirements and regulatory environment in which banks operate in today is a mind-boggling sea of complexity! Banks require specialist compliance officers to help navigate the regulatory environment and implement framework and controls to comply with regulatory requirements.
  • Compliance is more proactive than simply reactive - Driven by the increased scrutiny of global regulators, compliance practitioners in banks have become much more proactive in our monitoring, surveillance and compliance activities, which are needed to uphold and protect our organisation's reputation. 

How will it continue to evolve?

In the current regulatory compliance environment where a complex web of rules and regulations needs to be complied with, the compliance practitioner's efforts in ongoing monitoring and fine-tuning of risk and controls would only continue to deepen. Against this backdrop, the compliance function will need to evolve in the following ways:

  • We must turn to technology advancements to help create, manage and store the wealth of business data we need to effectively carry out our work.
  • With the continued deepening of globalisation linkages between world financial centres, banks in Singapore would additionally be required to comply with rules and regulations in key geographies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, and equally important and not to be ignored, is that as Singapore banks expand and conduct significant business overseas or across borders, compliance officers need to familiarise themselves with the laws and regulations in that foreign country to help their organisations navigate a different regulatory regime.
  • Compliance officers need to stay abreast of corporate governance standards that will continue to tighten in light of the waves of regulatory requirements facing banks today.

What do these changes mean for compliance professionals?

A: For compliance practitioners working in banks, it means that we need to find that perfect balance between safety and opportunity. At the end of the day, banking is a credibility game. Compliance protects our clients and investors by working hand in hand with the frontline to ensure the industry remains trusted and sustainable.

What new skill sets are required to navigate today's compliance environment and how is OCBC ensuring that its staff acquires these competencies?

Besides being proficient in laws and regulations, compliance practitioners need to understand the commercial realities of running a bank while keeping it safe. Instead of being a mechanistic source of regulatory yeses and nos, we should be seen as an enabler and a partner to the business folks.

Importantly, working with a very enlightened and accessible board like OCBC's is important for ensuring compliance, independence and proper governance when we carry out our duties. In all, it is important that the regulatory compliance function exists in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the bank, across rank and file.

The compliance officer must understand that he is part of the commercial decision, not detached from it. The business people don't like being lectured on regulations, and don't appreciate being shoved back and told to take the risk of making the ultimate decision themselves. We must make the commercial calls with them, not apart from them. Uncompromising on the principles, values and morals that shape the bank, our compliance officers are guardians of the bank's reputation and respectability in the industry.


How has the role of risk management evolved in the financial services sector in recent years?

Risk management is no longer regarded as a back-office function but an integral part of running a successful business. The global financial crisis demonstrated that the focus then on models and quantification of financial risk was too narrow and inadequate. As a result, the financial services sector failed to fully appreciate the risks it faced. The industry has since learnt that the quantification models are but tools, and that no risk manager should fully rely on them as the "source of truth".

Today, we are seeing risk increasingly viewed from a more holistic perspective. More effort is being paid to identifying risk factors relevant to the business, the inter-linkages of these risk factors and the planning of appropriate actions to mitigate the risks identified.

How do you think it will continue to change going forward?

Regulations have been another key driver of developments in risk management in the financial industry and this will continue. We have seen significant resources dedicated to optimisation of risk capital and compliance with regulations. In some ways, risk management has become more like risk regulation and this has to change.

With the business, socio-economic and political environment becoming more complex, there needs to be more risk management focus on anticipating and identifying new and emerging risks, and developing new tools to handle them. Mere compliance with regulations will not prepare us well for the next big crisis; more attention to scenario planning and fire drills may be appropriate.

Operational and reputational risk factors will also take centrestage. The heightened risks of cyber and physical security cannot be easily quantified and yet, they can derail an otherwise successful business.

This makes risk management a matter for not only the risk professionals, but also the entire organisation. Awareness of risks and how to manage them should be imbibed as part of the corporate culture. 

How have these changes affected the skills required by today's risk management professional?

