Deutsche Bank's Satvinder Singh explains how the financial crisis shaped his management ethics and how Deutsche is looking beyond the financial downturn with its ambitious strategy 2015+ plan.

The shooting of US president John Kennedy, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11 are all moments that people tend to remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. The banking equivalent would be September 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a time that Satvinder Singh at Deutsche Bank remembers clearly. He was working in Citi’s global transaction services team, where he was in charge of the custody and clearing business in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and he soon became accustomed to a life of all-day conference calls.

“A crisis”, says Mr Singh “digs deep inside you, and you learn a lot about yourself, and how to keep a level head. When you are working 18 hours a day, humour and practicality keep you alive – it’s what motivates teams. It was those tough times that really taught me how team dynamics work. That six to 12-month period really shaped me as a manager.”

He had only been at Citi for a few months – after 15 years at HSBC – and with hindsight, 2008 was not a good year to be changing jobs in the banking industry.

Those lessons have prepared him for his current role, heading up the institutional cash and securities services business in Deutsche’s global transaction banking division. Fortunately, for Mr Singh and for Deutsche Bank, the focus is no longer on firefighting in a crisis, but instead building on a bold plan, which Deutsche’s CEOs have dubbed ‘strategy 2015+’.

Mr Singh has been at Deutsche Bank since November 2011, and has been part of the bank’s plan to make transaction banking a core strength. When the bank announced its strategy 2015+ plan in September 2012, it set some ambitious growth targets, and it also became the only major global bank to create a division that was dedicated to transaction banking.

Since then, global transaction banking division has undergone some more restructuring, in a bid to serve its clients better. In July 2014, the bank created a new unit in the global transaction banking division – institutional cash and securities services – which merged trust and securities services and cash management for financial institutions, and financial institutions and securities sales into one unit. The unit has three business lines: institutional cash, investor services and issuer services. As well as heading this unit, Mr Singh also holds a position on Deutsche Bank’s global transaction banking executive committee.

Such a global role requires an international mindset, something that Mr Singh definitely has. Mr Singh says that growing up, as a son of a diplomat, he had a “life of change, extremities and volatility”. What that has left him with is a cultural awareness that has made him open minded on a broad range of issues: “What works in one country may not work in another," he says. He has lived in Malawi, the UK, Burma, Belgium, Italy, India and Lebanon.

He finished high school in Brussels and studied engineering at university in India. Following that he returned to the UK where he completed an MBA at Durham University.

With a schooling that was already international, he decided to go back to India to work after his MBA. “I was keen to go back to India - it was 1994 and India had just liberalised. With my background I knew I would have other chances to go overseas,” he says. He was hired by HSBC where he was on a programme and worked on “special projects” for a few months, which included finding out why retail deposits were going down and comparing the bank’s offerings to those of its competitors.

Then he moved into the securities business, where he became a relationship manager. This was followed by a bigger role in Hong Kong, which he initially planned to do for just two years. “Two years became 10,” he recalls.

After a series of promotions at HSBC, Citi made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, which took him into the most formative stage of his career so far. That experience of the financial crisis, he says, is not something that can be taken from a textbook or from an MBA programme. “Books cannot tell you how to put an arm around someone and motivate them in a crisis. Dealing with real-life situations only comes with experience,” he says.


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