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Want To Work In The UK?

Musings From ISCA’s UK Chapter Chairperson

I first came to London in 2003 on a year-long secondment. At the end of it, a job offer from Citi came along. With almost no compunction, I broke my bond and turned my coat – because in 2004, it was all about the money.

  • There are no cultural or language barriers to teamwork and fun

    KPMG had invested in my university education in return for five years of service, with an added year for my jolly stint abroad. Citi was willing to buy me out; no strings attached. Bargain! Clearly, they were desperate for anyone who knew their way around a bank’s general ledger and were willing to throw money at it.

    Outside of New York, London was the largest trading centre, and working internal audit for Global Markets was immeasurably fun. Really! No one loathed auditors more than the Markets desks and there were a lot of them. The only way we could suffer the work was to grow a thick skin, not take ourselves too seriously (though we absolutely were when it came to work), and frequently found ourselves at the local watering holes.

    I found colleagues who upheld the same values of camaraderie and professionalism as my old team in Singapore and, with them, I found a home.

With my Citi London mates, 2004. Photo credit: Germaine Chia
Dinner at Dishroom, London 2021–2024. Photo credit: Germaine Chia
  • English is not the same as English

    Moving to and working in another country invariably means you have to learn another language. English? Easy peasy! Wrong. Learning the subtleties of British email writing styles was something I didn’t anticipate: “Dear Germaine” – oh dear god, what have I done now? And if I got a “Kind regards”, I knew I was in trouble.

    Just when I got the hang of emails, I had to learn the art of small talk.
A handy translation guide! Credit: Very British Problems
  • Small talk is awkward but it’s part of the culture. Being awkward, that is.

    I am rubbish at it. Nine times out of 10, I end up with a discomfiting segue into the agenda. But I get it; I understand how, if done well, small talk can ease the flow of conversation.

    The national obsession with the weather makes for an easy start because it’s a silent acknowledgment that everyone in your meeting would have rather been home with a cuppa when it was bucketing down. It serves as a reminder that no matter our station in life, we all came into work with soggy shoes that morning.

    The Brits can be polite to the point of being awkward because it’s their way of being friendly without being too familiar, while ensuring their rapier wit doesn’t unintentionally cause harm.

  • Banter is gold

    When faced with the pointy end of their sharp wit, you have a choice: you can take offence or you can parry. When you do, you have the beginning attempts at banter. And lively banter is gold – it’s what makes office life bearable. The Brits love a good roast (and not just the potatoes) because they are a very clever bunch… perhaps too self-effacing to own it. If we would allow the veneer of our egos to fall away, we’d find we have more in common than we realised.

  • No one really cares about what you show up to work wearing (they just want to know why)

    A raised eyebrow was all you got if you came to work the next day in the same outfit. “Big night?” Mea culpa. Cue small talk, with just enough detail to make light of an awkward situation that would make for conversation later, when you’ve recovered from the embarrassment.

  • A homecoming of sorts

    London is desperately trying to be Singapore-on-Thames without the good weather or transport system. In reality, it’s seen better days (translation: total fail). But, in one respect, it offers me a chance of redeeming myself after years of outsourcing parental duties.

    In 2021, I moved back to the UK with a resolve to parent my own children. For eight years in Singapore, we had domestic help that looked after the children because of the hours we pulled in the office.

    I used to arrange life around work; now I have the privilege of arranging work around life. Two years ago, I started working for a Singaporean AI tech start-up, Transparently.AI, and I am mercifully spared the commute.

    I’m here when the children get home from school, I get to listen to their trivial stories, I chauffeur them to classes and practice, I help with homework and I am present.

    Because 20 years on, in 2024, it’s all about family.

Germaine Chia, ISCA’s United Kingdom Chapter Chairperson, is Chief Operating Officer, Transparently.AI, a company headquartered in Singapore.

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