Financial Planning / Wealth Management

A winning combination

by George Wong

Andy Hon, head of retail distribution
HSBC Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan
Dedicated banking professionals look forward to a bright future

The recent global economic turmoil increased Hong Kong investors' awareness of the importance of risk management, with many adopting a more cautious, long-term approach to wealth management. This change in sentiment is fuelling an increased demand for financial planning services based on sound analysis.

In addition to this, the blooming mainland China economy is also creating an increasingly greater demand for professional financial guidance from across the border, points out Andy Hon, head of retail distribution, HSBC Hong Kong. "The number of affluent mainland customers who entrust their wealth management and protection planning needs to Hong Kong bankers is growing."

To protect clients' best interests, HSBC has invested in staff development through a series of training programme and installed a range of tools to enhance service, including audio recording and video playback. "Our aim is to make sure that everything is comprehensively explained to our customers," Mr Hon emphasises. The bank has also implemented a mystery shopper scheme and internal quality assurance programmes as part of a quality assurance mechanism.

Following the implementation of new industry requirements by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, HSBC strengthened its regulatory and investor protection frameworks. Clear signs at branches now distinguish areas for general banking and those for investment-related activities. Frontline employees wear specific badges and identification to indicate to customers their areas of expertise.

New growth

In order to sustain growth, the banking and finance industry needs a constant influx of new talent. Hiring the right people is harder than a decade ago, but the bank's emphasis on quality and maintaining a stable pool of experienced staff remains unchanged.

"We're looking for recruits with a positive attitude," Mr Hon stresses. "Candidates must also show that they are go-getters that don't give up easily and have good people skills."

The bank has run a number of recruitment events on various scales over the past few months, filling 300 vacancies for premier relationship managers, wealth management managers and general banking officers. Another new initiative is the recruitment of undergraduates for 20 newly created "Generation Y Ambassador" positions. These young people will be expected to help contribute new ideas for product, service and channel development, and promote wealth management, to their peers, the emerging segment of customers born after 1980.

Future aspirations

New employees are expected to gain confidence as they become more experienced in dealing with customers, Mr Hon says, adding that the bank actively encourages staff to learn from professional counterparts, for example by signing up for industry competitions such as the annual Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.

"The HKIB is a highly respected organisation that has been providing education and training to the local banking community for more than 40 years. The competition is a great opportunity for learning and exposure, and encourages professionalism and development within the sector," he notes.

Apart from allowing participants to showcase their expertise, the awards help them to assess their own strengths and find ways to improve their skills. Outstanding performers are recognised and rewarded.

HSBC employees' success in the competition over the past few years has proven the organisation's commitment to staff development, Mr Hon says. "It has also served to confirm our leading position in the field of financial planning."

Rainbow's end

The Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards have over the past four years driven banking personnel at various career levels to professional new heights. Kyral Wong, an HSBC premier relationship manager, has certainly come a long way since she took home a grand award (group A) and a best financial planning proposal award last year.

"The award has been a recognition of my professional aptitude," says Ms Wong who was given two well-deserved promotions since then. "It also serves as a manifestation of integrity and my flair for customer service."

Currently serving high-net-worth clients at one of the bank's major branches, Ms Wong concedes that the award has given her a confidence boost, particularly in fostering client relations. "The experience also helped me to be more acquainted with my own strengths and areas of improvement," she notes.

With customer concerns now shifting from increasing returns to wealth protection, Ms Wong finds herself in a role more significant than ever. "We need to devote considerable time to help customers to paint a full picture of their financial future and this includes explaining to them some of the worse case scenarios," she says, adding that the comprehensive process allows the relationship with customers to flourish. "Trust is not something you can build overnight," she emphasises.

Strict compliance to new rules and regulations may in turn entail great pressure. "Challenge is one aspect of the job that keeps me interested and inspired," she says.

Competition in the field will only get tougher and professionals must seek to develop an edge so as to stay competitive. She advises that young people looking to develop a career in the industry should gain early exposure via internships or similar programmes and obtain relevant qualifications and licences before entering into employment. "The nature of the job prompts you to keep yourself abreast of change," she remarks. "You can never learn enough."

Taken from Career Times 7 May 2010, A6
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