5 Tips For Picking Up Banking Domain Knowledge

If you're starting out in the banking industry, one of the struggles you'd have is picking up the requisite "banking domain knowledge.

Let's face it - if you don't have banking domain knowledge, it would be tough to run a banking project successfully for your stakeholders or clients.

Imagine running a workshop to gather e.g. system requirements for a new core banking system and one of your stakeholders asks "So how do we handle Letters of Credit in the new system?"

If you can't answer or even understand what he or she is asking, it could be disastrous to your credibility as a Banking BA.

But how do you pick up banking domain knowledge? Through reading? Online courses or part-time certifications? Or on-the-job training?

These are the questions I'll attempt to answer in this article - I'll provide you with five tips I've applied very successfully for picking up banking industry knowledge. I'll assume you're a newbie to the banking industry, without prior banking knowledge.

Tip 1 - Get An Overview of The Banking Industry

First up, the most important tip I have is this - get an overview of the banking industry first. When I started out as a Banking Business Analyst, I went "all out", devouring textbooks, online articles and glossaries on banking - but I ended up with a lot of disorganized information.

I might understand what a bond coupon is from Investopedia, and how payment systems work in the US market, but the bits of information were all disjointed. I couldn't see banking end-to-end.

That's why I advocate all of my junior banking consultants to start off getting an overview or map of the banking industry. Get a "Table of Contents" first so you can see the big picture, the forest, as such. Then zoom in on particular details.

As a newbie, I'd rather invest one hour of my time understanding, at a broad level, what types of banking are there, how banks make money, who are their customers, what are their operations, etc. than read 100 pages on how banking credit risk works.

Tip 2 - Take Up A Certification or Course

The second tip I have, once you've understood the banking industry as a whole, is to take up a certification or course that covers a broad swathe of topics you're interested in.

For example:

  • If you're interested in private banking, take up a course that covers private banking front-to-back.
  • If you're interested in banking risk management, take up a course that covers banking risk management, e.g. things like the Basel accord, as well as credit, market and operational risk.
  • If you're interested in trading, take up a course that covers how banks perform trading and the types of products and strategies they use.

Some people have told me you don't have to take up a course. Just buy say, five books on the banking topics that interest you and start reading.

Well, I disagree. I think that taking up a formal certification or course helps you (1) focus your energy by attending classes, (2) gain an accreditation that you can quote on your resume.

Forcing a class schedule on yourself will ensure you have the discipline to keep learning, as compared to reading on your own. And if you're gaining knowledge, you may as well have something to show for it, by earning an accreditation at the end of your course.

I find that a good certification or course should have broad enough content, and be well-recognized so that it will shine through in your resume. Some of the better recommendations I have for certifications and courses are:

  • Chartered Financial Analyst - very well recognized certification and covers a broad range of banking and portfolio management topics
  • Masters of Finance - pick a good, reputable program that is well-recognized. It many of the same topics as a CFA. I did my Masters in Financial Engineering at the National University of Singapore.

Tip 3 - Get On-The-Job Experience

At the same time you're studying for your certification or course, I'd recommend you get some on-the-job experience in banking. Most people agree that getting on-the-job experience is a huge differentiator when it comes to breaking into banking.

Here, I'm assuming you have no prior experience in banking at all - perhaps you're a student, or you're an experienced professional from another industry.

Here are two options are available to you:

Get an internship - this is the perfect opportunity to rack up banking experience if you're a student. Many schools hook up with banks and I suggest you get one within a bank, or failing which, you secure one with a banking consultancy firm that provides services to banks.

Volunteer for a banking project - if you work for a large firm (e.g. IT professional services firms come to mind) - you may be able to volunteer to do projects for another sector in your firm.

Case Study: Early in my career, I started out with an American IT professional services - doing projects in the government and insurance sectors. But I really wanted to do banking. So I set out to reach out to partners in the firm's Banking and Capital Markets practice and did work for free. Over time, I built up quite an impressive portfolio of projects and also got to network with the banking partners as well.

Tip 4 - Attend Industry Trade Events

Trade events are a relatively unknown source of banking domain knowledge.

The trick that I used early in my career was to go to the banking vendors or universities. Think the likes of Temenos, Avaloq, Murex, SunGard, etc. Or the Big 4 consultancies like PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG, and universities that run banking & finance courses. Sometimes, the local CFA chapter in your country may also run information sessions.

What I'd do was to go to their website, monitor their News and Events page for upcoming events in my country (Singapore). Between the companies, they almost always have an event happening. It could be a panel event where they invite some speakers to talk about e.g. digital banking and how it influences the industry, how their system or product helps banks improve operational efficiency.

Most of the organizers will allow you to attend for free, or for a small fee - even if you're from another industry or not from banking. The organizers want maximum publicity and will be happy to cater to an additional guest or two. Trust me, I've tried it.

Besides the banking domain knowledge you can pick up from the speakers, the other thing you'd want to do is to network.

Networking helps you find job opportunities and industry trade events are one of the BEST resources for doing this. Make sure you have a little spiel on what you do, your professional aspirations etc. before you go to the event. And follow up after the event and email those the people you meet there.

And best of all, in most events, there's free food and drinks!

Tip 5 - Do Your Own Reading

You'll notice I left the last tip here as "do your own reading". I'm not a big advocate of "random reading", i.e. just picking up book after book about banking and reading.

As mentioned, I'd much prefer that you get a proper overview of the banking industry first, then attend a formal certification or course that you can insert into your resume. As you're getting your certification, try to get on-the-job experience and network at industry trade events.

What you should do is to do FOCUSED reading. By "focused" I mean that you read deep into topics that you're interested in. For example, two years back, I was very interested in private banking - so I read book after book on the topic (after I'd also attended courses, events and the like).

Typically, for a banking topic I'm interested in, my reading strategy to:

  • Pick up five books and read them cover to cover.
  • Bookmark three websites that on banking that I regularly read (e.g. on a daily basis); and
  • Importantly - I make mind map notes on what I've read on a weekly basis.

That last step is critical. I find that "reading without retaining knowledge" would be a waste of time. Learn to make notes from your reading and apply the knowledge - teach others, apply to your job, etc.

Wrapping Up ...

I hope the above has given you some great insight into how to pick up banking domain knowledge. As you can see, picking up banking know-how is not difficult, even if you're new to the industry.

What you do need to do is to be very focused and methodical in your knowledge accumulation. I always advocate getting an overview of what banks do first, then combine on-the-job experience, certifications / courses, trade events with personal reading to round off that expertise.

I promise that if you follow the above five tips, you will become a "banking domain expert" within two years, or earlier, if you intensify your networking and learning experiences.

If you're interested in picking up banking domain knowledge, do check out my book, "Banking Domain Knowledge for Business Analysts". I've provide you with a comprehensive, real-world overview of the banking industry (something very hard to find out there in textbooks).

I also give you strategies on gaining banking job experience and the best banking certifications & courses to take. I also give you a list of the best free banking industry trade events you can tap to learn even more about banking, along with my personnel "must-read" list of books and websites to stay up to date with banking developments.

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