A chat with Surbhi Aggarwal

Syed Safiur Rahman (Shourov)

I had the privilege to have an insightful conversation with a brilliant mind from the Finance industry, Surbhi Aggarwal, currently Director, Head of Global Markets Compliance, Derivatives and Fintech of Asia-Pacific Region, HSBC, who is an independent, courageous and exceptionally talented person who overcame all low points and challenges in life by her sheer focus and commitment. She has never hesitated to take up challenges at any point in her life, and she enjoyed every bit of hardship. Let’s hear from her about her journey:

Were you a good student since childhood?

I was heavily inspired by my family to take up Chartered Accounting as a career. Throughout my days as a student and article, it was a challenging journey. I had to work extremely hard during my articleship, spending 12-14 hours a day at work, and then studying hard for my CA Finals. And as I was doing my articleship in Big 4 firm PWC, the work was demanding. And this is the part that makes CA itself a very hard course where one needs to balance work and study simultaneously. I took the studies and work very seriously and did sacrifice a fair bit on my personal front. From the beginning, I had set some goals and those goals kept me going which eventually helped me to overcome the difficult days to the glory. So, self-discipline and the vision were the keys and out of all the pain and struggle, the CA journey actually taught me a lot. It not only helped me to grow professionally but also contributed to my personal growth as well. 

I was an average student, until 6th grade. Upon being motivated by a good friend, I started working hard and securing ranks. Since then I have always been a rank holder. I realized that there are no short cuts, and in order to achieve my dreams, hard work is key. So, that was the turning point and there was no looking back from then. 

When did you get interested in Finance and in the business area

I belong from a business family and some of my uncles and aunts are Chartered Accountants. I believe this played an important role in deciding my career path to be a Chartered Accountant. I never had a knack for engineering or medical sciences and I guess my family influence got me interested to do CA after 12th. While doing CA, I got exposure to different areas of Finance, Accounting, and other related subjects and from there I found finance very interesting. And I have been always good at numbers, calculation, and analysis related stuff which was also a reason to get interested in Finance.

How has your journey been with HSBC? 

I have been working in HSBC almost for 10 years now. It has been a great journey so far. HSBC has a very friendly and flexible environment to work. I joined HSBC, Mumbai after completing CA in the investment banking division. After a while, I got the opportunity to shift my base to more international markets. I had the option of moving to either London or Hong Kong. I chose Hong Kong considering growth in Asia and I currently working here.

How does it feel to work as an investment banker? As we hear that it’s a very stressful job and very difficult to cope up. Is it true? 

Yes, definitely investment banking is a very challenging job. You can even think of it as a dynamic industry, where there is something new every day. And there is a lot of international exposure in this field. Investment banking is more mature in international markets, compared to developing countries like India. Especially in Hong Kong, the market is very complex and big. 

When I joined the investment banking division of HSBC back in 2009, it was just right after the Global financial crisis. Back then, Investment Banking was new to me. I worked hard to navigate my way through the complex landscape. I have never stepped back from challenges and this attitude has helped me a lot in my professional career. Therefore, sometimes long working hours become very excruciating but above all, it is an interesting field to work. As, I love challenging tasks, numbers and analysis, investment banking requires all of that. In this job, there is a fair bit of traveling involved. which is an advantage for a travel buff like myself. Keeping yourself updated with the latest events in the financial markets is key in Investment banking. 

I personally feel it depends on individual personality and choices to get into Investment banking. One needs a true passion for this work to enjoy and only it’s possible to do well. And I personally feel amazing to work in the investment banking sector.   

How do you balance your time amidst between your personal and professional life? 

Ans: It’s always important to allocate time for yourself and I always try to keep some moments for myself every day where I help myself to relax. Every day even if for a few minutes, I make sure that I watch a video or read something that makes me laugh. I try to spend some time doing some exercises and on weekends, I spend time hiking up mountains in Hong Kong. 

In fact, I just got married recently and my husband, who is also a Chartered Accountant is based in Dubai. So, we understand each-others work pressures and support each other. Most importantly, if you have the right passion for your work then you will enjoy every bit of it, no matter how complex and demanding it may be.  Sometimes there are urgent priorities at work, which have to take precedence over personal life, and also vice versa. It’s important to find the right balance. 

Do you think Fin Technologies will change the pattern of the jobs of the finance industry in the future? How the current generation can prepare themselves for that change? 

It will definitely change and has a huge impact on the pattern of job in financial industries. The retail banking sector has already started to envision its disruptive impact. To some extent, the disruption in investment banking will not be immediate. Our current generation is already getting good exposure to technology and they are good with technology, tools which is a positive sign for the future. To make themselves more efficient for the future job market, I think, keeping an eye on what’s happening around the globe and developing technology-in-finance skills, as well as being more sound in knowledge will be good to prepare themselves. 

Do you have any message for the youths for the future generation?

Ans: Go to that pathway where your interest lies. Never be afraid of before taking any new challenge. And it’s very important from the very beginning to find out your interest. And after that, you have to look for different opportunities to explore and will have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to achieve something big. And continuous learning is very essential in any field to do well.  

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