- The corporate banking sector in India is set to grow by 15% in 2023, reaching a value of $1 trillion.
- Harvansh Grover, Regional Head at HDFC Bank’s Conglomerates & Large Corporate division, South India shares how he always aspired to be a banker and as a CA fresher started with Citi in the Operations profile.
- Here are his experiences and learnings he acquired on the way to building a Career as a Corporate Banker.
CA turned Corporate Banker
Growing up, I was surrounded by family and neighbors who were either CAs or worked in the finance industry.
Thus, it was clear that I wanted to become a CA and pursue a career in banking. Yes, I always aspired to be a banker right from my school days.
Fast forward to 2005, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant.
Having no in-depth knowledge of what banking had to offer as a career, I accepted a job offer with Citi Bank, Delhi in Transaction Banking, on the operations profile.
I was open to the idea that if I could gain entry through operations, I would make the best of it, and figure things out over time.
As CAs, we extensively learn about taxes, audits, and accounting but not banking. So, when I joined Citi I had no prior knowledge about letters of credit or bank guarantees, I relied on on-the-job learning.
Having immersed myself in transaction banking for three years, I realized that I wanted to work with CFOs, Managing Directors, and promoters. And it was only possible by venturing into a front-end Corporate Banking role.
Transitioning from operations to a client-facing Corporate Banking role was not so straightforward. The typical path involved becoming a service manager or a product sales manager first before leaping into the desired position.
Many of my seniors suggested, “Why don’t you pursue an MBA as a stepping stone?”
Taking their advice, I applied to the Indian School of Business (ISB) for an MBA and was selected.
Coincidentally, I received an offer from Citibank for a role in Corporate Banking. (Luck was truly on my side.)
Perplexed, I approached my mentor, and he said, “If you are sure that you want to be a Corporate Banker then you need not necessarily obtain another degree.”
I took his advice and in 2010 joined Citibank as a Relationship Manager for the Corporate and Investment Banking division in Pune, India.
After 13 years at Citibank, in 2019, I joined the Corporate Banking division at HDFC as a Unit Head, overseeing the North Indian region.
Two years later, I assumed the role of Regional Head for the Corporate Banking division, overseeing the South India region.
But all of this did not come without challenges and a steep learning curve.
Transitioning from Operations to Corporate Banker was a significant learning experience.
Initially, I relocated from Delhi to Pune, taking on the challenge of overseeing a new market.
I was responsible for managing top-tier corporate clients of Citibank located in North America, Europe, and Asia, with operations in Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore.
It was not easy, but with the support of my colleagues, my determination, and my passion, I gradually adapted and succeeded. I learned a valuable lesson here: ‘Don’t shy away from seeking help from the right people.’
My other learnings were,
Balancing multiple roles:
Corporate Banking is a very niche profile. Corporate Bankers support different forms of financing; from working capital to advisory services spanning from equity fundraising through IPOs or private placements with private equity to debt capital market advisory for bond raising, among others.
As a Corporate Banker, you have to wear multiple hats from underwriting to providing various other solutions to clients. As a result, you may invariably end up spending too much time in the office.
Then again, building client relationships is key, and that is only possible when you get to know your clients well.
I had to consciously develop the habit of being in front of the clients more often than being in the office.
Understanding client needs and the industry:
Since my clients belonged to diverse sectors such as consumer healthcare, technology, pharma, and automobile, I had to thoroughly prepare before meetings.
This involved understanding their business, the industry they operated in, reviewing their performance from the last quarter, and identifying the challenges they were facing.
Another critical aspect of this role is conducting thorough due diligence.
For instance, it is essential to resist the temptation to make decisions based solely on a good balance sheet.
Since I was handling multinational corporations (MNCs) located overseas, I had to consider various dynamics, such as cross-border risks, industry risks, and potential challenges that the firm could encounter.
These were some significant lessons I acquired during my time as a Corporate Banker.
Want to start as a Corporate Banker?
I studied in a Hindi-medium school and was quite a shy kid. By no stretch of the imagination could I have called myself an extrovert.
You need not be flamboyant, exceptionally good-looking, or dress extraordinarily to become a Corporate Banker. These are all overdone perceptions or assumptions.
Here are the skills/qualities you need to have to be a Corporate Banker.
For a corporate banker, I believe that having a basic knowledge of financial statements is a must. Sometimes, clients would expect you to possess greater insight into their balance sheet and business, possibly more than they have.
Corporate Banking is not about doing one deal, making extra profits, and moving on. You prioritize building strong client relationships, which requires earning their trust over time.
Establishing this trust paves the way for future opportunities, as they will readily consider you when new prospects arise.
Provide creative solutions:
Over 140 banks are operating in India with more than 200,000 Corporate Bankers. What will set you apart in attracting clients?
If you understand your clients well and provide quick solutions to their needs, they will not mind paying you 10 or 20 basis points extra in coupon or advisory fees. Your ability to offer creative solutions while adhering to regulations is vital.
People close to me often describe me as having ‘wheels in my heels’ since I have a habit of not staying in one location for long.
Mobility is a significant factor in my growth as a Corporate Banker.
Ask the right questions:
If you are genuinely comfortable being in front of clients, asking the right questions, and enjoying solving problems that’s all you need.
Most importantly, enjoy the work you do. A role in corporate banking may pay higher than transaction banking, but if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t be able to dedicate time to it.
Do not be discouraged if you start in an operations profile. I too started in an operations profile,
Spending a couple of years in operations will teach you about cash management, trade services, letters of credit, bank guarantees, and ED PMS and ID PMS.
When you eventually become a Corporate Banker, you will feel more confident facing clients because you have already gained hands-on experience.
You cannot be a Rockstar Banker overnight… You must invest time and effort.
The Indian banking industry is one of the most vibrant and exciting spaces.
The penetration of banking services in India is one of the lowest among emerging and developed markets worldwide, presenting endless growth potential.
Additionally, the country attracts continuous investments from multinational companies, reflected in FDI Statistics.
The retail banking space in India has also seen astronomical growth, especially with the rise of UPI and digital banking, creating opportunities in the fintech sector.
These opportunities across the public sector, private sector, and MNCs, promise exciting times for people who want to start their careers in banking.