Looking for a glamorous front-office banking job? Want to dine and network with senior executives? The global corporate banking job gives you both the prestige and exposure to corporate and finance leaders. It's all good, if only the scope of a Relationship Manager's (RM) work stops here. Beyond the glamour, there’s a significant amount of operational and compliance details to tend to as well as multiple internal stakeholders who will look to you for answers and solutions to the most minute of issues. That, is not desirable.
Global corporate banking typically deals with top tier MNCs (compared to commercial banking that focuses on SMEs). Due to the complex, global nature of such companies, banks have multiple team members around the world to support the parent HQ and their various subsidiaries.
What is the role of a global network banking relationship manager?
As a global banking RM, you are required to manage a portfolio of large corporate clients, establish good banking relationship with clients and assure high standards of credit quality and Know-Your-Customer (KYC) measures. You will also need to manage day-to-day account operations and grow the portfolio by cross-selling the bank’s products and services.
You will need to have a comprehensive understanding of the wide spectrum of complex financial issues that your clients face. This comes through establishing a good client relationship, and the ability to listen and identify opportunities during client interactions. From that good relationship, you can help clients solve their challenges by providing a full array of banking solutions in aspects such as cash management, foreign exchange, financing and many others. Given the extensive list of financial products available, you as a global network RM will need to work closely with internal product partners to introduce and proactively cross-sell financial products to clients.
A RM's performance: revenue growth
Internally, your performance as a RM is very much perceived by your ability to maximise revenue from your client portfolio and show profit growth. There is hence a strong focus on cross-selling products to clients. Portfolio-wise, you may specialise in covering specific industries or a multinational client base at the parent, regional or subsidiary level. The work can get overwhelming, so time-management is important. Depending on which bank you work for, your portfolio as a RM can consist of more than 100 clients!
A typical week in the life of a global network banking RM
You'd typically work from 9am to 7-8pm, which is similar to other banking jobs. On busy days, the day stretches till 11pm. Although you will pulled in many different directions for various tasks, we can largely classify the bulk of your work into 3 big parts:
1. Relationship building
The first bulk of your work involves investing a huge amount of time in building relationships with clients and understanding their requirements. In a week, you will have to schedule at least 3 face-to-face meetings in addition to another 2-3 client lunches or dinners. In some banks, you'd be expected to write a call report (read: minutes) after each meeting.
Attending events is part of the job too. On average, there will be at least one client event every month that you’ll need to attend. It is typical for clients to invite you to their Dinner & Dance or Gala Nights, and while there, be prepared to be seated with other vendors or even RMs from competing banks. And of course there are your bank-organised conferences, workshops and even cocktail events that RMs may have to attend as well.
2. Due diligence and credit checking
The second bulk of your work involves due diligence* and credit checking. You will need to provide the necessary oversight and accountability in documenting new or revised credit facilities or transaction activities in the local jurisdiction. These are necessary to conform with bank policies and local regulatory requirements for a wide range of aspects including credit documents, Compliance, Know Your Customer (KYC), Anti-Money Laundering (AML), etc. Basically, there are tons of operational checks to be completed.
To complete the due diligence, you will need to work closely with internal teams to do a whole range of tasks, such as to contact client to understand any anomalies, conduct a financial analysis and ensure AML policies are in place, amongst others. These information will be filed into the bank’s system as proof to regulators that the necessary checks are in place.
* To the uninitiated, the term due diligence refers to 'an investigation of a business or person prior to signing a contract, or an act with a certain standard of care' (from Wikipedia).
3. Structuring transactions
The third bulk of your work involves working with internal teams and product specialists to structure transactions for the client. For example, if a client requires a supplier financing solution, you’ll have to work with colleagues to structure something for them.
Depending on the complexity of the product required by the client, you may find yourself engaging multiple internal stakeholders, such as parent (client HQ) RMs, product and service delivery partners, investment banking teams, underwriters and credit committees, legal, compliance, mid and back office support teams across the firm. Coordinating at such a cross-functional, global scale is not an easy task in itself. The process can be quite strenuous, especially when it’s a complex deal stretching up to months to complete.
What’s the culture like in a global network banking RM team?
The social hierarchy in the team is pretty flat; you have access to senior management all the time. It is easy to gain the support of your country CEO or immediate boss, or have them sitting in your client meeting. There’s no need to go up the chain of command in order, depending on the situation.
The infamous cut-throat environment of a bank is surprisingly not eminent in all departments, with the global network banking RM teams being one of them. This is because the account territory is very clear: there’s no dispute over who should manage or sell into an account. Another reason is that RMs in this team are typically of different ranks (in the same office) so expectations are different. Account portfolio is allocated to different ranks according to portfolio sophistication. Hence, it is typically peaceful and good within the department.
