Since the global financial markets are constantly changing, it is crucial for financial planners to stay abreast of the latest trends in order to draw up and manage sensible investment portfolios for clients.
"As professionals in the financial planning industry, we value our customers and offer them the necessary information to make informed decisions regarding their financial plans," says Jason Tong, Citigold relationship manager, Citibank Global Consumer Group, and group B finalist in the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards 2008.
"Working as a team, our aim is to constantly improve our portfolio review mechanism to ensure clients get the most out of our service," notes Mr Tong.
Citibank employs a sophisticated approach, supported by extensive personnel resources, to ensure its customers are kept updated with timely market information. Aside from informing clients about financial opportunities resulting from market trends, the bank also considers changes in customers' circumstances when making financial planning recommendations.
Thanks to a strong team of investment specialists and financial consultants, the bank keeps customers updated through a wide range of channels, from traditional telephone calls to new virtual platforms.
In particular, the bank has a full-service data centre to manage databases of customer portfolios and market information feeds. "Each customer has unique financial needs and objectives," Mr Tong stresses. "So, not only do we tailor-make our clients' financial plans, we also give them individual, relevant updates and advice."
The bank's research team analyses the impact of market changes on individual customers' financial plans. The team conducts daily briefings, quarterly forums and regular meetings with frontline colleagues and provides customers with timely advice through customer service specialists.
Individuals' financial goals and risk tolerance change several times in their lifetime. Since the essence of having a financial plan is to anticipate the future, a responsible financial planning specialist helps customers prepare for significant life changes. "Our role is to build trusting relationships with customers, so that we can help them to cope with the market changes, as well as those regarding their own financial needs," Mr Tong says. "For example, in addition to congratulating customers who are soon getting married, we also advise them about the importance of financial protection."
Other momentous changes include having a baby or retiring. New parents tend to focus on saving for their child's educational needs, whereas people who are about to retire are advised to lower their risk and opt for more conservative investment plans."
Living up to a "customer first" motto, Citibank customer specialists seek every opportunity to understand their clients' current situation via regularly face-to-face meetings and financial review interviews. The specialists often take a proactive approach, contacting customers for updates to keep track of any life changes, providing timely advice on financial plans.
To meet different customer needs, the bank has created a virtual platform Citibank Personal Banker Online, for customers who are unable to visit the bank in person. The platform supplements traditional ways of communication, functioning as a real-time virtual conferencing system that enables both parties to see and talk to one another.
"The powerful system also allows instant document exchanges on the internet and facilitates presentations and communication," Mr Tong adds. "The virtual platform is only one example of our determination to communicate with different customers. We explore multiple communication channels in order to make the whole experience trouble-free for our customers."
Mr Tong credits team effort for the successful communication between frontline specialists and customers, saying the whole mechanism demands swift market updates, quality portfolio management and caring frontline service.
While the newly introduced platform opens the door to multiple new possibilities, it is people who make things work and Mr Tong pursues every training opportunity to sharpen his communication skills and improve his financial knowledge to better serve sophisticated customers.
His experience as a participant in the competition was an eye-opener, he says. "The judges were all experts and their questions were challenging and inspiring. They encouraged me to view financial planning advisory from a completely new angle, which was rewarding in itself," Mr Tong notes.