Corporate Banking

Banking on human capital

by Y K Ma

Fern Ngai, head of human resources
Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan

Leading commercial bank appreciates the value of manpower

Demand for qualified and experienced banking professionals in Hong Kong has increased exponentially of late, largely fuelled by the rapid development of financial markets over the past year. Astute corporations identified this trend some time ago and have taken proactive steps to ensure retention and recruitment of top banking talent.

One such institution which has incorporated certain anti-attrition measures to reduce the impact of labour mobility on its overall operational success is Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited. The bank's management is well aware of the potential impact on productivity and profit associated with high staff turnover.

Fern Ngai, head of human resources, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, expects the demand for experienced and talented banking professionals to remain high in 2008. Demand for seasoned managers and financial experts in mainland China and the region is also on the rise and qualified Hong Kong employees are considered huge assets.

In response to such labour market conditions, Standard Chartered plans to recruit a further 500 to 600 staff this year in addition to paying considerable attention to retention strategies for existing staff.

Diversity pays

Standard Chartered is Hong Kong's fourth largest bank, operating in many of the world's fastest growing markets and deriving more than 90 per cent of its profits from emerging markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In line with its mission statement, Standard Chartered's workforce of 60,000 staff worldwide represents more than 100 nationalities serving in more than 1,400 Standard Chartered branches in more than 50 countries.

Mrs Ngai underlines Standard Chartered's unique global footprint, adding that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is key to both its operational and recruitment strategies. "Our bank believes in embracing the different interests, needs and strengths of our people, and enabling them to fulfil their potential. We do not only focus on maximising their capabilities today, but also on building and leveraging their potential for tomorrow. Workforce diversity results in greater creativity and ultimately enhanced end products," she says.

"A diverse workforce also demonstrates a more sophisticated appreciation and understanding of customer needs," she adds. "As a bank where quality customer service is of paramount importance, diversity gives us the competitive edge."

To achieve this, the bank deviates from the norm. "People are talented, yet so different from each other and Standard Chartered looks beyond the traditional talent pool for people who may not conform to the typical banking personnel mould," Mrs Ngai notes.

To give an example, she says Standard Chartered recently recruited a molecular biotechnologist to its consumer banking group. Indeed Mrs Ngai's own career with Standard Chartered also illustrates this point. She has 28 years' experience in information technology before taking over the top position in the human resources department at the bank two years ago.

Right fit

The principal recruitment strategy at Standard Chartered is the search for the "right fit", rather than the "perfect fit". This in turn creates the optimal environment for people to succeed, Mrs Ngai says.

"Along with ample development and career opportunities, we passionately believe in creating a great workplace for our people in terms of work-life balance, and we adopt family-friendly measures to support our staff throughout their careers and respect different personal priorities," she adds. Standard Chartered was one of the first banks in Hong Kong to implement a five-day week scheme, and offer male staff five days of paternity and adoption leave. In addition, there are various programmes in place to encourage employees to follow a healthy lifestyle, for example the recent inclusion of traditional Chinese medicine in the staff medical plan. The bank's "Programme Care" organises many activities for staff and their families, appealing to a wide range of interests, such as volunteering, sports and wellness.

Mrs Ngai believes that financial rewards alone are not enough to retain quality people. Communication is important at Standard Chartered. A proactive measure using feedback channels has helped Standard Chartered discover how engaged, enthusiastic and stimulated staff feel. For the last seven years, the bank has also analysed the results of an annual engagement survey, designed by the Gallup Organisation, to gauge employees' professional passion and motivation.

The bank's management shares the results of the survey with staff and applies them on developing team-based action plans. Mrs Ngai says the latest survey scores are in Gallup's top quartile, placing the bank on par with world-class companies boasting superlative staff engagement practice.

Like many firms, Standard Chartered encourages mentoring among its staff whereby more experienced staff impart knowledge to new recruits. However, unlike typical hierarchical companies, the bank has in place a "reverse mentoring" system where younger staff are given opportunities to express their views or make suggestions to senior management. "We provide opportunities for each of our employees to make a difference," Mrs Ngai notes. Clearly it is an initiative that starts from the very top.


Taken from Career Times 11 January 2008
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