When deciding which degree courses to study at university, most young people have only a hazy idea about the career path they would later like to follow. What many are well aware of, however, is that almost any business or marketing related qualification provides an excellent passport to the world of banking and finance. The diversity of the sector and the range of skills needed mean that candidates schooled in any number of disciplines have the chance to advance quickly and build highly successful careers.
That is just what Pamela Suen realised shortly before completing her marketing degree in the late 1990s. Now assistant vice president and treasures relationship manager for DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, she can reflect on how her original academic training gave her a flying start in the industry and is still a point of reference for many of the decisions she makes.
Wanting to gain practical experience, Ms Suen first spent three years in customer service with a local bank before accepting an offer to join DBS as a senior customer service ambassador in 2001. Her main duties involved handling all manner of customer enquiries. This, of course, allowed her to put into practice some of the key principles of marketing and to start building up her own customer base as she sold the bank's latest products.
"Every day I was talking to a wide range of customers which included businessmen, housewives and retirees," Ms Suen recalls. "As I got to know them, my customer service skills improved and I was able to give advice and suggestions which were trusted. That is the most important thing in our line of business."
The prime objective is to analyse a customer's needs and identify the risk level they can bear
Two years on and her success was recognised with an appointment as relationship manager responsible for assisting customers to manage their wealth. When that division's business took off, it led to a further promotion in early 2004 to be treasures relationship manager providing premium customers with personalised and differentiated services.
"The prime objective is to analyse a customer's needs and identify the risk level they can bear," explains Ms Suen. "Once that is established, we offer professional investment advice and recommend the most suitable products."
Naturally, relationship building is an essential skill. "We work to maintain close contacts with existing customers and support them in attaining their financial goals, but never lose sight of the need to acquire new customers," Ms Suen emphasises. In fact, as a well-rounded professional, she still finds the greatest job satisfaction comes from interaction with her clients. When they actively seek advice and opinions, it is a clear sign that things are working well.
Ms Suen is, though, the first to acknowledge how much depends on strong company support and good office backup. "You could not manage otherwise," she says. "We get comprehensive training programmes, regular product updates, and briefings to keep us abreast of market trends. Markets are always changing, but clients expect to hear news from us before hearing it anywhere else." Consequently, a team of in-house analysts closely monitors global markets and provides timely information on investment trends and growth opportunities. Another team specialises in product development to give customers a full range of investment choices.
For anyone considering banking or wealth management as a career, good communication skills are seen as an absolute necessity since there is so much client contact. A diverse network of personal contacts also greatly helps in building a strong customer base.
Overall, the field of wealth management offers a variety of career options, but Ms Suen has a few words of advice. "Remember that your first job is an important choice and can have a big impact on how your career unfolds," she says. "This profession requires a great deal of energy and determination, so you need to have a genuine interest in the industry and a passion for your job. In my case, it has provided the chance to meet people from all walks of life and to keep learning continuously. That has made it the right choice for me."
The China market has developed to the point where there are now many new openings. Furthermore, as Ms Suen points out, the mainland's economic development and demographic distribution in the next two years will see more salary earners in higher income groups requiring wealth management services.
Companies in Hong Kong are taking advantage of this fast developing market in two ways: they are promoting their own products and services across the border, and encouraging mainland visitors to open accounts in Hong Kong and make investments here. As a result, local banking and finance professionals should be thinking about China in terms of both business and future career potential.