The current challenging global economic climate has influenced investors' appetite for portfolio diversification and wealth management.
Citibank therefore adopts a new "three-R" strategy to help customers refocus on their financial goals, rebuild their investment portfolio according to their recent financial needs and goals, and subsequently enjoy the fruit of the economy rebounds.
"Risks entail opportunities," says Amy Choi, director of sales & distribution, Citibank Global Consumer Group. "At Citibank, we take the current market situation as a wake-up call for customers to reassess their investment portfolios so that they can rebalance their investment hybrid to mitigate any further risks while maximising potential gains when the market recovers."
Many investors have suffered from different levels of loss during the past six months, and they have since realised that protection is an integral part of a investment portfolio. Ms Choi adds, "One of our strategic directions is to focus on helping customers assess their protection needs and offer the best protection-based investment and insurance products."
Ms Choi believes that frontline staff must adopt a customer-centric approach. "Product selling alone is by no way sufficient in times like these," says Ms Choi. "Our relationship managers are expected to spend more time with customers, understand their financial needs thoroughly and build a solid relationship with them."
In a bid to reinforce such a "client first" service philosophy, Citibank has in place a series of training programmes.
"Citibank also holds daily morning briefing sessions at all its branches, where commentaries on the latest market developments are provided. It is extremely important to ensure that our staff have immediate access to firsthand market information at all times," says Ms Choi.
Opportunities for career development are also essential for maintaining a stable workforce and achieving greater flexibility in customer service. In this regard, Citibank relationship managers are presented with vertical or horizontal development opportunities. They can choose to explore different options in accordance with their aspirations and long-term career goals.
"A relationship manager may choose to develop horizontally into general management positions such as branch manager; or laterally into specialist roles such as investment and financial consultants," explains Ms Choi. "Our multilateral career development philosophy opens up different career routes and encourages our relationship managers to take the initiative to develop."
Citibank views participation in industry competitions like the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards as another valuable learning opportunity for its relationship managers.
Ms Choi, who has served as a panel judge for the HKIB competition for the past three years, has witnessed the increase in professional industry standards.
"Every year, we select only three to five of our relationship managers to participate in the competition," she says, adding that by participating in the competition, contestants' horizons are opened up.
Jason Tong, a Citigold relationship manager, was last year's Grand Award winner (group B). "The judges' valuable feedback helped me to see financial planning from a new perspective," Mr Tong says. "The award also motivated me to go the extra mile, particularly in customer service."
He notes that the competition was an excellent platform for him to consolidate all his financial planning skills and knowledge. "In addition to recognising my achievements, the award recognised our bank's service as a whole," he emphasises.
Mr Tong feels that the financial crisis has increased customers' expectations of financial banking services. "Times are tough, but it's essential to stay positive and put customer interests first," he adds.
Effective two-way communication is essential for customer service, Mr Tong adds. "Financial planners should listen attentively to their customers and present them with clear financial plans," he says, pointing out that Citibank offers internal training to sharpen employees' product knowledge as well as soft skills, including their communication and presentation abilities.
The basic requirement for a financial planning professional is to keep abreast of the latest industry knowledge, Mr Tong stresses. "Two financial planners may possess the same professional qualifications, but it is the individual who has a genuine passion for helping customers realise their financial goals will come out tops," he concludes.