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JP Morgan banks on attitude over aptitude

Published on Friday, 25 Jan 2013
A career at JP Morgan Private Bank is plugged into the powerful professional network of its New York-based parent, JPMorgan Chase, the largest US bank by asset.
Photo: NYT
Kwang Kam-shing

JP Morgan Private Bank market manager goes for passion

Though most observers will agree that the global economy is not yet out of the woods, the anxiety levels in the financial sector seem to have eased of late.

Buoyant stock markets around the world and China’s revived growth in recent months are among key indicators giving grounds for some optimism.

However, the volatility that has characterised international financial markets over the past six years is still too fresh in the memory for any complacency. And with issues such as the decision on this year’s US debt ceiling delayed rather than resolved, few are making bold and specific predictions about the future.

Of course, this uncertainty does not make life any easier even for the big hitters in the world’s financial services industry. So, now more than ever, these businesses need a talented and motivated workforce that is nimble and able to respond to changing market conditions and ever-demanding customer expectations.

Kwang Kam-shing, market manager for Hong Kong for JP Morgan Private Bank, says the qualities her company looks for in potential recruits go beyond technical skills.

“JP Morgan places a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration,” she says. “We look for talent who demonstrate great responsibility, independence and intelligence in a professional manner in the workplace. Hard-skills are important – subject to the differing requirements of different roles – but the character of potential candidates is of paramount importance.”

Founded over 200 years ago, JP Morgan today handles worldwide assets worth more than US$2.4 trillion and employs over 250,000 people. Hong Kong is the regional headquarters for the company’s Asia-Pacific operation, and a base for its expansion into China.

Kwang says JP Morgan is divided into various lines of business in Asia, including corporate and investment banking, investment management, private banking and commercial banking.

Working with JP Morgan’s investment banking wing, the corporate bankers act as relationship managers, providing financing, risk management, working capital, cash management and investment services to clients in three sectors.

For multinational corporations and local firms with international-business needs, they work on cash management, syndicated loans, forex, rates and commodities, and risk management.

Several of the world’s largest and most successful financial institutions are among JP Morgan’s clients. Their needs include forex, rates, commodities, loans, risk management and the full range of treasury and securities services, as well as asset and wealth management products.

JP Morgan’s corporate bankers also help their colleagues in investment banking to provide clients with strategic advice and capital-raising services.

The third sector includes governments, central banks, sovereign investors, international institutions, public pension funds, national development banks and other public institutions.

These public-sector clients look to JP Morgan to manage their national financial assets, raise capital, hedge financial risks, manage liabilities, and capture efficiencies in financial payments and processes. The bank also advise them on setting up sovereign wealth funds, defending sovereign debt ratings, leveraging card technology and streamlining social welfare payments.

JP Morgan Private Bank has a track record stretching back more than 160 years and today handles US$877 billion in client assets. These customers include some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, families and foundations. Its Asian regional offices were established in Hong Kong and Singapore over 30 years ago.

Kwang believes the business model of JP Morgan Private Bank is unique, bringing together a range of specialists who together can offer high- and ultra-high-net-worth clients tailor-made financial solutions.

“While we focus on bringing up our own talent by recruiting from top-notch universities worldwide, we also hire experienced talent from within the industry,” Kwang says.

Every year, JP Morgan Private Bank runs an analyst programme. Successful graduate applicants join a group of experts working together as an integrated team. Each of the bank’s private clients is therefore surrounded by a team of specialists with differing expertise, thereby ensuring first-class service, Kwang adds.

New staff joining the analyst programme will be assigned to one of four teams. The Banker team oversees client relationships and provides strategic advice. The Investor team offers advisory services, trade execution and implementation for all client investment needs. The Capital Advisor team provides customised credit solutions for financing or extracting liquidity, while the Solutions team helps clients meet their portfolio objectives with investment ideas across all asset classes.

Kwang is proud of the efforts the company puts into developing the talent and careers of those who come on board. “JP Morgan has invested tremendous resources in providing continuous training and development for our staff,” she says.

“Training is not just provided for junior staff, it’s also for those in senior positions. We send every new analyst and new hire to our New York headquarters for training to kick off their career with JP Morgan. Senior staff members are also sent to New York for refresher training at least once every two years.”

The philosophy JP Morgan expounds is based on the belief that the firm is engaged in a people business, Kwang says. From this springs the idea that, essential though technical skills are, training is about more than that. Graduates aren’t hired to simply sit at their desks, examine abstract figures and spreadsheets, and keep quiet; they need to be able to present, manage, sell, influence and lead. To JP Morgan, Kwang says, these are not “soft” skills but business critical attributes.

So training programmes are tailored to the needs of each staff and use course materials that connect with their day-to-day working life. These courses draw on deal-based case studies, hands-on modelling, trading simulations and product teach-ins.

The company aims to give even those who haven’t studied economics, business or finance the tools, the background and knowledge to work in the high-powered world of finance. In other words, the goal is to enable non-specialists to become fluent in areas such as accounting, economics, valuation analytics, capital markets, equity products and project management.

“To retain talent, we focus on building an inclusive, team-based and diversified environment with career mobility for each member of the firm,” Kwang says.

“We strongly encourage mobility across our various lines of business, and the regions we are active in. Career paths are, therefore, very dynamic within the firm.”

Sometimes, the most successful way to climb the career ladder is not by big vertical moves within the company. JP Morgan, therefore, also encourages lateral moves within the business; while specialisation is perceived as a good thing, staff are thought to need strong and broad foundations before stepping up a level.

Kwang has some words of advice for those seeking a long career with them.

“Attitude instead of aptitude matters more in the long-run,” she advises. “When hard skills can be acquired through on-the-job training, the passion for work and the willingness to walk the extra mile to deliver world-class business is the key to success at JP Morgan. Being flexible and open to opportunities also makes big difference to one’s long-term career prospects with the company.”

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