People often have the impression that working in banking and finance means dealing only with numbers. The reality is that many employees deal mostly with people and thus communication skills are just as highly prized as is being adept with figures.
Angela Chan, vice president of relationship management in the business banking division at Hang Seng Bank, is the type of successful professional who thrives on human interaction.
Graduating with a degree in marketing, her first job was in accounting, and she soon realised she wanted something more from her career — people interaction. "So I moved into the business banking area," she says.
In her current position, Ms Chan oversees relationships with the bank's small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients. "We look after all aspects of the relationship whether it is wealth management, MPF or loans," she says.
Her role is to satisfy clients' needs so that they do not have to, or even consider having to, look elsewhere for desired services.
The ability to build close rapport with clients is the fundamental condition for success in Ms Chan's profession. "We get a lot of exposure to clients," she says. "As such, communication skills are very important".
To establish relationships it is helpful to be able to read people and so, Ms Chan believes that being able to analyse clients is also very important. Though some of these skills come naturally, she stresses that there is no substitute for hard work. "The market is so transparent that you have to be dedicated in order to stay competitive," she says.
"Be dedicated in order to stay competitive"
Rise to the challenge
Integrating into any new environment can be challenging, especially in the fast-paced banking industry, and Hang Seng Bank aims to ease the process for new employees with its induction training programme.
Another area that the company has earmarked for its training is Ms Chan's specialty — customer relations. "We provide lots of training for business account managers and other staff in communication and sales techniques so they can better assist clients," she says.
Ms Chan enjoys the thrill of a challenge and she finds this in business banking. "Things change rapidly," she says. "You get an appreciation of your own success through meeting a client's goals and it's very satisfying."
As competition among banks for SME clients further intensifies, Ms Chan is constantly thinking about ways to retain current clients and attract new ones. Hang Seng Bank possesses an impressive client base and offers premium customer service, a competitive edge in the current market.
University graduates often do not end up working in their specific field of study, though generally there will be some similarities between the two. Ms Chan, for instance, is not directly working in marketing but her job still involves communicating with people and building relationships that are beneficial to both client and the bank — important qualities required by all industries nowadays.
Ms Chan has found that personal qualities are usually just as — or even more — important than a specific qualification. Hang Seng Bank, she says, targets recruits with the ability to communicate effectively and to analyse people and situations, rather than focusing on graduates who come from a purely business background. "If we look at our staff, not all of them studied business. When we are hiring we look whether a person has business related skills, meaning good interpersonal and analytical acumen," she says. Thus, irrespective of academic disciplines, Ms Chan recommends that people who are outgoing, highly analytical and enjoy a challenge should consider a career in business banking.
Today, as more mainland enterprises are opening offices in Hong Kong, the market size is increasing, which allows greater opportunities for financial institutions to cash in. In turn this means more staff need to be hired, with communication and analytical skills, as well as language skills, being paramount. These new recruits can expect to deal with clients locally, but also to travel to mainland China and do business there.