Money Moves

Close client relations bring mutual benefits

by Grace Chan

Banking giant leverages solid regional knowledge and global experience to help budding enterprises expand

Betty Ku (centre), regional head
Greater China, SME Banking
Carrie Lee (left)
international graduate 2008
Kee Leung, strategy and channel development manager, SME Banking
Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong)
Photo: Edde Ngan

Despite the global financial turmoil, Standard Chartered Bank doubled its new loan business for small enterprises in the first half of this year. Anticipating more growth, the bank's SME banking division is expanding its team of relationship managers (RM).

"The key role of our RMs is to foster long-term relationships with our customers, understand their needs and help them to explore and pursue new market opportunities," says Betty Ku, regional head, Greater China, SME Banking, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited. "Orders from the US and Europe have declined dramatically. Our SME clients could try and tap new market potential by riding on our wealth of expertise and knowledge on newer markets such as mainland China, India, Africa and the Middle East."

Standard Chartered monitored the changes in the economy in order to address SMEs' specific needs. One major initiative was to extend distribution channels, including opening a new SME banking centre in Cheung Sha Wan last year. The aim was to provide customers in the area with convenient, one-stop services.

"When the government launched its Special Loan Guarantee Scheme last December, we were among the first to support it," Ms Ku notes, adding that the bank mapped out two key strategies for developing its SME business.

New opportunities

When orders started to plunge in the forth quarter of last year, many SMEs suddenly faced a situation where they struggled to pay their bills. Recognising this, the bank worked with the government and trade associations to offer solutions.

Notably, Standard Chartered strategically partnered with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) to bring a series of activities for SMEs, including the World SME Expo in December 2008. The event offered seminars and workshops on new market opportunities, as well as chances for business matching.

"Rather than being product-driven, our aim is to advise and partner our customers to help them overcome financing difficulties while simultaneously growing their ventures," Ms Ku points out.

This approach has led to a nine per cent growth in new SME banking customers. The number of new loans to small enterprises rose by 110 per cent in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year, while new loans to medium-sized companies grew by 130 per cent in the second quarter over the first.

Standard Chartered will again sponsor the World SME Expo this year. Together with about 300 local SMEs and bank customers, the bank will also participate in the HKTDC's Style HK in Chongqing trade fair in November. This will be followed by a business delegation visiting India early next year, Ms Ku reveals.

Extensive network

With new enterprises increasingly shifting their focus from traditional markets to new ones, Standard Chartered is looking to strengthen team so as to help customers expand their trade.

The bank's SME banking division seeks recruits with a can-do attitude, a passion for the industry and engagement with their role. They should also share Standard Chartered's corporate mission and aspirations. Aside from RMs, there are also openings in the product development, risk management and strategic planning areas.

This global perspective makes Standard Chartered an employer of choice, with lateral and vertical career movements constantly on offer. Job rotations and overseas business trips help widen staff's horizons.

"Our RMs need to understand our clients' needs before making any recommendations," says Ms Ku. "They should be familiar with not only the SME situation in Hong Kong, but also the worldwide picture."

University graduates with less than two years' work experience may apply for the bank's international graduate programme (IGP). Once accepted, candidates embark on two years of training, incorporating job rotations through different departments.

"It's important for new recruits to get frontline experience as responding to customer needs is crucial to every aspect of our business," Ms Ku notes.

One employee who joined the bank as an international graduate in 2007 is Kee Leung, who has recently completed the IGP and become a strategy and channel development manager in SME banking. "SME banking functions like a mini bank, covering services such as lending, cash management, risk management and hedging. The learning experience is second to none," Ms Leung says.

Carrie Lee, a 2008 graduate working in the SME team, adds, "I find most of our SME customers to be highly sophisticated and well aware of their financial management needs. With sufficient training and a well-developed support infrastructure, we are in an ideal position to offer our customers high-level advices."

Ms Ku notes that the RM team has doubled from 110 employees in 2006 to the current 230. "We plan to hire 50 additional staff by year-end," she says.

Thinking big

  • Extended distribution channels offer customers convenient, one-stop services
  • Bank actively sponsors industry expos and fairs to facilitate trade opportunities
  • New recruits sought to help expand business

Taken from Career Times 04 September 2009, p. A4
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