We spoke to Shelley Gao, who works as an Associate for J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong, in the Prime Brokerage Sales team. Shelley is a graduate from Stanford University (International Relations) and The University of Oxford (Politics), and did an internship at the bank in the summer of 2013, before she joined full-time.
“One of the things I love about the culture at J.P. Morgan is that I have a voice. I can put forward new ideas and I have real opportunities to learn.”
What made you decide on a career in an investment bank?
“I have always been passionate about making an impact and driving progress, and saw a career in an investment bank as a way of achieving my aspirations.
“After spending a summer at J.P. Morgan, I realized the tremendous reach and influence a global investment bank has on our society. Whether it is financing hedge funds, raising capital for corporations or providing credit to consumers and non-profits, the work we do fundamentally matters. We, as a global bank, have a significant impact and I am proud to be part of a firm that plays such an important role in supporting our communities.”
How valuable was your internship at J.P. Morgan?
“I spent ten weeks at the firm over the summer of 2013. It was extremely valuable and an amazing learning experience, especially for someone like me from a non-finance background. It was challenging and fulfilling at the same time, and involved me rotating between different desks, meeting and exchanging ideas with senior managers, and attending training sessions.
“My internship made me appreciate what happens day-to-day on the trading floor, and understand the culture of the firm. In particular I loved spending time on the floor: it’s very dynamic, and was a great way to see the impact and scale of what happens there.
“Interns at J.P. Morgan have a great opportunity to move between teams, which really helps them to understand the business. Mentors are also on hand to provide them with useful tips and advice.”
What attracted you to work in Investor Services?
“Prime Brokerage is a business under the Investor Services division that offers a holistic platform for our clients. We help to provide financing for our hedge fund clients, and a suite of other value-added services. “I started my career there at a very interesting time, after we had acquired the Prime Brokerage business from Bear Sterns. It was a very US-centric model, and J.P. Morgan saw an opportunity to expand this internationally. As such, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to be part of a growth story at the firm that’s at the forefront of our strategy.
“I’m tremendously grateful to be having such an impact at an early stage of my career; and proud to participate in the firm’s development in Asia.”
How steep has the learning curve been, given that your studies were not finance related?
“The transition from university life to the corporate world is generally steep. For someone from my background, the initial challenges were related to technical skills and product knowledge, understanding how the market operates, and the analytics behind pricing models, as well as different asset classes.
“The key aspect that made the learning curve manageable was the global analyst training programme, which brought together analysts from all over the world, who spent eight weeks in New York City learning everything - from bond pricing to derivatives, and other financial concepts. It was so helpful for me, and allowed me to meet people from across the world and develop a powerful support network of other analysts.
“I also really appreciate the supportive learning environment that my team has helped to foster. We have a close team and a very open culture, which allows people of all seniority to ask questions. Everyone’s views are respected and management is very supportive of providing training opportunities. What has been most useful for me is watching and learning from senior salespeople interacting with clients and originating new business.”
What is the work culture like at J.P. Morgan?
“It’s very diverse and inclusive. J.P. Morgan recognises that there is strength in diversity among its workforce, given the breadth of its client base, and so it places real emphasis on diversity.
“The bank has created Business Resource Groups (BRGs) that bring together members around common interests and shared affinities, including gender, sexual orientation, generation, etc. I personally served on the leadership committee of the WIN (Women’s Interactive Network) group, which is focused on the successful retention, development and advancement of women at our organization. I also helped to launch the first female summer intern mentorship program in Hong Kong.
“It’s noticeable to me how much resource is made available to foster growth and development of analysts and associates. We have a dedicated Analyst & Associate Development Council that organizes desk shadowing, and panels that help us with year-end evaluations and mobility opportunities.
“One of the things I love about the culture at J.P. Morgan is that I have a voice. I can put forward new ideas and I have real opportunities to learn. It’s a lean and flat organisation. You always have access to managers, plus you have a real influence in shaping strategy.”
What made you decide to start you career in Asia? What do you like about living and working there?
“It’s a very enriching and exciting place. Professionally, I was motivated to come to Asia because of the diversity of markets and clients; each market has its own nuances. Asia is also a huge growth area, both for the bank, and for me in terms of my knowledge and skill set. As J.P. Morgan is so strongly committed to the region, working here makes for a very impactful start to my career.
“On a personal note, my family is originally from Shanghai, and so I’ve always wanted to return here and explore Asia.”
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“First and foremost, the people. Banking is all about people. I’m lucky to be part of a terrific team with a great manager mentor. There’s good camaraderie in the broader team too. I’ve learned a lot from them in terms of how to work with clients and colleagues, and incorporated some of their techniques into my own style. We also have the opportunity to work with some very sophisticated clients, who represent some of the best investors in the world.
“Second, the space to be myself. I feel accepted here, and that my voice is noticed and my opinions listened to by senior people. Whether it is related to business strategy or the people development agenda, I have found the firm to offer a lot of freedom for individuals to champion initiatives, lead projects and to make an impact and lead. The firm is very supportive of its junior talents”
What advice and tips do you have for other grads looking to join J.P. Morgan?
“There is definitely a place here for graduates who’ve studied non-finance subjects, be that humanities, social sciences or engineering. There’s something here for everyone, because of the breadth of clients we work with, and the variety of roles on offer.
“I wasn’t sure if I would fit in, but I’ve been here three years now. You can really find a place where you will be a good fit: something that merges your intellectual skills with your interests, and that you’ll enjoy.
“Any students or graduates interested in working for J.P. Morgan should also take advantage of events to find out more about working at the firm. Presentations on university campus, or other networking events, allow you to find out what drives the markets and the macro environment, and will be helpful for any investment banking career.”