Credit Suisse vice chairman Jullie Kan’s professional assets have matured amid challenging shifts in the banking industry |
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Credit Suisse vice chairman Jullie Kan’s professional assets have matured amid challenging shifts in the banking industry

Published on Saturday, 09 Jan 2016
Jullie Kan, vice chairman of private banking for Southeast Asia at Credit Suisse. (Photo: Sky Lip)

Like a particularly smart, well-managed investment, Jullie Kan’s career has grown from its modest beginnings into something truly impressive.

Now managing director and vice chairman of private banking for Southeast Asia at Credit Suisse, Kan joined the banking industry in 1975 as a clerk in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am not one of those who has gone to some top business school,” Kan explains. “There were 13 of us in the family and I was number eight. If you were the daughter in a typical Chinese family at that time, you didn’t go to university. So after my A-levels I applied for jobs with three banks.”

Deutsche Bank offered Kan a job within eight hours of her interview with them and she started work the next day.

The effort she put in, both in the office and in her studies for a London Institute of Bankers diploma, was recognised in promotions that led to her becoming a bank officer in 1982. 

The 1980s and 1990s were to turn into very eventful decades for both Kan and the region’s financial services industry. The collapse of the marine salvage business Pan-Electric in 1985 forced the stock exchanges in Singapore and Malaysia to shut for several days, and led banks to streamline their operations. Then, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, private bankers from London and Switzerland began to arrive.

In 1988, after Kan expressed her interest in becoming involved in Deutsche Bank’s private bank operation in Asia, she was made a member of a steering committee. “I had the chance to go to India, Pakistan and many other places to see what we could do onshore for Malaysia,” she recalls. But when the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, the local banking industry quickly began to contract. 

“The Singapore office told me: ‘You must come over and defend the clients you have introduced from offshore’. I was seconded for nine months but there was so much firefighting to be done that this became a permanent posting.”

The sort of skills and experience Kan had by now acquired were very much in demand at this time, and she turned down a number of offers from other banks before joining Credit Suisse in Singapore in 1998. 

“They hired me as head of the Malaysia market and, following the Asian crisis, we rebuilt the business from scratch, with the team growing from two to 25 bankers,” she says. Many Malaysian clients had seen other European banks exit the market, but fortunately Credit Suisse took the view we were here for the long term and that helped us to rebuild the franchise.” 

“The philosophy was, and still is: we are not here just to make a quick buck and disappear; we are here long term, irrespective of market cycles.” The 2008 global financial crisis prompted a big organisational rethink. “The regulators stepped in with a new set of ground rules. These rules were important and were good for the business and for the clients, but they made managing teams even more complex. I used to have 25 RMs [relationship managers] reporting to me – in other words, 25 RMs and their clients. In the current environment, you can’t manage 25 bankers alone. You need team leaders to take care of five to ten of them, then, depending on the size and dynamics of the team, you need to put in market leaders to take charge of team leaders.”

She says managing teams can be exhausting, as you need to understand the psyche of both RMs and their clients. It’s about managing teams, hiring people, creating good business plans and growing the business; You are actually managing a multi-faceted business that is strongly intermingled with personalities and managing human beings. Each RM has a set of relationships. Certain personalities attract certain types of clients; that’s where chemistry and affinity come in.”

Kan managed the Malaysia market for 14 years in total, before taking up her current position. “I have taken on a senior role in client coverage and that’s the part I’m most excited about – being back to [interacting] directly with clients again. And I don’t just look at their investment needs, but at their business and family needs and the means by which they can give back to society.” 

Acting also as a senior adviser on talent development matters, Kan says proper training can set a private banker up for life. “I am 60 years old and I am still here,” she says. “If you are young and smart and starting a career in private banking, you could be here for the next 40 years.

“As you get older, you earn more stripes and gain trust, and your clients become the more prominent ones. If you have been properly trained, you will be resilient enough to survive crises and upheavals and, with your guidance, your clients will also survive any crisis.”


Jullie Kan’s top five list of how to succeed in private banking

Listen up “You need Very good listening skills so you understand your client and not just their banking needs.”

Be bold “You need to be confident and articulate, while having the social savviness to [interact] with people and understand their different psyches and idiosyncrasies.”

Swot up “[Get] the necessary academic skills – you need a good sense of macroeconomics and a good standard of maths but, most importantly, you need to know what’s going on around the world.”

Prepare to persevere “If you are with a client through thick and thin, then, when they become very successful, you will get the lion’s share of their business.”

Maintain stamina “Modern technology means clients can contact their RMs relationship managers at any hour; this can be a 24/7 job in times of market volatility.”

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Earning her stripes.

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