Risk management professionals must become more well rounded; it is not enough to know only the mathematics and science of risk management. Increasing risk awareness and ownership across the organisation is crucial and risk professionals must possess the soft skills to spread the message.

We are at a new frontier. While a broad academic grounding provides a good foundation, it may not be enough to deal with the evolving environment.  The risk professional must have the curiosity and initiative to stay abreast of developments and innovations that could significantly change the risk landscape.

How does SGX ensure that its risk management professionals are equipped for today's business environment?

We encourage continuous development of staff and a broadening of their exposure through both education and work rotation.

Most importantly, we are actively empowering staff to question the status quo and continuously re-examine what risk management entails. We want our risk management professionals to be proactive, responsive and effective.


How has the private banking industry evolved in Asia in recent years?

Private banking in Asia is a marathon and not a sprint; having a long-term vision for the business will lead industry players to do the right things. Even as global economies are gradually progressing on the path of recovery, bouts of market volatility have persisted. Regulatory demands on banks have continued to escalate, with banks having to commit significant investments in risk management and controls.

While available experienced talent in private banking remains in high demand, at the same time, some banks are also realising that building a digital multi-channel platform has become a "must have". In this operating and market environment, several mergers and acquisitions have taken place in the private banking industry in Asia in the past few years.

Private banks have taken a hard look at their business portfolios and have come to their own conclusions as to where to focus their increasingly constrained resources and capital as well as their geographical footprint. Private banking as a peripheral business is clearly not sustainable in this operating environment.

How has this affected the way that private banks operate?

Having said that, managing the expanding wealth pools of Asian economies continues to be an attractive and rewarding business with secular growth potential. Asian economies are continuing to grow albeit at a slower pace, and the favourable demographics of the rising young Asian middle-class consumers are presenting massive opportunities for first- and second-generation Asian entrepreneurs who are generating more than 80 per cent of the region's new wealth. These economic and industry developments are a clear reminder that to succeed in this marathon, banks need to get a few key elements right.

The most important being having the right business model that can effectively serve the current and future generation of entrepreneur clients throughout their entrepreneurial lifecycle; being able to provide these entrepreneurs with integrated solutions for both their corporate and personal wealth needs; and for the private banking business to be able to reach the scale to generate profitable growth consistently and sustainably over the longer term.

What new skill sets do relationship managers require to serve today's private banking client?

Private banking is becoming less of an individual sport and more of a team sport; we need a scalable organisation structure with clear management and client career tracks for relationship managers. For relationship managers to deliver the full value proposition of an integrated bank like Credit Suisse to clients, they need to be able to coordinate across divisions and specialist groups - be it investment consultants, trust specialists, credit advisors or investment banking solutions structuring specialists - to bring the full breadth and depth of knowledge to clients.

Increasingly, with the scarcity of talent in the market, we will also need more managers who are passionate about growing our own talent from within the organisation and fully dedicate time to that.

How does Credit Suisse ensure that its relationship managers acquire such skills?

We have implemented a few key initiatives in this respect. With our number of relationship managers growing by more than 200 in the past five years, a key focus is to continuously upskill our talent base while developing new talent pipeline.

We established the Credit Suisse Wealth Institute in Singapore in 2014, the bank's first such purpose-built regional training and competency facility in Asia-Pacific.

The focus of our talent development programmes includes strengthening the quality of client advisory services. We run a mandatory certification programme for all global wealth management employees with direct client contact called Frontline Training and Certification programme. In Singapore, the national Client Advisor Competency Standards assessment for private banking professionals is incorporated under our Frontline Training and Certification programme.

As our front staff force continues to expand, we provide relationship managers at all levels with a long term, modular and state-of-the-art training curriculum and development model that captures all the stages of their career cycle. These include tailored programmes such as "Private Banking Analysts" and the IBF-accredited "Train-to-Relationship Manager".

IBF accreditation is particularly important as it enhances employability of the private banking professional and provides them with a foundation for career progression.


How has the securities industry changed in recent years?

