In Hong Kong, a pro-business environment results from the regulatory and legal framework, top-class infrastructure such as telecommunications and transportation, wide use of English, availability of both local and foreign talent, and proximity to many of the world's most vibrant economies, particularly those in Asia.
"The modern comforts and security in this locale are conducive to the wealth management business. They have had a part to play in making Hong Kong a magnet for high net worth individuals to invest their funds in the international financial centre," says Kaven Leung, chief executive officer, Citi Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific.
According to the Merrill Lynch Capgemini Wealth Report 2006, the number of US$ millionaires in Hong Kong grew nearly 15 per cent to reach 77,000 in 2005, making it one of the fastest growing wealth markets in the world. The city links up with Singapore to become the primary hub for Citi Private Bank in the Asia Pacific region, employing more than 1,000 people. The workforce includes more than 600 based in Hong Kong, comprising various personnel with regional and global responsibilities, in addition to the employees solely serving the local private banking market.
"The soaring figure for the rich group in the region, coupled with the rising entrepreneurial qualities of these people, means that they are seeking more sophisticated solutions to wealth management," Mr Leung points out. "They have a tremendous number of needs in managing their wealth: financial planning, trust management, asset allocation, selection of hedge funds and asset managers, and philanthropic management."
Evolving client expectations have created the need for a new professional — private banker, who besides wealth management expertise must also be well-versed in investment and corporate banking skills. "Today our customers want services that can manage both their personal and business wealth, or what we term private investment banking," Mr Leung says.
As one of the region's largest and most respected wealth managers, Citi Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific attracts talented people seeking career opportunities. The candidates include those with established track records and expertise in corporate banking, investment banking, asset management, capital markets and other areas in banking and finance.
Despite this, the current demand for wealth management talent exceeds the supply. "This is perhaps the single largest factor constraining the growth of our industry in the region," Mr Leung says. "We can't rest on our laurels. Citi Private Bank has long recognised the fact that in an industry like ours, building a pipeline of talent is critical to our business. Therefore we have our own recruitment and development programme to achieve this."
In 2004, the bank initiated the wealth management associate programme, which was unprecedented in the private banking world when it was launched. This remains a proprietary supply channel, and continues to regularly attract the brightest into the rapidly expanding wealth management sector.
To date, five programmes have been completed in both Hong Kong and Singapore. Over 100 participants, most of them with four to six years' working experience, have taken the six-week intensive programme, during which they underwent classroom lessons, e-learning, examinations for professional certifications and on-the-job exposure to the various facets of private banking. Topics included regulatory and compliance policies and procedures, practical lessons in social and business etiquette, relationship management, operations, credit, fraud awareness, products and investments.
These mid-career management trainees, including former lawyers, engineers, civil servants, consultants and journalists, are now serving in various client-facing positions as associate bankers, investment analysts or portfolio analysts. Depending on their performance, maturity and previous work experience, they are expected to remain in their first position for two to five years before moving on to higher ones.
"The industry should invest in its people, in recruitment and in raising professional standards. That's why our recruitment and training programmes are among the most robust in the trade," Mr Leung says. In the last year Citi Private Bank's learning and development team has organised around 150 training modules, workshops and classes, taught by both in-house trainers and external experts. More than 4,000 staff attended these learning activities. "For senior managers, we also provide more targeted and strategic development initiatives, including executive leadership courses in partnership with renowned institutions such as Harvard Business School and Stanford University."
Citi Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific has more than 20 offices across the Asia-Pacific region serving 13 markets: Australia, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. As such it has the largest footprint among wealth managers in the region. This opens up a wealth of professional development opportunities for talent with the right qualifications and experience.