Covering the 6 weeks of the Nordic holiday season for our colleagues here in Singapore was both a great opportunity for me personally as well as a well-deserved break for the team!
By Jani Valtonen
If at first you don’t succeed…
Like Jakob wrote two weeks ago about his experience in New York, I too missed the annual opportunity in 2017 to go to Nordea Markets’ international units either in New York or Singapore to help the team with the holiday season. However, it seems that persistency and leaving a good impression is key as I was accepted for 2018.
Nordea in Singapore
Nordea has been in Singapore since the 1980s. Our mandate and mission are to serve 1) Nordic clients and their interests here in the Asia and Pacific region, 2) selected shipping and offshore companies in their global needs, as well as 3) Asian financial institutions. Singapore serves the whole region with our cross-border banking services as our branch in Shanghai covers the customers’ needs in mainland China. So, if the companies want to create APAC cash pools, get financing in the local currencies, or hedge their FX exposure, we are here to help.
Nordea Markets serves the same clients as the branch, but we also work as a bridge between New York and the Scandies, as the global financial markets never sleep. This means the team in New York can go home at the end of the business day after the responsibilities are handed over to us. Then we cover the Asian business hours, meaning that we follow the market and customer orders as well as transact trades for customers when they have the need. We stay in the office until local business hours are done and the Nordics have taken over the customer chats. We call it 24/5 service, as we serve our customers around the clock from Monday morning when the markets open in Asia, to Friday evening when they ring the closing bell on Wall Street.
Singapore – Asia for beginners
Singapore is a small, tech-savvy and very wealthy city state that is a centre for business and trade, as well as one of the largest financial centres in the world. It also has one of the world’s busiest ports and numerous APAC headquarters of many multinational corporations. Singapore also ranks very high on many international rankings. Here one can clearly see the rising importance of China and the rest of Asia for the global economy, and we are here just in the middle of it. It is also kind of a western introduction to Asian cultures as the infrastructure, digitalisation and security are on a very high level, and everything just works.
As there is so much international business here, a large share of the 5,6 million residents are foreigners. This has two outcomes: 1) there are many cultures meeting and 2) there are so many expats and people working on projects coming and going that people are very easy to meet. Adding here to the equation also very active business associations you can find a lot of different events for networking and mingling, both businesswise and socially. For me the best example of this was the chance to host a Networking Reception for Finnish ICT companies and investors in our branch together with the local Finnish Business Council and the Finnish Embassy.
Foreign trade expert gone abroad
I have been in Nordea almost for 10 years now, which is a rather long time for a 31-year old guy. Most of that time I have been in Nordea Markets and in the FX department in different roles. My main responsibility has been to ensure that our clients know what risks they are facing when using foreign currencies in their business, as well as to help them to find right hedging solutions and execute them. In recent years the focus has shifted towards more of a partnership with the clients, how our solutions in the foreign trade could support our clients to grow profitably, meaning how to increase their sales or reduce costs. This means that I have been highly involved in a work group that covers all the product areas that are relating to foreign trade, from cash management to markets solutions, as well as financing solutions from Trade Finance and Nordea Finance.
Our operations in Singapore, like all our international operations, offer a great usage for this kind of background because as a smaller branch, entrepreneurship and cross-unit collaboration is very essential here in finding the right solutions for our customers. The summer was a great introduction for me to see how these services are used and to try to find more ways how we could support our clients to go abroad, especially to here in Asia. So, my summer was not only doing FX and MM transactions but a journey to find our broader relevance in the region. My personal feeling is that there could be more opportunities for us to be the trusted partner for our Nordic customers here in Asia Pacific.
The life outside of the office
Singapore is a perfect place to make new contacts both professionally as well as privately. The city has its share of expats and foreigners working for international companies and different projects, so people are constantly coming and going. What else could be a better way to meet people than combining it with the wide offering of different cuisines from all over the world. Singapore is one of the cities in the world where you can eat almost anything you want, and the offering starts from the Hawker Centres (local food courts) where you get a decent meal for few SGDs to the high-end Michelin star places. I cannot even state all the local specialities that I have tried here, not only because there have been multiple occasions where I was not sure what I was actually eating, but if the locals were enjoying it, I had to taste it too.
And then there is the heat, together with the humidity. It is almost the same day and night as well as around the whole year. As a fast walker from the Nordics you start to realise after a while why all the locals are walking so slowly when you end up to the office all sweaty. But you get used to it and the shorts and flipflops are the easiest choice in your free time. Also, there is usually a pool somewhere or you can go to the huge shopping centres just to look around (and enjoy the A/C).
And then you cannot understate the fact that the central location of Singapore offers so many possibilities for the life side of work life balance, for long weekends as well as for proper holidays in the region. You can fly from here either to Hong Kong, Maldives or to Perth in West Australia roughly in the same time (5 hours). So, no wonder that Singapore has benefitted from the very central location. After my summer assignment was finished I myself spent a week in Bali, Indonesia, and was lucky to see the many different places and aspects of the local culture and nature, and to miss any real damage from the earthquakes that were very active in the region.
My experience in Singapore during the summer was extraordinary and I can highly recommend it to anybody that has international aspirations and wants to try it out in a totally new concept. I also love the idea that Nordea offers this kind of opportunities to our employees, even without the long working experience that I have. There is also another aspect of this. When I came here I also knew that there was one expat contract on the table, so the focus was a little more serious than just six weeks of hard work and play. I was lucky enough to get the deal and now I have moved back here three weeks ago. So, I can with confidence say that the summer experience definitely opens doors for future steps in your career.
I want to thank the whole team here in Singapore for the great summer as well as the whole team back in Helsinki for their support.
And for me personally it was a great feeling arriving back in Singapore after having been in the Nordics for close to two months and as I stepped of the plane it felt like home!
Greetings from Singapore,
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