Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Customer relationship a priority

by YK Ma

Heather Wong, Citigold relationship manager, Causeway Bay branch
Citibank Global Consumer Group
with Joseph Yam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority
Photo: Wallace Chan

Top accolades provide platform for improved industry performance

Her customers treat her like family which effectively explains why Heather Wong, Citigold relationship manager, Causeway Bay branch, Citibank Global Consumer Group, clinched the Grand Award (Group A — financial planners with less than three years' experience) at the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Planner Awards.

Ricky Lin, director of wealth management, Citibank Global Consumer Group notes that of the nine Citibank participants in this year's contest five returned with silverware.

"Our success formula involves no special drills and no particular programme. The secret lies in the bank's provision of comprehensive training and exceptional support. We are aware that all our staff will at least meet the basic criteria of a contest such as this one. In essence awards like this act as benchmarks to measure our staff's performance," he explains.

Trusting relationships

Ms Wong finds the relationship building aspect of her position the most rewarding. "For example, I have built a bond with a customer group who are all from one family. Over the years, members from this family alone have opened 16 accounts with me. We weathered tough financial times together and as a result, have become close friends. I am now invited to their family gatherings," she says.

The contest's main assessment criteria include five areas: how financial planners build a trusting relationship with customers, how to help customers recognise financial goals, understanding customers' financial status, structuring a financial plan for individual customers and finally, timely management.

Ms Wong stresses the skills needed to build a trusting client relationship usually supercede all other aspects of her job. "In the absence of a environment of integrity, things can become mechanical. The customer would not tell you what they really needed. And in this case, what looked like a good wealth management proposal would be useless," she says.

Meanwhile, Mr Lin underlines the need to dig beneath the surface and perform an in-depth analysis of a customer's needs to succeed in the industry. "It's not unheard of for a person to confide in a banking relationship manager rather than a spouse. It's clear a financial planner's responsibilities stretch beyond simple investment proposals — it involves helping people achieve their goals, be it retirement needs or other family commitments," he explains.

In Ms Wong, Mr Lin sees the rare quality of formidable relationship builder: "She does it naturally rather than as a requirement. She has an unsurpassed capacity to care for other people, understand their needs and concerns, and make use of these skills professionally."

Learning culture

Ms Wong feels she gained a lot from participating in the contest, which also serves as a platform for industry practitioners to unite and share their views on contemporary matters.

"By participating in the contest, I had the chance to observe other financiers and learn from them. From Edward Lee, (Grand Award winner — Group B), I picked up analytical skills, which in turn will help me in my own work. I believe everybody is unique, possessing his or her own strengths. This was really a great opportunity to learn from others," she says.

Financial planners, however, must also toe a fine line between nurturing customer relationships and educating customers. The successful financial planner is able to strike a healthy balance between helping customers reach their financial goals and ensuring they understand the rationale behind their portfolio.

Ricky Lin, director of wealth management
Citibank (Hong Kong) Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan
Mr Lin's final note underlines Citibank's commitment to ever-more sophisticated training programmes which incorporate product knowledge, operations, compliance and regulations for banking professionals alongside soft skills training necessary for communications and strong client relations.

"We want our financial planners to provide a consistently high standard of service. We are also acutely aware of service continuity from banker to banker and our customers should feel they receive superlative service, irrespective of the individual serving them," he asserts.

Taken from Career Times 07 December 2007
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