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Home and Abroad?
Banking without borders
What are the risks and rewards of a career built abroad? Four international bankers recall the exhilaration of the different paths they took.
A career in financial services can take you places – and overseas banking opportunities are there for the taking. Working outside your own country will challenge you, widen your knowledge and experience and will reinforce your skills, as four banking leaders verify:
“It’s glamorous, but testing”
HEAD OF LATIN AMERICA, THE ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND
My international career started in Eastern Europe, managing the bank’s lending. But most of my time abroad has been in the US, where I’ve spent twelve years. I’ve covered Latin America for RBS for three years, as COO and now Regional Head – managing businesses in Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela.
Working in different countries exposes you to the need to understand and manage different risks. You never stop learning. Otherwise, the basic principles are the same: understanding your clients and the market in which they operate. At the heart of it are the people. Building strong lasting business relationships is critical to success.
There is no substitute for study – taking time to reflect and discuss issues. I’ve found management programs at Harvard and INSEAD to be excellent. In the US, I serve as Trustee and Vice Chairman of the Institute of International Bankers, which has greatly benefited my understanding of the US regulatory system.
Moving across the world sounds glamorous, but uprooting a family is testing. It does make your children very independent and outward looking, though, which can only be a good thing.
What’s important is that I was given the chance to do it. Today’s managers must continue to do this with the talented people who work for us.
“It adds a certain credibility”
CEO OF HSBC IN SCOTLAND
Working abroad had always been a personal and professional ambition of mine, so when I was offered a COO role in Mexico City, I said yes immediately.
“Being part of the talent management process at HSBC meant there was a high probability I would get the chance to relocate, but I had to wait a number of years for the right opportunity, at the right time.
Working in a different country in a new job was a massive challenge and initially a steep learning curve – HSBC has more than 1,000 branches in Mexico, with around 20,000 employees – but I found it fascinating. Aside from learning new skills to do the job, I had to learn how to function in a business environment, being sensitive to cultural norms and taking different practices into account.
The Mexican banking world is very fast moving, growing revenues by more than 20 per cent and I had to adapt to that pace very quickly. I was still applying the same banking principles and internal policies, but the environment was much more dynamic and less stable, which provided exciting opportunities.
Spending part of my career abroad has allowed me a certain degree of confidence – a sense of, ‘I’ve done it once, and I could do it again.’ I enjoyed the experience massively and it’s helped me in my career. At HSBC if you have aspirations to senior roles, there’s an expectation to have international experience and prove you can function in different environments. Being back in Scotland, it helps to be able to tell clients I’ve worked internationally; it adds a certain level of credibility.
It goes without saying that the main thing I learned from my time in Mexico was fluent Spanish, and it’s been interesting coming back here and speaking English again! I hadn’t appreciated the enormous effort it takes to speak in a foreign language all day.
Living in Mexico also taught me that I can not only survive in a foreign country, but actually enjoy it and prosper. I now have a passion for Mexican food and football, and I was lucky to see so much of the country while I was there. I returned last year with a wider view of the world, solid experience and a ‘get on with it’ mindset. Because I was only there for a finite time, there was a real impetus to experience everything… which I think is a very good lesson to learn.
“Coming home can be difficult!”
FORMER CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CLYDESDALE AND YORKSHIRE BANKS
Like many of my contemporaries in the early 60s, I started my international career by joining British Overseas Banks in London. I completed a spell of training in London and was then posted to Calcutta.
There is no doubt that, compared with the rest of UK banking at the time, the levels of responsibility we assumed at a tender age were substantial. In many cases, I was thrown in at the deep end and had to sink or swim – fortunately I swam! I had to acquire some basic language skills in Hindustani and quickly attune to the different cultures I was exposed to.
I really made two moves abroad. I came home from the US, at the invitation of Bruce Patullo, to join the internal executive team at Bank of Scotland in 1979. I then moved again in 1986 to run a small bank in Oman. I was there for seven years, and built a great team. Then I was recruited to run the Northern and National Irish Banks in Ireland for National Australia Group. I deliberately repositioned my career to return to Scotland – my final role was Chief Executive of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks.
Did I do better going overseas rather than staying at home? I certainly experienced a much broader and more diverse career than I would have otherwise, but aspiring international bankers need to consider that while it’s easy to leave – re-entry is more difficult!
“It makes you more resilient”
HEAD OF OPERATIONAL RISK AND COMPLIANCE, CLYDESDALE AND YORKSHIRE BANKS
The opportunity to work abroad came when I was put forward for a three-year secondment to work with National Australia Group in Melbourne, Australia, as part of my ongoing development. I was based in Australia from 1993 to 1996.
At that time, NAB was the number one bank in the Australian market across most customer segments, while Clydesdale Bank was a relatively small regional bank in the UK. The market positioning was totally different, as was the mindset of the staff. Not only are you looking at different products, systems and processes, but you are also living and working in a different culture, out of the comfort zone of your own organisation, and away from long standing family and friends. In my case, I was fortunately accompanied by my wife and our four young sons. We focused on building up a core of local friends as we didn’t want to fall into the expat lifestyle. This was very successful and helped to enrich the experience and has provided some lasting friendships.
I had already passed the Institute’s exams by the time of the secondment, and was able to put my learning to good use, particularly in international trade.
Working overseas not only enriches you in terms of knowledge and experience, but it strengthens your self-sufficiency and resilience. It provided me with a deep understanding of our parent company, its culture and a great network of people – a network I still access now.
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