On 13 June 2007, 35 financial planners from Hang Seng Bank Ltd received their Certified Financial Management Planner (CFMP) accreditation from the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB). The event marked a commitment of the bank, and the banking industry as a whole, to professionalism in the provision of wealth-management services.
Hang Seng Bank, Hong Kong's largest bank in terms of market capitalisation, fully supported its employees in attaining the CFMP certification. The bank also financed the programme for employees and adapted their work schedules to enable them to complete it.
Run by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB), the CFMP programme incorporates specialised wealth management knowledge and distinctive features catering for the local banking industry. William Leung, general manager, personal financial services and wealth management, Hang Seng Bank, explains, "Banks today recognise wealth management as a business of strategic importance. This poses both a challenge and an opportunity for our employees, particularly those working on the frontline, as they are the first point of contact for customers. Increasing professionalism is therefore important to enhance customer satisfaction."
Mr Leung stresses that professionalism is vital in achieving customer satisfaction. "The complexities of wealth management services call for deeper understanding from those in the business. We participate in the CFMP programme because it offers both hard and soft skills. With respect to hard skills, the programme covers investment product, insurance, tax, and fund and asset management know-how. As for soft skills, the programme helps participants develop their communication skills, which are essential in building relationships with customers and assisting them in meeting individual goals," he remarks.
The CFMP programme is designed to respond to market needs. With banks and other financial institutions seeking financial planners who are well qualified in terms of technical knowledge, skills and attitude, there is an increasing demand for versatile financial planning professionals. In general, a wealth management specialist should be equipped to identify clients' financial needs and be able to advise on how their assets should be managed, considering the clients' objectives and future plans regarding expected lifestyles, inheritance wishes and soon.
The HKIB has provided training for the local banking community since 1963 and has a substantial number of major banks serving on its council, so the CFMP programme is widely recognised in the banking industry. In order to guarantee the programme's quality and high standards, the HKIB has also involved the renowned Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School as an adviser to review the seven-module programme's syllabus and materials.
The programme is available in the form of corporate training (as in the case of Hang Seng Bank), as well as to individual students. While the curriculum is standardised, the "mode of study" can be customised. In Hang Seng Bank's case, for example, the programme schedule and venues were tailored to the bank's needs and the lectures took place at the bank's preferred locations. With this support from their employer, participants were able to complete the programme within a year.
Room to grow
Hang Seng Bank is pleased with the successful outcome of the training. Mr Leung elaborates, "Our employees appreciate the opportunity to upgrade their qualifications through professional training financed by the bank. Hang Seng Bank has a long tradition of caring about its employees. We put equal emphasis on performance and benefits. In keeping with our name, which means 'ever-growing', we want our staff to grow with us."
Mr Leung finds the oral examination component of the CFMP programme particularly useful. "The programme is comprehensive. The oral examinations test participants' ability to communicate the complexities of financial planning knowledge in spoken situations. Oral communication skills are essential in building customer relationships. Staff must be able to clearly explain the complicated mechanisms of financial products and, in doing so, help clients understand the relevant compliance and risk issues," he says.
As a seasoned banker, Mr Leung explains the essence of wealth management. "It is essential for wealth management practitioners to develop a rapport with their clients. Understanding and gaining customers' trust should be a priority ¡X this is sometimes even more important than entering into a business relationship. They must adhere to high ethical standards, since they, as well as the bank, are seeking to build life-long relationships with customers," he stresses. Aptly, one of the CFMP programme modules (financial planning and management) explores the importance of objectivity and building trusting relationships with clients.
Once a quietly discreet service, wealth management has grown into a dynamic and competitive business requiring more than factual knowledge. Mr Leung concludes, "At Hang Seng Bank, we attract and retain talent with financial incentives and opportunities for personal growth. Most importantly, we care about our people."