The retail banking landscape has shifted significantly in the past few years, says Hang Seng Bank's Senior Manager and Head of Staff Training and Development Janice Li.
"Retail banks are now gearing their services towards offering wealth management products. In fact, we've only started offering these products in the past few years, as our branches have slowly evolved away from being transaction centers to service centers," says Ms Li.
The wealth management products that the bank offers include a wide range of life and general insurance, investment funds and securities trading services.
A new frontline
Essentially, there are two types of wealth management operatives at the Hang Seng Bank: customer service officers (CSOs) and customer relationship managers (CRMs), who operate in branches; and financial services executives (FSEs) who are outbound sales staff.
"These roles overlap in many areas, but the target customer base is different," explains Ms Li. "FSEs meet clients in their own environment to sell insurance products and offer an insight into our other services, while CSOs promote investment products to the mass end of the retail market. CRMs cater for higher net-worth individuals who hold Prestige Banking accounts."
They help clients analyze their financial needs and provide information on the wealth management products for the clients' consideration. These staff are well trained with product knowledge and have acquired the relevant qualifications for selling investment and insurance products.
At the moment Hang Seng Bank has more than 100 CRMs, more than 300 CSOs and about 50 FSEs, although these figures only include staff who are directly involved in the selling process.
"Many other branch employees who are not directly deployed in wealth management roles are also trained and qualified to introduce insurance and investment products to customers," says Ms Li, adding that each branch manager also has a sales management role.
Currently there are more than 2,000 Hang Seng Bank employees who are qualified as insurance sales agents, up from about 800 in 1999.
Preparing for new markets
Hang Seng Bank mainly grooms its CSOs, CRMs and FSEs from its own ranks, and Ms Li notes that since the wealth management field is relatively new in Hong Kong, there are not that many really experienced staff available in the job market. The bank also trains staff hired from its university graduate recruitment drives.
CSOs undertake a pre-placement training program which generally takes about three months, while CRMs need a further two weeks of classroom training and examinations, and are encouraged to acquire the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) qualification. FSEs are mainly university graduates and their pre-placement training usually takes about one month, including company specific courses and placement with team leaders to gain field experience.
"Of course, the CFP qualification is not an industry requirement, but we feel that it is an important benchmark for our staff and a way to improve their professionalism," says Ms Li. "Hence we are promoting it throughout the company as a long-term benefit for staff alongside our internal educational programs. It's a way for us to improve our services and differentiate ourselves from the competition."
"Facing the ever changing business environment, the Bank, in order to remain competitive in the market, is tailoring its business to meet the more sophisticated needs of today's customers. The bank's training function, being the business partner, is to equip competent staff to support the business growth," says Ms Li.
To mobilize the front-line service staff to cross-sell insurance products, the bank developed a well-structured insurance training program back in 1999 which was awarded the Gold Prize of the Award for Excellence in Training 2001 organised by the Hong Kong Management Association in 2001. It comprises three stages, namely, "Building Up Commitment", "Fulfilling Compliance" and "Enhancing Competence".
Various training activities, including workshops, videos and classroom courses are organized in the first two stages. "We have to provide reinforcement training to enable our staff to deliver premium customer services through selling the right products to the right customers," says Ms Li.
Staff must undertake continuous professional training to enhance their product knowledge, keep abreast of compliance issues and have a greater insight into the latest industry developments.
"Once the staff passed the Insurance Intermediary Qualifying Examination and were registered as insurance sales agents, they will then proceed to the "Enhancing Competence" stage," explains Ms Li.
Core training in the form of a five-day workshop is provided for the staff. A combination of in-branch coaching and self-learning mode is then adopted to reinforce the staff's product knowledge. Training packages, which comprise videos and learning guides designed and produced by in-house trainers, are distributed to all branches to facilitate effective in-branch coaching on new products.
"Not including product training, staff undergo an average of seven days training per year," says Ms Li. "Training is usually conducted in-house, though we also partner with selected universities to run certain training programs. Apart from the technical knowledge of the particular products sold, we also focus on soft skills such as leadership ability, coaching and people management for officers and managers."