A Sneak Peek at Working and Living in Zurich with SMU Alumnus Bryan Halim

By SMU School of Accountancy Social Media Team 

When you work, live and play on a small island with a land area of just 721.5 km², it is inevitable that you would eventually venture beyond Singapore’s shores to explore new grounds.  SMU School of Accountancy (SOA) graduate Bryan Halim tells us how the global exposure he gained while at SMU helped him acclimatise quickly during his subsequent overseas posting to Zurich in 2019.



Q: We understand that you recently returned from a posting to Zurich, under the Graduate Talent Program at UBS. Can you tell us more about the Graduate Talent Program?

The Graduate Talent Program (GTP) at UBS is an 18 to 24-month programme (depending on your function) where you will develop your skills and network while working on key projects. The programme also offers rotation and training opportunities to allow GTPs to build a more holistic understanding of the firm and industry.

My primary role is in Wealth Management Technology where I manage technology risks in the Asia Pacific. As part of my rotation, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend two months in Zurich, including three days in Poland, to meet and learn from my colleagues whom I’ve been working with since I joined the firm. This rotation helped me to build my technical knowledge, widen my network, and improve on collaboration with my global counterparts. Prior to my rotation, I also had a week-long training in India on topics such as cloud and data analytics. These international experiences were indeed enlightening and would not have been possible without the strong support from the senior management and my line manager.


Bryan at the UBS office in Zurich, Switzerland


GTPs are also supported by the GTPNet committee. As the Co-President for GTPNet APAC, my committee and I organise training and social events for all GTPs in APAC. GTPs benefit from interactive sessions with senior management from different business functions who share about their roles, valuable career advice, experiences and outlook for the industry. Overall, the Graduate Talent Program offers multiple opportunities for graduates to develop a strong foundation at the early stage of our career.


Q: Can you share with us some of the key differences you observed while working and living in Zurich compared with Singapore?

Zurich and Singapore have a lot in common including having a safe environment and efficient public transport system. Both cities are brilliant places to work and live in. Nonetheless, there are a few differences in terms of working culture and living costs. For example, I observed that there is a stronger emphasis on punctuality in Zurich. So it is definitely worth planning your work schedule efficiently to avoid being late, especially if back-to-back meetings are at different locations. Furthermore, there is generally a slightly more healthy work-life balance in Zurich compared to Singapore.

Having said that, food prices are definitely more expensive compared to Singapore. I had my most expensive McDonald’s meal of S$25 for my first lunch in Zurich. Fortunately, there is a canteen at the UBS office which offers meals at discounted prices to employees. In contrast, Singapore offers a wider variety of food options available at cheaper prices. Definitely missed my favourite chicken rice in Katong! Though there are a few differences, the people in both locations are great. Both cities are cosmopolitan with developed infrastructure which make them both highly attractive global cities to work and live in.


Q: How do you think your education at SMU School of Accountancy helped you adapt to the new environment quickly?

In SMU, I had many opportunities for global exposure. I served in an Overseas Community Service Project in the Philippines, spent my exchange in Amsterdam, and went on study trips to Bangkok and Germany. These overseas experiences taught me valuable lessons and prepared me for working in an international firm. Having studied and attended presentations by firms overseas gave me a better understanding of different cultures, working styles and social norms. Furthermore, I also had opportunities to interact and work with exchange students on group projects in SMU. This allowed me to better adapt to new working environments and build stronger working relations with my colleagues from different locations.

The SMU learning pedagogy and interactive seminar-style teaching also helped me develop stronger communication and presentation skills, which are imperative especially at UBS where collaboration and challenging the status quo are part of our culture. In SMU, we were encouraged not only to answer questions but also to question answers. This allowed me to dig deeper into the reasons for differences in working styles and effectively communicate solutions to the management on how we could improve the way we work in each location.


With his colleagues at the UBS office in Krakow, Poland

Q:  What is the biggest takeaway you have gained from your posting in Zurich?

The biggest lesson I have learnt would be the importance of meeting colleagues in-person to build stronger working relations. I would recommend scheduling a coffee with your colleague and just having a conversation. Try having face-to-face meetings if possible instead of virtual meetings which do not allow us to notice certain non-verbal cues and body language.

In-person interaction with my global counterparts allowed me to better understand them, adapt and find the best ways to collaborate together. In the long run, you also build trust and widen your network. Furthermore, as working remotely is becoming more common in many firms, we do not get as many opportunities to meet our colleagues as often as before. Although working remotely has its benefits, do take some time off work and schedule a coffee or tea with your colleague!


0 thoughts on “A Sneak Peek at Working and Living in Zurich with SMU Alumnus Bryan Halim

  1. Neil Madhvani

    Really nice article, Bryan! Thanks for sharing your experiences, and great to hear that you had a very worthwhile and enriching experience during your assignment in Switzerland,