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Citi EMEA director on finance career expectations

Cambridge Judge Business School alumna Irina Kim talks about corporate banking, career boosting and the current financial job market.

Cambridge MFin City Sepaker Series speaker on financial careers

Irina Kim, EMBA alumna talking as part of the MFin City Speaker Series

Irina Kim giving her talk

Irina Kim, the London-based Regional Relationship Director for Citigroup Europe, Middle East and Africa, was a member of the Cambridge Judge’s 2010 Executive MBA class. She spoke on 28 April at the City Speakers Series as part of the School’s Master of Finance (MFin) programme, and later we asked Irina about her career in banking.


In your presentation, you mentioned negative interest rates, weak currencies in emerging markets and other market issues. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that the finance industry faces today since 2008?

I guess one of the biggest challenges the financial industry is facing today is regulation. It has always been important, but the amount and scope of regulations we have now is unprecedented. Some new regulations have been introduced as a response to the global financial crisis of 2008. Speaking about the UK’s banking industry, the regulations are applied not only to the financial institutions but also to individuals. So every employer needs to ensure that every person is fit and properly equipped for the job.

You also talked about transformation of the banking industry, such as digitalisation, strict regulations and client sophistication. How could these affect the financial job market?

Due to rapid advancement of technology, the way the clients interact with the bank has changed. For example, clients prefer digital online solutions to visiting a branch. Banks are adapting to the more sophisticated client demands by building innovation labs, forming partnerships with FinTech private companies or educational institutions to conduct research into innovation in order to stay ahead of the curve. The booming FinTech industry investments are a proof of that. All of these changes stimulate new job market opportunities.

You touched upon international career development. Where would you advise to start?

I guess if you want an international career, it will be great to have an experience in both emerging and developed markets to get a diverse perspective, as there are big differences in both. In my personal experience, I started my career in an emerging country, Kazakhstan. There I got a holistic view of how banking is run and a broad perspective on strategic issues of franchise, and also learned to overcome market challenges more common in developing countries. I think one can start their career in both developed or emerging markets and then move on, as both have strong benefits.

What should MFin graduates be most prepared for in the current job market?

Recently the cost of doing business for banks has risen for various reasons including the increase in regulations and the pressure to be more efficient, so many banks are transforming their operations. You may have seen some major banks reducing their footprint or operations, and the others moving some functions to more affordable locations. What does this mean for MFin graduates? It may cause an increase in the number of highly qualified specialists competing for the same positions as MFin graduates. On the other hand, MFin students already have an average of five years’ work experience, which coupled with their knowledge received at Cambridge, makes them well-equipped candidates for job openings in the financial industry. I would also suggest looking into jobs outside of the traditional banking industry, like FinTech.

What are the most exciting and challenging aspects of your current post at Citigroup?

Let’s start with the exciting side of my job. I love facing clients and have been working with large corporate clients since the beginning of my career in 2003. What’s good about it? It is a very visible position, as you are on the frontline of the bank. In order to offer the best solutions to the clients, you have to stay on top of the newest developments in the bank’s product line, which requires working with other teams extensively. If you like collaboration and working with lots of different people, this job is the best. As for the challenges of my job, I guess they are similar to other sales roles – for example, the pressures of delivering the budget (this is where all those market challenges and challenges within the banking industry come in to play). While in many emerging markets there are only a handful of competitors, places like London that are extremely competitive as all major financial institutions are represented there, making working in the City of London especially demanding.

Did you come across any gender-related challenges in finance industry in Central Asia or in London? What advice do you have for women in banking?

I was lucky to work in a very international bank in Kazakhstan, where more than half of the management committee members were women. Generally speaking, I would imagine that developed markets have more balance and diversity in financial institutions. There may be still some prejudices in the emerging markets but the situation is definitely changing for the better. I believe that it comes down to working really hard and taking charge of your career development – you have to take ownership of your career and start discussions with your management early on in order to progress. Take charge of your career now because nobody else will.

What made you come back to CJBS to talk to MFin students as as part of the City Speaker Series?

I met the MFin Academic Director, Simon Taylor, during a reception celebrating the School’s 25th anniversary. He invited me to speak to MFin students as part of the City Speaker Series. I was thrilled and agreed immediately. It is something I have always wanted to do – to come back and share my industry experience with people with whom I have so much in common, because we are part of the School for life. MFin students want to progress in the finance industry, just like I did during my studies, so meetings like this are vital.