MS SELENE Cheng, 33, heads the Asia Pacific eCommerce team for Citi’s Global Markets business from the Singapore office.
Citi is headquartered in New York but is known as a global financial services company. Its Asia-Pacific operations raked in more than 30 per cent of Citicorp’s net income last year.
Its 8,200-strong Singapore office also makes Citi the largest financial services employer here.
At the Global Markets division, Ms Cheng and her team deal with the sales and implementation of foreign exchange (forex) electronic trading platforms for corporate and institutional clients.
“These are user-friendly, cutting-edge online platforms that do away with the ‘phone call to a salestrader’ and enable institutional clients such as banks, hedge funds and corporations, to execute their trades at extremely competitive pricing,” she says.
“Our team has to constantly keep ahead of competition. The e-Commerce environment is one that’s constantly evolving, there’s always a better and faster tool, a new enhancement to the existing version — it’s a never-ending game.”
Ms Cheng joined Citi in 1998 as a management associate (MA).
There are various career development tracks in Citi, but its MA programme is one of the most prestigious as it is geared towards grooming candidates for leadership positions.
She accepted the challenge because her impression of Citi through the selection interviews was one that is “empowering, dynamic and a great place to learn”.
She says: “Citi’s Global Markets division provides a fast-paced environment. I wanted to come to work surrounded by high-energy people.”
Starting out in the Corporate Sales & Structuring division in the Global Markets business, she provided corporate and institutional clients with a spectrum of solutions ranging from forex and interest rates to commodities.
She loved the combination of classroom product training and on-the-job training, where her seniors would “actually spend time and teach her the ropes of the trade”.
“I felt empowered to take on responsibilities from the start,” she recalls.
Two years into the job, she was nominated for the Citi Asia Pacific Fast-TraX programme.
From 2000 to 2002, she worked in New York with the Export and Agency Finance team.
It was a job that required dealing with banks, development agencies and large companies to address their infrastructure development needs in the areas of oil and gas, power, shipping, housing and energy.
She recalls: “It was an eye-opener since the gestation period of a deal was much longer. It might take six months to two years to close a deal.
“It’s a different kind of ball game compared to the forex environment, where picking up the phone and closing a trade takes a matter of seconds.”
A whole new level
Her quantum leap, however, came after a stint in Korea, following Citi’s acquisition of the Koram bank in 2005.
“I probably would have stayed in Korea longer, but I got a phone call from my boss asking me to return to New York to head the Markets e-Commerce team for Latin America,” she says.
“It’s basically a success transfer from Asia to Latin America, taking our experience and knowledge in the sales and implementation of e-Commerce platforms across the region, which I have been engaged in since 2004.”
Taking on her first managerial position, she was involved in building the entire team almost from scratch, including hiring and training new hires, developing strategies for the business, setting targets and motivating others to achieve challenging goals.
Her work trips took her across Central and South America, to countries like Jamaica, Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico.
Today, after working across time zones, she is back in Singapore heading Citi’s Asia Pacific eCommerce team.
She says: “Working well with people is important. Very little of your success comes from working alone.”
To those keen on following in her footsteps, she adds: “Keep an open mind instead of having a fixed idea of what you may be tasked to do.
“Leverage the global footprint and diverse businesses of the bank.
“Citi’s career mobility offers opportunities for eye-opening experiences that are invaluable and will stay with you for many years to come.”