Areas of Work: Banking & Financial Services

So you’re looking for a high-flying career where the money is, are you? Educate yourself on the different branches of banking and financial services first!
Jacie Tan
Writer, gradmalaysia.com
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Banks and financial institutions are a popular choice of employer amongst Malaysian graduates. The industry remains a large defining piece of the nation’s economic landscape, and so many students choose to pursue their studies and careers in this field. Moreover, the reputation of the industry as both glamorous and financially rewarding is a high drawing-in factor. So, what exactly are the available areas of work in banking and financial services?

1) Commercial banking​

Commercial banks are the ones that we usually go to. Their main functions include lending money to businesses and individual customers. On top of traditional banking services like credit cards, cheque writing, loans and payment processing, banks are also beginning to concentrate on niche markets like retail mortgage lending, securities trading and mutual funds. Commercial banks make their money by lending money to customers. The interest a bank charges on its loans usually constitute the primary source of revenue for the bank.

Here are some of the jobs available in the commercial banking sector:​

  • Tellers:
    Do sales, cash handling and deal with the public.

  • Customer service representatives:
    The face of the bank to the public and handle all kinds of inquiries from clients.

  • New accounts persons:
    Sign up clients for checking, savings accounts and other related bank services.

  • Bank and loan officers:
    Decide who the bank should lend money to, as well as promote and manage financial services.

You can work in most retail banking roles with any degree discipline. However, finance-related degrees and good numeracy skills are looked upon favourably.

2) Financial planning and wealth management 

Unlike some of the other careers stated here, the terms ‘financial planner’ and ‘wealth manager’ are fairly interchangeable. The core mission of these professionals is the same: to help secure a person’s (or a company’s) financial future. What they choose to call themselves often reflects the type of clients that they work with. A wealth manager will work with higher net-worth individuals but what they do is essentially the same: focusing on each client’s needs and understanding their aspirations for the future.

Here’s what you need to know to practise in this area:​

It is necessary to hold a professional qualification if you want to become a financial planner. Many people will spend their time as para-planners that makes them qualified to progress to certified financial planner (CFP) status.

Financial Planning Association of Malaysia (FPAM) is the professional body for financial planning in Malaysia. It is a not-for-profit organisation with the twin mission of continuously professionalising the industry and educating the public on the importance of financial planning. It administers the Certified Financial Planner® certification and the Islamic Financial Planner qualification programmes, both of which are recognised by the Securities Commission Malaysia and Bank Negara Malaysia for licensing purposes.

There are around 20 financial planners in Malaysia, with an estimated 2,590 CFPs playing the trade in the country.

3) Investment banking

An investment bank or division is essentially a corporate advisor, acting as an interface between companies and investment markets. The aim is to be the client’s most valued advisor and as a result of that, deliver and execute deals for them, eg mergers, acquisitions, financing or IPOs. Investment banking can also be known as corporate finance.

Roles can be found within full-service investment banks or smaller boutique businesses that may specialise in a particular aspect of investment banking. Within a division, teams focus on particular countries, industries and products; members of several different teams will work together to execute a deal.

An investment banking group typically provides the following services:​

  • Corporate finance and advisory work:
    Raising finance, take-overs, mergers and acquisitions.

  • Banking:
    For governments, institutions and companies.

  • Treasury:
    Dealing for corporate clients in currencies, with financial engineering services to protect them from interest and exchange rate fluctuations.

  • Investment management:
    Involves the handling and advising of the investment of individuals or corporations.

  • Securities trading:
    Includes equities, bonds or derivatives and, broking and distribution facilities.

Investment bankers carry out financial and strategic analysis, advise on how to bid for and pay for the bank, offer judgement on the price and advise on how to communicate all of this to the public markets. They must be good communicators who are very client-focused and able to offer valuable expertise.

4) Risk management

Risk management is a bank’s front line defence against monetary loss. As the word ‘risk’ suggests, this area of banking ensures that sound and comprehensive risk governance is in place to safeguard a bank’s risk management strategy.

Types of financial risk to be evaluated:

  • ​Business continuity
  • Corporate governance 
  • Enterprise risk
  • Information and security risk
  • Market and credit risk
  • Regulatory and operational risk 
  • Technology risk 

Your day-to-day responsibilities would include: 

  • Planning, designing and executing the overall risk management process for the banks.
  • Risk assessment which entails identifying and estimating risks affecting the business.
  • Risk evaluation which involves making comparisons between estimated risks with requirements set by the bank.
  • Risk reporting which requires you to package and present information to suit the level of understanding of different stakeholders.

5) Islamic finance

Islamic finance refers to the Syariah-compliant products – from those provided by investment banks to Islamic retail operations. As Malaysia is a country with a large Muslim population, Islamic finance is a strong market with many opportunities for further development.

In Islamic finance, the financial instruments are produced with the guidance of a Syariah board, whose advice helps create products that conform to the Syariah law. In principle, this means that the constraints on financial practices are established by the Islamic law. The prohibition on the payment of riba means that investments have to be structured differently from conventional financial products. The idea of shared risk introduces transaction of a balance on potentially irresponsible investing.

Islamic finance roles may be found within all functions of banking and investment companies, from asset management to private banking. You may decide to work for an international bank that offers Syariah-compliant services or work for an Islamic company that markets its products in various financial centres.

Graduates do not need to be Muslim to join Islamic finance but they must have good knowledge on Islamic finance practices.

6) Private banking

Banks court wealthy customers because the returns available on managing the funds of these people are much greater than those that could be obtained from the average customer. In return, the customers demand an exceptionally high degree of customer service from the institutions they bank with and they often have very diverse portfolios of investment that required in-depth and specialist knowledge to deliver the solutions. The stakes for these customers are also usually higher.

So, how is private banking different from commercial banking? The secret is in the word ‘private’ – this type of banking is tailored to the client and offers a much more personal, one-to-one service. This could include advising the client or investing money on their behalf.

Most private banks will offer two types of service:​

  1. Advisory: The client’s private banker will contact them about investment opportunities and the client will make the final decision before an investment is made.

  2. Discretionary: The client will have a thorough discussion with their private banker about the strategy they want to take, then the bank will manage the client’s portfolio on their behalf.

Good communication skills are extremely essential in this field and multilingual ability gives the graduates an edge in securing global customers. As the prospective clients are wealthy and possess a high profile, they could potentially originate from foreign countries. Otherwise, trustworthiness and discretion on their duties are highly important.