Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Bank leader strengthens professionalism

by Grace Chan

Fanny Lum
director of branch banking, Citibank
Photo: Courtesy of Citibank

Customer interaction essential to cultivating long-term trusting relationships

Over the last few years, global volatility has prompted banking and financial institutions to step up people development, allocating considerable resources into developing in-house talent as well as into educating the general public about wealth management concepts and risk management.

As people's financial literacy rises, Fanny Lum, director of branch banking, Citibank, believes it is essential for financial planners to beef up interaction with their customers in order to anticipate and manage their changing wealth aspirations and goals.

"It is even more important for them to listen actively and understand thoroughly the explicit and implicit financial needs of their customers," Ms Lum says. "Every piece of customer information, from financial status, risk tolerance and long-term financial goals down to lifestyle aspirations and personality attributes constitutes effective communication."

To achieve this, the bank's Citigold relationship managers, for instance, are charged primarily with building and maintaining constructive, trusting relationships with their customers. In view of the mounting competition in Hong Kong's fast-paced financial industry, this customer-oriented approach also helps retain the loyalty of customers too.

"A professionally trained financial planner is capable of engaging a customer in an in-depth discussion which in turn facilitates mutual understanding and establishes trust," says Ms Lum.

Positive development
The expanding array of wealth management products in the marketplace boosts varying features, risk levels and protection values, leading incrementally more cautious banking customers to exercise strong vigilance over their choice of financial planners. This, Ms Lum stresses, is all positive.

"Services that are on par with expectations no longer give any members of the banking community a competitive edge. We must work to exceed expectations," she explains. "Customers nowadays come prepared and usually have ready questions to ask. This essentially keeps practitioners of the wealth management craft on their toes."

She remarks that financial planning is an on-going two-way communication process and that a wealth management proposal often signals the beginning of a long-term relationship. "A significant part of a financial planner's role is to maintain good rapport with the customer," she says. "It is equally important that people on the service side keep a watchful eye on market trends and make genuine efforts in helping their customers to stay current and review their wealth portfolios on a regular, timely basis."

In addition to this, the bank's Citigold relationship managers have proprietary access to Citigold Wealth Planner (CWP), which is a comprehensive financial analysis tool that helps to put together an appropriate portfolio for customers.

"They are also backed by our professional teams of experts in investment, treasury, insurance, mortgage and research as well as SME specialists and stock dealers," Ms Lum reveals.

Resourceful gatekeeper
A preferred employer in the banking field, Citibank is best known for its talent development structure. For example, all the bank's new recruits receive two months of orientation training on the bank's operations, procedures, products and service ethos, among other things. On-going coaching follows through the onboarding process.

The bank also ensures that help and support are always at hand. "Our branch staff take part in morning briefing sessions to obtain up-to-the-minute updates and market analyses," Ms Lum explains. "We find it important for all our relationship managers to keep a finger on the market pulse. Analyses and expert comments on the latest market developments are instrumental to their daily operation."

The bank's relationship managers are also encouraged to join and contribute to industry events such as the annual Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards. "This is a highly-regarded platform for aspiring individuals in the field to share best practice and exchange ideas with their professional counterparts," Ms Lum notes.

The awards acknowledge outstanding performance and offer the participants an opportunity to shine. The participants also have a chance to polish their analytical and presentation skills, she adds. "Taking part in the HKIB Awards signifies both personal growth as well as that on a professional level for our financial planners."

Ms Lum has been serving on the judging panel for the HKIB Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards. She has observed that the award candidates' level of professionalism was rising constantly.

"Competition on Hong Kong's financial landscape is keen, to say the least," she reflects. "Established practitioners in wealth management as well as those looking to tap into the profession must look to continuous enhancement to develop and maintain an edge."

Higher ground

  • Discerning customers expect more from wealth management practitioners
  • Customer focus retains loyalty
  • Annual industry event drives up professional standards and value

Taken from Career Times 16 September 2011

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