A Career in DBS — DBS Bank’s MD Soh Siew Choo On Getting Hired and Becoming a Manager

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Ask anyone and chances are, they’ve probably upon a time applied for a job in the banking industry. There’s a certain prestige tied to the industry — when people think of banks (as employers), they think of fat paychecks, generous bonuses and good perks.

They may not be wrong, but the tricky part is landing a job and carving a career there.


Scoring a career in a local bank — an interview with DBS Managing Director Soh Siew Choo

As part of “What It Takes”, a podcast series by MoneySmart and Workforce Singapore (WSG), we interview Soh Siew Choo, Managing Director and Group Head of Consumer Banking and Big Data/AI Technology.

Listen to the full podcast here:


About Soh Siew Choo (DBS Bank, Managing Director and Group Head of Consumer Banking and Big Data/AI Technology)

Siew Choo may be a big shot at DBS today, but she quite literally started from bottom and worked her way up. Upon graduating from computer science in university, Siew Choo applied to all the big tech firms like IBM and Hewlett Packard, but they turned her down.

Unfazed, she tried her luck with the banks and snagged a job as a programmer. “I did a lot of hardcore development work at the start of my career — for many years — before I slowly progressed to be a manager,” she says.

So how did she rise up the ranks? How does one transition from being a “doer” to a “manager”?

Here are some of the interview highlights where Siew Choo shares her journey to the top, as well as advice for those hoping to get hired and/or promoted in the banking industry.


Rising up the ranks in DBS Bank

“I started as programmer, and slowly progressed to a manager of developers, and started to learn about other products within the bank. That’s how I started my career.

I learnt that it’s a journey. It’s not natural for me to want to manage people; I prefer creating.

But soon in my career I realised that I couldn’t do it all on my own. In order to make a bigger impact, you need to rely on other people. That’s where the managerial roles came in.”

Siew Choo’s tips for being an effective manager:

  • Learn from other people’s mistakes, especially those who’ve done it before.
  • You’ll definitely make mistakes, be prepared for it.
  • Be open to good and especially bad feedback.


How Siew Choo interviews new hires for a career in DBS

“When I interview people, the first question I ask is: what are you passionate about? If you can’t tell me anything, you most likely won’t get a job with me.

It means you don’t know what you want, and what you stand for. It’s hard for you to excel.

After that, I think about how I should match you to a role that can make use of your passion and your strength. If you marry the two, it will produce excellent results.

If you don’t know what your passion is, you have to keep going to find the answer.”


You don’t necessarily need banking knowledge for a banking career

“People always think that in order to be successful in a bank, you need to have banking knowledge.

That’s completely wrong — you can be very successful even without it. In (DBS Bank), we have many people from different disciplines.

We look very wide and far and keep a very open mind about where (our hires) should or can come from. We use global hackathons, we talk to people from different industries — tech, media and etc — and we try to convince these people that banking knowledge is not necessarily a prerequisite. This is how we create diversity.

One of my favourite quotes is by Alvin Toffler, who said, ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’

The world is changing all the time, so what you learnt 2 years ago may not be relevant anymore. In order to stay relevant, you need to actually learn it all, and not just say that you know it all.

You need to continuously upgrade yourself. If you don’t have this mindset — the curiosity quotient, we call it — you’ll soon be outdated.”


Millennial managers help teams stay relevant

“There are 2 millennials on the management team, and their job is to tell us how we should change the way we think to be relevant to them, and how to make sure we adjust the environment to be suitable for millennials.

I think that there should not be one stereotype (for millennials). I have millennials in my team and in the management team, and I find that as long as you provide them with vision and meaning, they are willing to do what it takes to get there.

Monetary is one aspect of things, but millennials are ambitious, and they want to make an impact.”


Tips on getting promoted to a manager

“First I will ask, ‘Why do you want to be a manager?’ There must be a motivation. And only if that motivation is right, then you go on to think about how you can get the skills to be an effective manager.

A lot of people think that in order to progress in your career, you must be a manager. I totally disagree with that.

Becoming a manager is not the only path to excellence in your job or getting a promotion. An individual contributor or someone who can make a big impact on others or lead, can also progress or be promoted.

That’s why I’d like to know the motivation. If you think being a manager is the only way to be recognised, then I think that’s the wrong motivation.”


Do you have any tips for others pursuing a career in a bank? Share your experience with us in the comments below!