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Sunday, 14 December 2008

In five minutes, his life changed

Benson Ang
Sat, Dec 13, 2008
The New Paper


HE sees himself as a victim of the organisation's actions whereas another retrenched relationship manager sees himself as a victim of the market's collapse.

Alvin, a former DBS relationship manager, is bitter because he is jobless.

We are not using his real name because, under the terms of his retrenchment package, he cannot speak to the media.

Just one year ago, he had it all - cash, car, condominium and a challenging career.

In his heyday, the bachelor raked in more than $8,000 a month, drove a car, owned a condominium apartment, had three credits cards and a country-club membership.

Last month, his life changed - in just five minutes.

When news broke about three months ago that thousands of retail investors who bought structured products had lost their life savings, relationship managers like Alvin were perceived as the villains of the fiasco.

Now, he thinks he is the victim. Alvin, who is in his 30s, was laid off last month.

Other relationship managers were among the 450 Singapore employees let go by DBS last month.

They are also known as wealth managers, personal bankers or personal financial consultants.

DBS declined to reveal the exact number of such employees who were retrenched. A spokesman would only say that the staff cut was 'across different functions and ranks'.

Alvin was with DBS for more than three years, and is a graduate, although he declined to reveal in what field.

He claimed the first hint he had about DBS' retrenchment exercise was through the media last month.

'Then, I was worried. I knew the odds were not in our favour. But I tried not to think about it,' he said.

Bad news

A few days later, the bad news hit him.

His version of events, which could not be verified, is that he was told by a secretary from the bank to go down to the DBS head office in Shenton Way.

At the office, Alvin sat and waited with several other employees, whom he did not know. He was then called into a room with staff from the human resources department.

He recalled that he was told he no longer had to report for work, and had to return his access pass, staff pass and handphone SIM card on the spot.

His retrenchment benefits included a month's pay for each year of service.

Alvin added that DBS arranged for people to help him write his resume and gave him a list of over 20companies that were hiring.

'That was it. The whole thing took five minutes,' he claimed.

Mr Lim Swee Say, secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, had criticised the bank then for not consulting its staff union about the layoffs and using retrenchment as a first resort.

In reply, DBS said that it had frozen hiring before deciding on the retrenchment, and gave reasons why the retrenchment exercise was necessary. (See box on facing page.)

But Alvin still cannot understand the rationale.

'The company is showing profits, and the risk of products are mostly borne by investors,' he said.

Was he laid off because he was under-performing?

'I've been hitting targets, and was banded favourably for the past few years,' he claimed.

Did he mis-sell products? No, he asserted.

He said relationship managers were caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they have to recommend suitable products to their clients. On the other, they have to meet sales targets to keep their jobs.

Alvin claimed that relationship managers must sell about $1 million in investments every month, which works to about $60,000 worth of products a day.

He admitted that relationship managers in general could have been overly-aggressive in pushing the products. (He does not think he himself is over-aggressive.)

He has sold some structured products to relatives of colleagues and does not know how to face them now.

He has yet to find a new job despite sending resumes to other banks. He also does not mind a job in a different industry or a lower-paying job.

Meanwhile, he says he is having problems paying his insurance bills and housing instalments, and has resorted to selling his car.

But he remains optimistic.

'I've been there, done that. I won't be jobless for too long.'

This article was first published in The New Paper on December 11, 2008.

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