Externally however, it is an competitive landscape against competing banks. For example, when a client needs to do a foreign exchange transaction, they can easily access quotes from competitor banks and demand lower rates. You can also bet that other bankers will be pro-actively reaching out to your client offering similar services. Competition can get really intensive and it is vital to maintain a good relationship to retain the client's business.
What’s really frustrating these days as a global network banking RM
Compliance, the necessary (and painful) process
Due diligence is getting more complicated today due to increasing anti-money laundering regulations. This means that you will have to deal with much more compliance requirements today. This process can be mentally draining; it's almost like being interrogated by the internal compliance teams with their endless compliance questions all the time. To add to that, there are many countries’ regulations to comply with depending on the jurisdiction a transaction is involved in. It takes much time to complete the compliance checks, even for seemingly simple transactions; sometimes, taking as much as half a day to resolve.
As you can guess from the last example, compliance checking can adversely affect client relationships. When transactions are urgent (imagine if the company needs cash urgently to acquire a company by a certain deadline), delaying the transaction approval by asking them endless compliance-related questions pisses off the client at times.
Answering hundreds of questions a day
Since you have built a good relationship with your clients and know them well, you will inevitably become the one-stop shop for information internally. Any department who needs answers regarding the client will come to you. Have you seen the complex, matrix-like organization charts of a bank? That gives you a sense of how many departments that can potentially direct questions at RMs, including operations, global transactions, sales representatives, product managers and more. While many (not all) are legitimate queries, the frequency still frustrates the hell out of an RM.
At times, it gets to you when questions are asked because colleagues are too lazy to find the answers themselves. For example, an operations guy may call you to check the payment approval limit of a client contact when he could have checked the board resolution documented in the bank system. Be prepared to feel like you’re answering questions the whole day (from both clients and internal teams) as if you’re an encyclopedia that’s expected to know everything.
Gone are the days of good bonuses
It’s been a not-so-good run for banks in recent times. The big fat bonuses of the pre-2008 financial crisis has not resumed so far. Bonuses are low, and bankers who have seen the difference remain dismayed.
What’s so great about being a global network banking RM?
You'd feel proud to say that you’re an RM in a bank, because you control the client relationship and you are empowered to make decisions on how to manage or grow your client accounts. Nobody moves if you don’t give the direction. You are the face of the bank; you represent the bank externally. That’s the pride of being in the front office.
You matter to them
Clients appreciate your effort and are grateful for your help, especially when requests are urgent (e.g. they need to make a cross-border payment fast). And although it can be boring to attend client’s dinner-and-dance events, or cliché to receive a chocolate box hamper from a client every year, it does make you feel special. It feels like you matter, that you value-add to the client and have made an impact to them.
Sense of fulfillment upon transaction execution
It takes anywhere between 3 weeks to 6 months to complete a client transaction, and the process can take a toll. Imagine that the bank is working on a bilateral loan to a client worth tens of millions. You'd need to negotiate loan documents with client’s legal, obtain opinions from internal and external legal counsels, discuss with parent account manager, work with internal team to gauge credit risk, contact local risk approval teams, liaise with operations department, ensure regulatory compliance, consult tax consultants if there are tax considerations… You get the point. A long list of internal stakeholders need to be comfortable with approving the transaction before it is executed.
But at the end of it all, or maybe because of the complexity, you'd feel a great sense of achievement when the transaction gets executed.
Advice for anyone who wants to join as a global network banking RM
You will need great interpersonal skills to deal with clients and internal team members. In this climate of cost-cutting (i.e. less people to do the same amount of work) and increasing banking regulations, internal teams have overwhelming things on their plate. It helps to be able to get them to see the big picture and prioritise your issues and request. And being an RM, you will need to make clients comfortable when dealing with you too. After all, it is a highly competitive market and you need them to think of you first (before dozens of other bankers approaching them) when they need banking services.
Fresh graduates may not be able to get into a global network banking role directly, but it’s possible to first start in the commercial banking division that serves small and medium enterprises. Use the first few years to build strong product knowledge across the spectrum of bank services and train your interpersonal skills.
For a global subsidiaries banking RM, it takes about 4 to 6 years of work experience to reach AVP level. Depending on performance, it may take you at least another 3 years to become a VP, and this is when you’ll be assigned larger client accounts that typically require more complex transactions. Beyond that, you may then get an opportunity to take on the role of a regional account manager and perhaps, the parent account manager, if you so desire. Given that you liaise with multiple internal partners in your course of work, it is also possible to move inter-department or inter-geographically.
It's not easy being a relationship manager, much less one as a global corporate network banking RM. Ultimately, it's a people job with an emphasis on knowing complex banking and finance products. If the technicalities and complexity hasn't turned you off yet, and you know that you'd enjoy the perks of being the face of your bank, this might just be the work for you.
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