Retail Banking

Banking institutions set for talent windfall

by Charles Mak

Felix Lau, executive vice president and head of sales and distribution retail banking group
CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited
Photo: Raymond Yick

Finance professionals reap rich pickings as recruitment resumes

In a manifestation of resilience with all the dexterity of a hard bitten economy, the Hong Kong financial market was quick to spring back from last year's economic morass that stirred up angst among people entangled in a career paradox which now accentuates a heavy emphasis on ethics, compliance and professional enhancement.

With hiring activities picking up the pace, banks and financial houses are stepping up resources in a move to snap up existing as well as fledgling talent primed to face greater challenge and take on increased responsibilities in a more regulated environment.

"The inevitable shift in market sentiments is driving a gesture of change and we must always seek to align staff competence with customer expectation dimensions so as to make headway with strategic development," says Felix Lau, executive vice president and head of sales and distribution, retail banking group, CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited, which operates under the umbrella of the Fortune 500 CITIC Group in mainland China.

Greener pastures

In a bid to beef up teams ahead of branch expansion, CITIC Ka Wah has laid hiring plans for an additional 50 frontline staff to complement its existing workforce. Experienced professionals are first in line.

The bank relies on an uncomplicated recruitment mechanism in strict accordance with a clearly defined set of guidelines and requirements, putting job candidates through a competency based selection process that involves face-to-face interaction with the bank's line managers and HR department in interview sessions where the individuals' qualification, work experience and attitude as well as career aspirations come under close scrutiny.

Hiring right entails manifold benefits. The bank takes pride in its stable workforce that generates word-of-mouth influence on potential recruits. "Our reputation constitutes a significant feature of our employer brand," says Mr Lau.

As the financial jobs outlook gets rosier, discerning jobseekers exhibit traits of heightened professionalism that is characteristic of a maturing market.

"Job candidates do not so much as prioritise monetary gains nowadays," observes Mr Lau. "They tend to focus their sights on a prospective employer's business directions, clientele, promotion tracks and performance management systems. In all, they need a platform to excel in the field."

Noted for a strong adherence to its core value in "building people, build team", CITIC Ka Wah sees people as important assets. Mr Lau advises up-and-coming graduates to work towards achieving a career objective and be prepared for work in a highly regulated, performance driven environment.

"Employers across the board value work exposure," he notes. "Graduates will only find short stints such as summer internships or part time undertakings pay dividends for these help to confirm their career aspirations. Obtaining the necessary licenses during their university studies will definitely gives them a head start."

Successful incumbents may embark on a sales management route initially as financial services manager, senior financial services manager, relationship manager, senior relationship manager and subsequently CITICfirst centre manager. There is a possibility for high performing staff to cut their teeth into management and resume the position of branch manager and then district manager. Currently, more than half of the bank's relationship managers were promoted from within.

Clear sailing

Immense pressure to deliver performance may lead new recruits to opt for an early exit. In view of this, CITIC Ka Wah recently enhanced its performance management system which now gives these staff a nine-month grace period to build up their performance. Mr Lau notes however that this all boils down to creating an agreeable environment for them to take off in their career. "The first few months are more about survival," he adds, pointing out that the bank typically provides its new relationship managers with a client base and expect them to take care of a maximum of 250 to 300 clients as they gain in competence over the years.

Aside from an expanding product portfolio and a sophisticated customer management system, the bank has in place an elementary sales certification programme that brings new joiners up to speed with, among other things, the bank's culture, systems and product offerings, in a span of 18 days.

Existing staff, in turn, are expected to take advantage of a plethora of training programmes that cover everything from generic skills to general management. Currently, some 70 per cent of the bank's CITICfirst relation managers are accredited holders of professional qualifications such as the CFMPTM and AHKIBTM conferred by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) while a handful of them have over the past years taken home accolades from industry competitions like the HKIB Outstanding Financial Manager Planner Awards, in recognition of their flair and zeal.

Fresh platform

  • Jobseekers now exhibit traits of heightened professionalism
  • Graduates advised to work towards career objectives
  • Clear career roadmaps provide a framework for professional development

Taken from Career Times 12 March 2010, A9

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