Corporate Banking

Closing the gap

by Ada Ng

Samuel Tong
assistant general manager and head of corporate banking II
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) Limited
Photo: Louis Lam

The Hong Kong-based operation of a major mainland finance institution has the expertise and necessary channels to facilitate cross-border transactions

As trade increases between mainland China and the rest of the world, one market leader is expanding its commercial banking services and nurturing its talent pipeline in anticipation of increasing demand for Renminbi-denominated international trade settlements.

This follows the launch of the pilot scheme for cross-border trade settlement in RMB. Under the scheme, about 400 selected enterprises in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Dongguan may use RMB for customs declarations and settlements of import and export transactions with enterprises through RMB clearing mechanisms for banks in Hong Kong, Macau and ASEAN countries.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) Limited, which provides extensive commercial banking services to corporate customers in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere, is among the first batch of banks chosen to provide RMB settlement services in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong has already made a significant head start as a pilot centre to facilitate RMB internationalisation," says Samuel Tong, assistant general manager and head of corporate banking II, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) Limited. "Demand for a series of related cross-border commercial banking services will follow."

Mr Tong believes this will add a new dimension to the city's role as a major banking hub on the mainland's doorstep. There is therefore a need to complement the bank's core strengths with a talented team.

In the meantime, the bank is leveraging its mainland resources and has set up a task force to keep track of Hong Kong companies' cross-border banking needs.

"In preparing for the growth of the cross-border RMB settlement services, we are looking at our existing clients' potential cross-border trade settlement needs. We are also identifying customers that are the trade partners of the designated mainland pilot scheme companies, so that we can enhance our relations with them," Mr Tong notes.

Recruitment strategy

Instead of merely filling vacancies, ICBC (Asia) focuses on workforce planning. "We don't have a set number of positions, but consider applications as they come in and are prepared to employ candidates with both the requisite qualities and commercial banking experience," Mr Tong explains.

The bank, which has taken advantage of the global financial crisis to recruit high-calibre staff, currently employs about 120 relationship managers and product managers with an average of 10 years' experience.

"We aim to build a strong team that is able to provide cross-border solutions catering to various enterprises' different business needs," Mr Tong adds. He believes this is one way to stand out in the highly competitive Hong Kong banking industry.

In addition to assigning relationship managers to look after clients' business needs, the bank also employs product specialists to assess customers' risk exposure in order to tailor solutions for them.

China focus

Apart from recruiting people with experience, ICBC (Asia) also runs a comprehensive management trainee programme to groom young talent that fit into the bank's culture.

"The programme leverages our branch network in mainland China and specialist knowledge of the Chinese market," says Saki Tsoi, the bank's head of human resources, adding that it targets university graduates who have a year or two's work experience and aspire to be part of the Hong Kong business community and to be involved in mainland banking sector development.

Hong Kong candidates are first in line, but mainland and international talent will also be considered. Mr Tsoi says, "The programme's key strength is that it familiarises trainees with both the mainland and Hong Kong banking systems. We also plan to include an exchange programme to give trainees exposure to both markets."

Mr Tong points out that trainees will rotate through various units in the first two years of the programme. Those who are keen on developing a career in commercial banking may subsequently pursue a relationship manager role.

While the backbone of the bank's operation is a talented and experienced workforce, an integrated branch network and resources are crucial to create the best banking solutions for clients, emphasises Mr Tong.

ICBC, the parent company of ICBC (Asia), operates more than 16,000 domestic branches, covering all major locations as well as smaller cities on the mainland such as Hebei, Gansu and Shanxi. The Hong Kong-based commercial banking team concentrates on providing commercial lending, structured finance, trade finance and equipment financing services to small- and medium-sized enterprises. The bank is also committed to providing a wide range of cross-border services, such as China remittances and a 24-hour telegraphic transfer service.

"Our extensive network enables us to add value for our clients," says Mr Tong. "Assistance with legal and financing decisions and advice on doing business in comparatively remote areas are invaluable and possible thanks to our integrated branch network and mainland market knowledge," he concludes.

Taken from Career Times 15 January 2010, p. A3

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