Step into a bank and you will notice impeccably dressed frontline staff with brilliant smiles.

But beneath that facade is a dog-eat-dog world, where good looks sell and client-stealing is commonplace, confesses this bank officer, whose formal designation is "relationship manager".

In a nutshell, explains Jenny, who asks that we do not reveal her real name, the job of a relationship manager is to service and maintain the financial portfolios of clients.

Often, this includes courting investment amounts and peddling financial products, which then yield commission.

Relationship managers sometimes get so desperate that they resort to unscrupulous tactics, including stealing the customers of their colleagues, she says.

"We all have a list of clients assigned to us, usually of the opposite gender, because it's just easier to sell that way.

"Client-stealing happens when another manager gets close to your client and as a result, the boss orders a re-assignment," she says, adding that it has happened to her several times in the past.

"You can't do much about it, but what really gets under my skin is when the manager closes a deal with the client without first letting the boss know that the client prefers him,"she says.

But confrontation about the "stealing" never happens.

"It's so competitive. We won't talk about these things in the open," she adds.

The emphasis on good looks is high in this line, she adds.

"Plastic surgery is quite common. Breast enhancements, work on the face. People don't confront each other about it obviously, but we all know it's done in the hopes of getting ahead in this career," she says, and denies going under the knife.

Those who find surgery too drastic usually resort to plunging necklines and short skirts.

"Usually the younger ones tend to place more emphasis on looks to outshine the more experienced managers.

"Appearance is important but other factors, like knowledge, sincerity, and people skills are the things that really matter in the long run," she says with a tone of confidence.

At her bank, there is an arbitrary dress code to follow: V-neck tops are technically not allowed, and skirts should not be "too far above the knee".

Still, there are those who pay no heed to these guidelines.

"I've had colleagues who get clients complaining to bosses about their dressing. But even after their bosses give them feedback, they still persist," she says with a chuckle.

"Just walk into any bank and you will see what I'm talking about," she says matter-of-factly.

Wining and dining is also part of the job, especially when you are inexperienced and fresh-faced.

"It's very normal to see bankers socialising with bosses and people from other banks, then getting so drunk at clubs and bars it's ugly," she says.

The line between professional and personal sometimes gets blurred.

"I've had clients ask me out to dinner, or to take me on overseas trips which last a few weeks, but I've always been careful to draw the line clearly.

"I've heard of managers getting sacked after getting too close to a client," she reveals.

When the topic turns to private bankers - whom Jenny says most relationship managers aspire to be - she reveals that there is a less-glamorous aspect few know about.

 

"These people service high net worth individuals (the banking term for people who have assets in the millions of dollars). But their lives are hard. Besides having to wake up at about 6am to keep abreast with market conditions, I've heard of them walking the dogs of their clients," she says.

Such services are part of going the extra mile for clients you really value, she adds.

And while she has not gone as far as walking dogs to get on the good side of her clients, Jenny has played secretary.

"There was once a client's son who lost his wallet in the UK, and I had to arrange for replacement credit cards to be sent to him," she says.

She also debunks the myth that it is easy for models and air stewardesses to get into private banking.

"It may have been that way in the past, but in recent times, especially after the Lehman Brothers crisis, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has tightened regulations, such that you need to pass a series of exams before you are able to get into banking," she says, adding that taking these exams does not come cheap.

"Each exam costs between $100 and $200 to take, and some people require five to six attempts to pass. In total, there are about six external papers and also internal exams. You can imagine how it all adds up," she says.

There is also a high level of on-the-job stress to deal with, she says.

"If you don't hit your targets for about three to six months, you get letters stating that you might get sacked," she says.

Although she has not been formally served a letter, the worry is always there.

"It's very stressful when you hear that the management has their eye on you because you haven't been performing," she says.

 

And if you think the ultra-rich clients are the most difficult to serve, it is not the case, she says.

"The worst kind of clients are those who fit the profile of an average affluent individual but acts as though he owns the world."

"I remember this client, who used to call every single hotline in the bank just to get preferential rates for a deposit.

"Her request made it all the way up to the senior members of the bank, but was not approved. It's just very irritating and wastes everyone's time," she gripes.

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

1) Develop a very thick skin – rejection is part and parcel of working in this line. You can work for six months on a case and then lose millions at the end because of a simple “no”.

2 ) Learning to mimic the accents sported by clients of different nationalities might help you connect with them better and clinch a sale. Just don’t overdo it.

3) Don’t underestimate the power of follow-up phone calls, even if just to say hello. Keep your existence in the consciousness of your client.