Though different types of financial institution are now offering wealth management services, leading banks still believe they possess a significant advantage. As evidence, they point to their extensive branch networks and the one-stop nature of their services, which now range from traditional savings, loans and mortgages to numerous tailored investments and insurance products.
According to Vincent Lee, assistant general manager of Nanyang Commercial Bank, this provides an opportunity to introduce customers to more diversified options. He says the traditional approach to investment in Hong Kong has simply been to put any surplus funds into a deposit account or the local stock market. However, people now have a better understanding of comprehensive financial planning and realise that banks can meet the vast majority of their needs.
"Customers know they can visit one of our 40-plus branches or make enquiries and carry out transactions on a 24-hour basis by phone or via the Internet," Mr Lee says.
He notes that the variety of sales channels makes it easier to deal with current customers and contact potential clients.
Overall, Mr Lee thinks that wealth management in Hong Kong is about to enter an impressive new phase of growth. People are more aware about the possibility of early retirement and the likelihood of living longer than previous generations, and therefore see the importance of planning their finances properly.
Our philosophy is to develop members of staff according to their strengths and interests
For this reason, Nanyang Commercial Bank has dedicated considerable resources in recent years to creating the necessary hardware and software to meet demand.
"Each branch now has a team of financial planning professionals, including four to six personal banking officers and managers," Mr Lee says. They all have the licences required to sell insurance and to advise on other investment products. The bank also actively encourages them to obtain additional professional qualifications, such as the Certified Financial Management Planner (CFMP™) designation offered by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers. Besides assisting personal development, this designation also helps to inspire confidence in customers, who realise they are working with well-qualified professionals.
At the same time, the bank has continued to expand its range of investment products, providing choices for people with different requirements, varying levels of risk tolerance, and at different stages of life. These options can be discussed in detail in a separate area in each branch, which is set aside for personal banking services.
Mr Lee says the initial focus for financial planners should be to gain trust and start to build a long-term relationship with clients. This is the key to offering high-quality customer service and is one of the first points emphasised to new recruits.
As part of its current hiring drive, the bank is ready to consider both recent graduates and more experienced candidates for available positions. This is seen as the secret to having a well balanced team capable of achieving outstanding results.
Mr Lee says that candidates should have a solid academic background and, more importantly, a real interest in and passion for banking and finance. They should also be prepared to accept the challenges in providing round-the-clock service and advice to customers, with constant reviews of international markets. To be sure of success as a financial planner, it is also vital to put customer needs first and to continue to learn throughout one's career.
This will open up opportunities for fast-track development, especially as wealth management has now become such a central part of the bank's plans for future growth. Newcomers may start as general customer service officers, then move on to personal banking and, eventually, to the position of branch manager or area manager.
"Our philosophy is to develop members of staff according to their strengths and interests, so that they can go on to achieve their full potential," Mr Lee says.