Vault Q&A: Alma Han, Citi Management Associate, China
Vault Q: Why did you choose to apply to the MA program?
A: While at university, I didn't have much thought about a career role for me in the future. After I graduated from international economics there were so many opportunities, for example, as a public official, or in securities companies.
I think for me, because I'm at the beginning of the career, it's probably better to work for a large company, hence most of my job applications were to large companies.
In large organizations, there are many functions, departments and different projects, so as an employee you have opportunities to deal with different people, distinct functions in a dynamic, changing environment. I think this is good opportunity to broaden your vision. At the beginning of your career, even if you choose a job, you still don't know clearly which function will be the best for you in your whole career life. A large company will enable you to perform on a bigger platform to experience countless things.
With the Citi MA program, you will be assigned to rotate into different departments in the first year, and finally will get placed in one department. Each departments rotation lasts for about two months and we do 5 or 6 rotations.
Vault Q: So where are you now and what role are you in?
A: I'm in the Shanghai Compliance team. We are the first contact point of the company with the local regulators. Our responsibility is to protect our company to avoid both economic and franchise losses to make sure we follow our local regulations correctly and maintain our business in good order.
For the current stage, I'm responsible for looking after some requirements of the local regulators. We need to provide our day-to-day reports, so they can understand our business. Another responsibility is to distribute those regulations to our various departments.
Vault Q: So what other rotations have you had?
A: When I started in Shanghai, I had some experience in the front office, in CRB, the Commercial Relationship Banking, which works with small- to medium-sized companies.
I rotated in the marketing function -- my major job there was to prepare marketing materials for the relationship managers to achieve their business objectives, including product cross selling and relationship management for financial services. These were loans and financing products for companies with revenue below U.S. $250 million. My role there covered preparing presentations for sales, and streamlining the product process to make sure the clients were satisfied.
Vault Q: What has been your favorite rotation?
A: My favorite rotation is Compliance, the department I got placed at the end of the 12-month program, because the nature of the work there closely aligns with my career goals. I'd like to be a person who can advise others -- I think compliance is a good place for me to be an advisor.
Vault Q: What has been your most challenging rotation?
It must be CitiService, which is one of the most important functions in the bank. After every sale, the customers will have a lot of questions about the products that need our help.
Vault Q: Why did you find it challenging?
A: In this function, the employee must have solid knowledge about the product. And also the time is limited when a customer calls in, another customer online will be put on hold. Employees in this department are quite busy.
[Citi has] systems so you can check the status of the customer. We need to be patient and also educate them in a soft way. Sometimes they can solve the problem by themselves, but CitiService is so excellent that they always call us for help.
Vault Q: How do you end up getting placed in a full-time job after you're done with your rotations?
A: After completing the MA program, you will be placed in one department, but it depends on both sides, whether you're interested in the department, and whether the department has such need and if they were satisfied with your performance.
Generally, there will be an interview between you and your supervisor of the target department. I think if you have rotated in the department, it's a good chance for you to get to know the department, and your advisor knows you.
Vault Q: What sort of training opportunities does Citi provide for management associates?
A: Generally speaking, there are two parts. The first is classroom training, and the other is on-the-job training. The classroom training is 6= weeks. My training period was in October to December. Our training was in Manila.
Vault Q: How did you find the training?
A: I think the training, which is called MAGIC (Management Associate Graduate Integrated Curriculum) was really fantastic. The 6= weeks was not too long, but for us, it was really intensive. We had one topic every week, all of them around the banking industry such as macroeconomics, accounting, or Citi's products. Some were delivered by Citis senior bankers, but most of them are qualified professors whom we have invited.
I think another benefit for us is that we have many online training opportunities. If you have time, you can do it every day. These are things like product training, risk-related training, regulation training, management skills or soft skills training.
Vault Q: How many MAs participated in the training session?
A: For our batch, it was 20 or so MAs, and they came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Because we have built a strong relationship during the program, we have been keeping in touch until now.
Vault Q: How do you find working for a foreign MNC vs. your perception of working for a local company?
A: I think foreign companies may pay more attention to your attitude, learning ability and teamwork and your independent working ability. In a foreign company they will pay more attention to efficiency -- There are tight deadlines. And you don't just have one task, you have many tasks. You must learn to be efficient, and the ability to work independently is very important.
As for the teamwork this will be emphasized by every company, whether foreign or domestic. In large foreign companies, there are many departments, so you should work together with your colleagues in the same department, but also on a large scale, you should work together with colleagues in other departments too.
At Citi, my colleagues may come from different majors, like science, technology, engineering it doesn't matter. Citi looks more at your soft skills or your potential ability. No matter what major you were, if they think you have potential, they are interested in you.
For domestic companies it's different. If you want to apply for a position, they say the major background should be "blah, blah blah." If you have an irrelevant major, you may not receive the opportunity for interview.
Vault Q: And what about the interview process? How did you find it different for MNCs vs. local companies?
A: Generally speaking, MNCs may pay close attention to your characters -- whether you're open-minded, or you're communicative - so in the interview it's more casual than nervous, and the atmosphere is quite friendly. At a domestic company, they may ask many questions about things that are in your resume, however in a foreign firm, they may ask more about your opinions on things.
Vault Q: Were your interviews in English?
A: At least in Citi, from the very beginning, all of the interviews were in English except the group discussion, we were allowed to speak Mandarin, but when you went through one-on-one interview, English is necessary and major language we practice.
Vault Q: And what about using English on the job?
A: I think it depends on the department. When you're in the front office for those global top-tier customers, English is certainly essential because they're not Chinese client. But when talking to local regulators, we use our mother language Chinese. However, when we contact with global colleagues, we switch to English again.