Getting ahead in treasury trading
Benedict (Ben) Tan started his career in trading 24 years back, and he has never looked back since. Now leading a team of more than 50 across the region, hear Ben's journey weathering the ups and downs of the banking industry, in good and bad times.
Many may go through life unsure of their career goals and passion, but luckily for Ben, his path was always clear. "My affinity with trading started 24 years ago, when I took up an internship with a foreign bank. After three months experiencing the foreign exchange (FX), interest rate derivatives and fixed-income markets, I was fortunate enough to realise that everything felt right. This was ‘it', and I couldn't wait to purse my career in treasury," Ben reminisced.
Building success slowly but surely
In a contemplative move, Ben took up his first job with a foreign bank with strong regional presence, gaining broad-based experience before developing niche expertise in financial analysis, focusing on financial products. "I've always been more inclined mathematically, and the adrenaline rush when I beat the market never gets old. In the 12 years with my first employer, I had the opportunity to work on attachments abroad in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai, gaining invaluable experience working with diverse clientele and markets. By 2005, I was heading the trading office in Shanghai."
2007 proved to be a major turning point for Ben both professionally and personally. "My child was due to enter primary school, and that meant relocating back to Singapore. OCBC was gearing up to start its regional trading office and re-engineer how trading was done in the company, and we were the perfect solution for each other. I relished the opportunity to put into practice what I've learned in the early half of my career, to truly build a team from the ground," said Ben.
Starting with just a small team of 4-5, Ben has since grown OCBC's Group Treasury presence to a regional team of over 50, spread across 9 treasury centres including but not limited to London, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand. By bringing in subject matter experts with the right local knowhow, Ben's team has evolved to be an indispensable part of the Treasury business.
Gearing for success
When asked what makes one successful in Treasury, Ben has his unique insights. "It's a 24/7 market that's volatile and increasingly commoditised. I encourage my team to experiment new product portfolios, build breadth of knowledge, and move out of their comfort zones, even if it is out of the country. More importantly than being good with a product, is the need to constantly widen one's perspective. Only with that can you form a trusted judgement, be accountable for your ideas, and contribute to the team's position. Understanding what drives our quantitative counterparts' analysis is also key, which is why I send all my staff for Python programming training and sandbox experiments. The result? Faster analysis and the ability of everyone to present information into simple ideas."
Echoing his formulae to getting ahead in Treasury, Ben hires diverse talent, from the mathematically inclined, to those with a background in sports for their resilience and team-player qualities. An outgoing personality to deal with stakeholders, and an openness to learn, even from competitors, are some tips he has for young professionals just starting on their journey as a Trader.
"We're busy, but never too busy to teach. Though of course, we expect our interns and young talents to come prepared for the job and be proactive where required," Ben laughs. "Outside of work, we're a tight team that bonds over regular drinks and annual gatherings with the team and their families."