A boost for young bankers
by Grace Chan
The majority of Hong Kong's banking institutions are taking advantage of the robust economy, hiring new staff members and expanding their scope of operations. This has intensified the already stiff competition for the best talent in the industry.
The Bank of East Asia (BEA) believes training and development opportunities are strong draw cards for top candidates. "With a growing demand for retail banking services, our main challenge is to fill the growing number of frontline positions we have available, since all finance houses are targeting the same pool of experienced practitioners," says Mimi Kam, General Manager & Head of Human Resources & Corporate Communications Division, The Bank of East Asia.
BEA plans to recruit about 100 new staff members for new and existing frontline roles this year. Last year, apart from employing experienced professionals, the bank launched a two-year Retail Management Trainee Programme with the aim of grooming 40 newcomers.
"We prefer to recruit fresh university graduates who are committed to providing excellent customer service. Since they will be working in a fast-paced and demanding environment, they should have strong people skills and outgoing personalities, too," Ms Kam notes, adding that young professionals with less than two years' work experience will also be considered.
The training programme ensures comprehensive exposure to all the bank's divisions. "We expect our trainees to learn the ropes at our retail branches over the first six months. At the same time, they must also obtain the requisite professional licences," she explains.
In the second six-month period, subject to obtaining the prerequisite licences, the trainees may take on sales roles, working directly with customers.
BEA's retail management trainee curriculum equips budding executives with essential banking knowledge. "In addition to teaching frontline skills, the programme also covers product knowledge, including loan facilities and credit cards," says Ms Kam.
Since success in retail banking relies heavily on good customer relations, the programme focuses specifically on soft skills, she remarks. "In addition to honing their sales techniques, communication and presentation capabilities, we also pay attention to business writing and management skills."
The training incorporates a mix of classroom learning and working in the bank's branches, ensuring sufficient hands-on experience. "Dealing with demanding customers is one of our daily challenges, so we cover real-life cases in class," Ms Kam notes.
Qualified trainees can look forward to a rewarding career path. For instance, they may start off serving the bank's retail banking customers and ultimately move on to handle the financial needs of privileged clients at the bank's Supreme Gold Centres.
A typical progression is to the position of marketing officer, followed by senior marketing officer and eventually marketing manager.
Competent and loyal employees are a company's best asset. In view of this, BEA's employees are given both horizontal and vertical career development opportunities. "An outstanding retail banker may choose to move into another division such as corporate banking or wealth management for greater exposure and new career challenges," Ms Kam stresses.
Since the institution has a strong presence across Asia and abroad, its employees are exposed to the global banking environment through offshore assignments and secondments. "Over the last decade, we've expanded our China operations and we now operate more than 90 outlets on the mainland," she notes. Recently, two experienced branch staff who were keen on developing their careers on the mainland were transferred to BEA's mainland operations.
Ms Kam, who began her career as a management trainee with BEA, believes the bank's massive potential for growth gives it an advantage. "We are well-established financially, and we will continue to grow both organically and through acquisition," she concedes.
The bank believes that it is vital to invest in its people so as to retain talent. Training is therefore available for staff members at all levels, either to meet the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements or to further develop soft and technical skills.
BEA is also well aware that it needs to foster a healthy work-life balance to attract young talent. The bank has set up a staff sports and recreation club, which organises recreational regular activities for staff, such as barbeques, theme park visits, weekend tours and movie screenings.
"We also promote a healthy lifestyle by offering facilities such as a gymnasium at our Kwun Tong office to employees," says Ms Kam. The bank has three corporate sport teams and hires professional coaches to provide training. "We support and sponsor our colleagues to participate in competitions. This, we believe, fosters a stronger team spirit and greater staff engagement," she concludes.
Taken from Career Times 18 February 2011, A11
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