BANKERS are often depicted in the movies as having glamorous, jet-setting lifestyles, but when Mr Bahren Shaari started out in the industry, it was quite a different picture altogether.

As a junior banker in the private banking unit of American Express back in 1988, he spent his days ploughing through a phone directory, cold-calling businessmen in Indonesia to rope them into becoming clients.

Any so-called jet-setting involved short trips every other week to Jakarta and Bandung to visit industrial areas where his potential and existing clients, mostly textile manufacturers, were based.

By comparison, today's young bankers have it easy, says Mr Bahren, 52, now a managing director and the global marketing head of Bank of Singapore, OCBC's private banking arm.

"Young bankers receive training now. In the past, you were on your own, a one-man operation with your briefcase and your cold calls. Nobody would tell you anything or give you clients," he says.

But it was this rigorous approach to banking from the ground up that held him in good stead over the years as he steadily climbed the ranks.

"That is how I learnt about how to be targeted. I learnt everything I needed to know about the textiles sector while I was covering the business then," he says.

After working at Amex for six years, Mr Bahren moved to UBS, where he spent 13 years and rose to managing director of UBS Wealth Management and head of the bank's South-east Asia and Australia marketing team.

In January 2009, he joined ING Private Bank, only to see it acquired by OCBC six months later and renamed Bank of Singapore.

Throughout it all, he says, he was always fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

Mr Bahren decided to leave accountancy and switch to a job in banking just as private banks became interested in the South-east Asian market, and Indonesia in particular. His fluency in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia made him an especially attractive candidate.

When he joined UBS, it still had just a small presence in Singapore, and he was able to "ride along" as the bank grew its business rapidly.

"And when I joined Bank of Singapore, there was a growing demand for Asian private banks as Asia was experiencing good growth relative to Europe," he recalls.

He brings not only that lucky streak to Bank of Singapore, but also more than 25 years of experience and a solid understanding of what it means to be a good private banker.

So, what makes a good banker, in his book?

Primarily, a good banker would be one who advises clients to stick to quality assets.

As a rule, he says, bankers and their clients should be able to answer positively when asked the question: If the market collapsed tomorrow, would you be prepared to hold on to the investments that you have in your portfolio today?

"Risk management should be your number one priority. Investment returns are only number two," he says.

"A banker should pull back the client when the going is very good because that is when people tend to be too exuberant and act excessively. And in a crisis, when the markets are in the pits, a banker has to be grounded and not add to the client's fears."

Another trait of a good banker, Mr Bahren notes, is having breadth of knowledge and a keen understanding of human psychology.

That is why the father of three children - aged 25, 22 and 18 - spends much of his free time reading voraciously, from Russian literature to business books.

"You need to have a wide range of talking points - the industry your client is in, microeconomics, macroeconomics, lifestyle. I also learn a lot about people from reading. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Stendhal, I read everything. And now, I am reading The Everything Store, the book about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos."

Being a young banker today is tough work, he admits, with so much competition in the market and clients growing more savvy and demanding.

"Before, a relationship with a client could go a long way, but today, nobody banks with you because of their relationship with you alone. Now, there is a wider range of investment products - and more complex products too. You need to know the products and be able to advise correctly."

Still, he says, one does not have to be a genius to be a good banker - having good social skills can go a long way.

"It is not always the smartest person who is the best banker. You must be intelligent enough, but if you are too smart, have a view of everything in life and start to impose it on others, that doesn't always work," he says.