Indeed, the securities landscape has undergone many changes over the past 30 years, of which I have been a part of. I have witnessed bouts of declining commissions, increased challenges on compliance, a surge in regulatory costs as well as industry-wide structural changes.

How will it continue to evolve going forward?

The industry will require players who are adaptable as margin compression is set to continue. It is likely that there will be a move from pure contra trading, where investors need not pay upfront for the stocks, to collateralised trading where as the term implies, a collateral will need to be put up for trading in line with the global market place. We can also expect greater adoption of Internet or e-trading as well as the integration of social media and trading strategies.

How have these changes impacted the skill sets required by traders and other professionals in the sector?

Traders and other professionals in the sector will continue to have an important role to fulfil. However, they will need to be nimble to tackle the challenges of an evolving industry. Training and development will be vital to ensuring that the skill sets are relevant and the traders are aligned to the industry requirements.

How does CIMB ensure that its staff is equipped with the necessary skills to serve their customers?

CIMB continues to innovate by embarking on new strategies to better meet the diverse needs of our clientele and ensure that our staff are proficient in performing their roles through skills upgrading and training.

The organisation also instills in our staff the mindset towards being agile and adaptable, while identifying and seizing the opportunities that come their way.


How have the needs of the private banking customer evolved in recent years?

The private banking industry is undergoing a period of radical change - with the global call for greater transparency, an evolving regulatory environment and the advancement of financial technology. Clients have also become more knowledgeable, investment-savvy and expect more from their private banks - with education and access to numerous sources of financial and investment data, their knowledge might even surpass that of their bankers. Those who earned their own wealth, especially the entrepreneurs, also have their own ideas about investments, and very high expectations.

With these changes in needs and expectations, clients no longer expect their private banks to merely handle their investments or advise them on products. They are looking for a partner who can help in all aspects of their business and personal wealth - from ensuring liquidity in their private wealth portfolio, offering assistance in setting up trusts and family offices, customising solutions for wealth transfer, structuring financial solutions for business expansion, to having comprehensive understanding of tax regimes across geographies to help clients manage their property portfolio.

What new skill sets do relationship managers require to serve today's private banking client?

To be able to meet the increasingly complex and sophisticated demands of clients, today's private bankers need to have experience and sharp skills, not just head knowledge, but also complex analytical and application skills to help clients manage their wealth in line with their investment goals. They also need to be nimble and forward-thinking, to be able to anticipate the changing times and meet the needs of our clients.

How does Bank of Singapore ensure that its relationship managers possess these skills?

It is important for Bank of Singapore to set the highest professional standards of private banking in Asia. This requires us to continually deepen and sharpen the skills of our private bankers, not just in theory but also in complex analytical and application skills.

Constant upgrades through training and development to equip our people to stay relevant, complementing what we already have - a sound business model and strong open-architecture platform - will enable us to serve our clients better.

 Bank of Singapore has spent close to US$30 million over the past five years on human resources programmes and initiatives for its staff focusing on five areas: talent management and leadership; professional development; corporate values and practices; client experience; and client education. In 2015 alone, Bank of Singapore employees clocked in 46,000 hours in training hours, twice the number of hours logged in the year before. Each client-facing employee averaged 90 hours of training.

What are some examples of your training programmes?

Our latest training investment is the launch of an in-house programme in May this year - the Advanced Diploma in Private Banking programme. It is a partnership with Wealth Management Institute (WMI) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and is accredited by the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) Singapore as an IBF Standards Level 2/3 Programmes in Wealth Management - Private Banking.

This advanced diploma programme places us among the few private banks based in Asia to offer our bankers a holistic suite of training programmes that meet the full spectrum of the IBF Standards (Level 1 to Level 2/3).

The exclusive six-month programme is designed to equip our private bankers not only with in-depth knowledge but also hands-on experience across various aspects of wealth management such as wealth advisory, risk management and relationship building. Participants will receive tutelage from an established panel of lecturers specially convened by WMI and NTU, who are largely senior practitioners renowned for their knowledge and experience in the financial industry, and delve into subjects like business family planning, family offices, corporate finance and more complex financial products.

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