Interview: Willem Jongbloed - Analyst NIBC Bank

Hello Willem, could you please briefly introduce yourself?
Sure! My name is Willem Jongbloed, I am 28 years old and I am originally from The Hague, where I grew up. After school I decided I should study far away from my parents and I followed my sister who was already studying in Groningen at the time. My choice wasn’t really based on what I wanted to study actually. Just before I moved to Groningen I did a college year in the United States, in Florida. That was mostly as a fun trip and to experience the culture there. It wasn’t really about study credits, but more on what life on the campus was like. Then I came to Groningen, where I studied the Bachelor International Economics and Business and my Master in Finance. After seven years in Groningen it was time for me to come back to the Randstad, where I ended up in my hometown. I have now been working at NIBC for 1,5 years as an Analyst in the Shipping and Intermodal department.

How did you experience the transition from student life to full-time working?
At the end of my student life I wasn’t that concerned about my career yet. I was in the final stage of writing my thesis and a voice in my head warned me to start applying for jobs. I felt it was time to move forward and I had a broad idea of what I wanted to do, but never really thought of how working life would be. Looking back, I experienced the transition as being very smooth and quick. Of course, the first weeks you experience a lot of impulses and each day is actually really tiring. I wondered, “what is happening here? These long hours suddenly, everyone is working so intensively.” But you get used to it rather quickly and it is actually a lot of fun, it gives you a lot of energy.

How and why did you decide to choose for NIBC and Shipping and Intermodal specifically?
In the final phase of my studies, it were mostly the more well-known company names I heard about in my social surroundings: the ‘Big-Four’ accounting firms, the FMCGcompanies and the larger banks. At first, I too was of the opinion that it is only at these firms where the exciting work is done, and that these are the companies where I should apply. NIBC is not a name that many students have heard of, probably contrary to our parents who know NIBC as the Dutch post Second World War rehabilitation bank. But I got tipped by my colleguea’s wife, who I knew out of Groningen; she pointed out to me that there was a vacancy at NIBC Shipping & Intermodal. I learned that NIBC was an entrepreneurial bank with an excellent reputation and I decided to take a look. I got introduced to that same colleague and he told me about the bank and about the business, It sounded perfect! A few interviews later and I got the call that they would hire me!

You know, during these interviews and in the first few weeks of my work, I also discovered the workings of a bank, because I don’t think many Finance students really grasp the idea on what a bank does. You sit in classes and you hear about the theoretical parts of it, but you don’t really get practical insights. I wish I could go back to these courses with my current practical experiences. At this moment I would not consider any other job then working for a bank.

And why did you choose for the Shipping and Intermodal sector specifically?
Well as I said, I have a great interest in global trade and it was a great coincidence that the colleague who introduced me to NIBC was working for the Shipping team. He told me about how asset finance works, because that is really what we do in the Shipping team. A part of assessing whether to provide a loan to a company for such an asset is having good knowledge of the market. What drives the market? What drives the value of the assets?  What drives the rates and therefore the cash flow and debts? This team really has this very valuable sector knowledge in the shipping industry, which not many other firms have. That’s what I really like about this team and it is close to my initial interests.

Can you briefly explain what your job entails, and what your department does?
Our team is divided into originators, account managers and analysts. The originators are out there looking for new opportunities to service our clients and bring in the deals, which are then closed and managed by our account managers. After the deal is closed we have the loan in our books, which needs to be reviewed (semi-)annually to see if there is a change in the credit risk of the client. So, as an analyst I help throughout this process by performing financial analyses on the performance of these clients, but also by doing broader market analyses on developments in the different segments within the shipping industry. Most importantly, I closely analyse corporate balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements and provide my view on the performance of these companies on a daily basis; whether it is for the purpose of a transaction proposal (where we ask approval within the bank to grant this loan), or during the review process where we evaluate a current outstanding loan.

Are there any challenges specifically for the Shipping and Intermodal team?
The shipping market has been rough the last couple of years. For instance, in 2016, the rates have been the lowest in decades and this has really upset the market. Many banks that are engaged in ship finance have been affected by these adverse markets. Luckily we have done pretty well during this downturn, but it remains a challenge to assess whether there is still downside risk present; can the market really drop any further? In those segments where we see an increase; is that a constructive recovery of the market or is it just a short peak? I think the market has been shocked a little bit and we need to be paying close attention to whether we are not ordering too many vessels again, which creates oversupply and a continued or reoccurring downturn.

On the banking side we see Chinese lending as a challenge. They offer cheaper financing at larger loan amounts, where we as NIBC focus on small and medium sized financing. So we are not directly affected by this Chinese influence, but what could happen is that the larger European banks may have to move down closer to our category of clients as Chinese banks have a greater influence in the larger leasing and lending tickets. In the banking environment that may be something to look out for.

You mentioned your sector has been in an economic downturn, what is the impact of this on your department’s activities?
You should realize that our clients are really the professionals in the business. When I started my job, I thought that we, as shipping financiers, are a very important part of the shipping industry. What would the business be without our financing, right? But when I talk to clients, I realize there is so much more to consider. They have to worry about ensuring  contracts so that their vessels are able to operate and earn an income. They have to think about maintenance, insurance, crewing, etc. In a down market all these aspects become more difficult for clients and so they look for flexible financing solutions, which is tough considering that in a down market most of the banks become reluctant in offering new financing. They then have to look for alternative sources for financing or refinancing and that’s great for us as long as we offer these flexible and inventive solutions for clients. The down market really gives us an opportunity to offer something that other banks may not.

What are your personal goals in your career?
I hear a lot of people say that your first job is the one to switch away from, and that it is just to become familiar with working life. In many cases you do a traineeship and you ‘bugger off’ after a few years. I don’t have that anticipation at all. I ended up in a unique work environment and in a unique team where I can learn a lot. I honestly think I should make use of that as long as I can. Very honestly, I see myself growing in this team for the next years. I hope I can move up to a position where I can be closer to clients as well. Right now I am more on the bank side and my contact with clients is not like account managers or originators have. I hope I can develop the commercial skills over the next years to get there and to have my own portfolio of clients that I can have a connection with and which I can be of help for.

I don’t look much further than 3 or 4 years, but my plan is to stay with this amazing team and this bank with many opportunities for growth and learning.

What distinguishes working for NIBC from the other banks?
If you compare us to other banks, they are often characterized by tedious processes and a longer time to deliver, while we are more flexible than large institutions. Links between departments are very short at NIBC and  other departments are very approachable. Clients expect this flexibility from us and really value it. The entrepreneurial and curious mindset is not just something we advertise to be looking for, it is really what we stand for and what distinguishes us. Besides, at NIBC we have a talent program which focuses on your soft skills and how you act and behave in groups and what you should pay attention to.

What advice would you give to students who are the beginning of their career?
As a start, have a look and make a selection of the companies you haven’t thought or heard of before, don’t stare blindly towards the obvious. Approach different companies for a coffee and conversation and ask what they have to offer. This gives you the opportunity to get to know the company. I believe you can do and learn amazing things at companies you haven’t thought of working for. Also, please don’t rush your studies; engage in activities in addition to your regular courses. In my opinion, you can learn a lot and grow on a personal level if you are open to it and take your time for it. And maybe most importantly, don’t rush your career choice.

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