Biz Alumni 19 April 2020

Alumni Spotlight Stories: Andy Neo, Credit Suisse

Before graduation, Andy interned at various insurance companies before being selected for the Standard Chartered Bank’s International Graduate Programme, where he explored different aspects of wholesale banking.

After 5 years with the Standard Chartered Bank, he made the switch to Credit Suisse and currently serves as the real estate investment banking Vice President for South East Asia.

Andy Neo (second from left), Vice President, Real Estate, Investment Banking at Credit Suisse
Bachelor of Business Administration – Finance (2010); with the NUS Business School Alumni (NUSBSA) team.

Q: Can you run us through a day in your life as an Investment Banker at Credit Suisse?

Being in investment banking, working hours are protracted. I start the day by sending my kids to school and will reach the office at approximately 9am. At times, I start the day earlier given the need to liaise with international clients based in Europe or U.S. At the start of the day, I will also look at immediate deliverables, and delegate work / mentor the juniors such that work deliverables are progressed and completed on time.

Throughout the day, I will handle external calls on live deals (mergers and acquisitions, equity, etc.), with client lunches scheduled in between. Moreover, there will be also multiple internal calls and meetings for idea generation and to discuss any pending follow-ups from earlier client meetings.

In Credit Suisse, each individual is held responsible for his or her own tasks. With a rather hectic work schedule, it is important to take care of personal well-being and to strike a self-defined approach to what constitutes work-life balance. For me, I would fit in gym sessions and dinner sessions with family during the weekdays and also set aside time with the family.

Q: Your job requires you to meet a lot of clients. Have you ever experienced culture shocks in your work (eg. difference in expectations of work)?

Going into a meeting, it always pays to be well prepared. However, it is also important to understand what the clients expect from us and to adapt the delivery of the key messages to ensure that the message is received and understood by the client. Moreover, you must be able to be able to think on your feet and be reactive to situations that could potentially be unprepared for. If unsure, don’t be afraid to tell the client that more time is required to check and revert as a follow-up. Lastly, in banking, it is important to constantly close deals because a banker will always be remembered for the last deal that he closes.

Q: How did you end up in real estate, investment banking? Did you face any challenges along the way and how did you overcome them?

In honesty, my path to being in real estate investment banking is by chance rather than a planned journey. Prior to joining my first full time job at Standard Chartered, my earlier internship experience had been predominantly in the General Insurance industry. It was only in my final year that I was offered a role at the Standard Chartered Bank. I joined the bank’s 2-year International Graduate management programme which was a generalist programme with an opportunity to rotate across 4 different functions in the bank.

As one of the front office rotations, I joined the South East Asia commercial real estate team for approximately 5 months before heading to Shanghai to complete my last rotation in Structured Trade Finance. During my stint in the Structured Trade Finance team, I was offered a full time role in the South East Asia commercial real estate team by my former boss, which I took up and started my career in real estate investment banking. Nonetheless, as I didn’t come from a real estate background, there was a lot of initial effort / time to go through real estate literature and reading reports to ensure sufficient proficiency to deliver quality work.

One piece of advice I have for getting through the transition phase is to understand the expectations of your superiors and know the key people you have to look out for. In a company, everybody is very important – even the administrative staff that often gets overlooked. Administrative staff is often long-standing employees of the firm and they can actually act as enablers for problem solving matters.

Q: Do you think your experience with insurance has helped you?

To be honest, the knowledge was not transferable to banking. However, what I found useful was the opportunity to use and develop my Powerpoint, Word and Excel skills. Having access to good mentors was also important – guidance that hard work and willingness to learn will get you to places. Importantly, be adaptable and equipped with the ability to connect with people from different cultures and personalities.

Q: What made you pursue accreditations like the CFA Level 3 or Credit Skills Assessment modules 1 to 14? Was it compulsory or just for knowledge?

In the Standard Chartered bank, it is compulsory to do the CFA level 1 and the bank covers the cost for us. After level 1, I went on to do level 2 and thought “why not do level 3 as well?” In the end, despite passing all 3 CFA levels, I did not take up the accreditation as my current job did not require the certification and I thus chose not to pay for the annual accreditation fees. The rest of the Credit Skills are things I picked up along the way in Standard Chartered. Some of these skills are prerequisites candidates should have when they want to work at some companies.

Q: Do you think knowing more languages will give us an edge in the business world?

The inability to converse in a third language is increasingly putting Singaporeans in a disadvantage. A lot of companies are looking at expanding their presence across Vietnam, Indonesia etc. In Vietnam, for instance, businessmen prefer to converse in Vietnamese even though they can speak English. As such, Singaporeans are likely to be at a disadvantage since most of us can only converse fluently in English. Furthermore, Singaporeans are not versed in “business” Mandarin which most Chinese companies use to interact – different from the conversational Mandarin that we use in our everyday lives.

Q: Do you have any advice for young aspiring undergraduates seeking a career in banking?

Firstly, don’t be disheartened if you didn’t an opportunity to intern in a bank. It’s not the end of the world and not a career stopper from getting a full-time job offer in a bank. Take myself for example, I didn’t manage to get any investment banking internships during university days, but persistence and continued perseverance in job application led to a positive outcome.

As one moves through the career, it is also important to ask oneself the motive of switching jobs: “Am I switching jobs for the sake of moving or am I changing jobs to elevate my career and equip myself with the next avenue of growth?”. The former is a reason that should always be perceived as a pull factor – which more importantly helps and develops one’s career in a growth fashion.

Lastly, emotional intelligence is important. Even if you are the smartest person in the room, if you are lacking in that aspect, you will find it difficult to connect to colleagues and clients this potentially creates an issue in building relationships / network which becomes crucial in the sustainability of one’s career.

The Alumni Spotlight Stories is a weekly series that explores a Bizad alumni’s journey from school to the working world. The story was first published in “Alumni Spotlight Stories: From Student Life to the Peak of your Career” compiled by the NUS Business School Alumni (NUSBSA).

Andy recently joined Mapletree as Vice President, Private Capital Management. He focuses structuring and fundraising activities for the private real estate funds.