Financial institutions are transforming, and in response to the rising numbers of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Hong Kong, astute financiers have taken proactive steps to offer comprehensive banking services which cater to the specific needs of SMEs.
Nixon Chan, senior executive, commercial banking, CMB — small and medium enterprises (SME) business, HSBC explains how the bank's niche expertise supports both the business and financial procedures of SMEs in Hong Kong. "At the moment we have more than 260,000 SME customers, which means we have the scale to invest considerable sums to ensure we maintain superlative banking services," Mr Chan says.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority currently requires banks to observe stringent rules concerning the notion of "knowing your customer". HSBC also has a comparative advantage in this area as several designated SME centres are peppered throughout Hong Kong offering customers a comfortable, private and bustle-free environment, conducive to relaxed information exchange. This tranquil atmosphere in turn facilitates a more thorough understanding of each customer, helping HSBC paint a more holistic picture of each SME's unique needs and aspirations.
Regarding the scope and scale of SME support, Mr Chan adds that HSBC has established dedicated commercial transaction centres in three strategic locations in Hong Kong — Sheung Wan, Wanchai and Kwun Tong. The locational choice is in response to high demand for commercial transaction facilities in these areas. "Two more centres will soon be opened in Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon Bay in response to the considerable commercial transactions taking place there," Mr Chan reveals.
Telephone support is an essential component of SME service at HSBC. In this regard, HSBC has in place some 180 staff, specifically trained in commercial banking, working in the company's expanding call centre in Tai Kok Tsui. "Our agents handle more than 100,000 calls a month," says Mr Chan, a figure which indicates the popularity of telephone support even as internet banking gains ground.
To date HSBC serves more than 110,000 business internet banking customers — a figure which reveals both the level of simplicity and sophistication of HSBC's internet banking platform. In recognition of this user-friendly platform, at the SMBWorld IT Awards 2007, HSBC received the Best SME e-banking Services Award. With just a few clicks, customers can apply for an account, insurance services, and a range of credit and trade services.
Recent accolades bestowed on the bank have hailed from an array of institutions, indicating a high degree of overall customer satisfaction. In 2007, the Capital Weekly Pro-Choice Awards honoured HSBC with the Best SME Banking Service Award. Economic Digest conferred the Best SME Partner Award on the bank. Also in 2007, the Hong Kong Chamber of Small and Medium Business Ltd awarded HSBC the SME's Best Partner Award.
"In an independent customer service survey from 2007 which ranked banks according to their respective levels of customer satisfaction, HSBC was awarded top spot by a substantial margin," explains Mr Chan. "Our score was almost double that of the industry average. Year-on-year internet transactions through the HSBC business platform are up 46 per cent, a figure indicative of the popularity of our services," he adds.
Mr Chan is acutely aware of current employee market trends in Hong Kong and the need to formulate competitive and well-structured career packages in order to recruit and retain the best talent in the industry. He remarks, "Educational opportunities are essential for staff if we want to keep ahead of the employee market."
With a range of sub-sectors within HSBC's SME banking realm, the possibilities for both lateral and vertical movement are manifold, leading to greater professional options for every employee. "Integrity and personal drive are the essential characteristics we seek in our staff," adds Mr Chan, noting that these key features help build teams committed to moving the company forwards.
"More and more banks are increasingly focusing on their SME business capabilities. Obviously, this will lead to greater career opportunities in the sector as services expand and competition intensifies for both talented employees and market share of SMEs," Mr Chan says. He admits that the amount of resources needed to build a comprehensive SME service is huge. However, hardware alone doesn't suffice. "You need to take time to build your people and your team," he concludes.