Retail Banking

Customer relationships drive wealth management expansion

by Emma Jones

Lena Chan, head of service and sales, personal financial services, The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited

Employees should always think from the perspective of clients

Wealth management has already become such a major part of the retail banking scene that all the leading institutions are now offering an extensive but broadly similar range of products and services. However, the one thing that clearly differentiates them is the way they deal with clients and, for that, the prerequisite is excellence in customer relationship management.

In the case of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, a relationship manager is expected to look after the bank's Premier customers who have a total balance of not less than HK$1 million. In addition to providing basic banking services, the role also entails presenting financial choices which are tailored to meet precise individual requirements.

"A needs-based approach is very important," says Lena Chan, head of service and sales for HSBC's personal financial services. "A relationship manager must first identify the needs of customers and map their requirements with the suite of solutions available."

Since the launch of HSBC Premier over ten years ago, customer needs have become ever more diverse and sophisticated. "They are no longer restricted to saving, credit or mortgages, but vary with the different financial circumstances and risk profiles of clients who are at different stages of life," Ms Chan says. As customers have become more knowledgeable, they have also started to expect more in terms of choice, returns on investment and the bank's overall quality of service.

Ms Chan points out that the main challenge facing today's relationship managers is the volume of information available. "There is just so much industry news on economic trends and the wide range of investment tools that has to be read and digested in order to map the optimal solutions for clients," she says. To simplify things, HSBC has developed an advanced system to analyse potential customer needs and provide relevant information. Also, the bank's comprehensive support is provided behind the scenes.

Solid experience

Currently, HSBC has over 400 relationship managers serving more than 200,000 clients and the team is continuing to expand. New recruits are usually university graduates with not less than three years' sales and marketing experience. They must be fluent in English and Cantonese, while proficiency in Putonghua, a postgraduate business degree and, preferably, a qualification as a certified financial plannerCM are definite advantages.

Recent graduates who are interested in a career in wealth management can start as financial services officers, responsible for serving general bank customers. The products involved and techniques required are not as complex, so this provides a good introduction to the field, according to Ms Chan.

Since most investors are now able to look at opportunities around the world, portfolios are getting more "globalised" and relationship managers must therefore have an international outlook. Besides this, Ms Chan says they should be flexible, forward-looking and ready to deal with change. She also highlights the need for technical knowledge of financial markets, strong interpersonal and communication skills, and an "outside in" attitude. "This means that instead of being self-centred, our employees should always think from the perspective of clients," she explains.

Branch assignments

Staff retention is one of the keys to managing customer relationships in the long run, and Ms Chan confirms that HSBC has a relatively low rate of turnover. She believes this is because the bank provides a strong client base plus structured training and a clear career path. New relationship managers receive four to six weeks' classroom training which deals with the corporate culture, knowledge of financial products, and essential customer relationship skills. They are then assigned to a branch and given on-the-job training by more senior staff. Weekly meetings give them the chance to share their experiences and best practices.

Promotion can lead to the position of branch manager or to roles in call centre management or product development. The path taken and the speed of advancement really depend on individual interests and abilities, according to Ms Chan.

However, anyone who wants to shift to the corporate banking sector should be prepared to start from scratch. That is because previous experience in retail banking may not always be applicable, other than in the understanding it develops of the importance of communications and building close relationships with clients. Ms Chan says that the financial goals and products available are very different for personal and corporate customers. For example, when working in corporate banking, relationship managers must be able to interpret a company's balance sheet and undertake "totally different dialogues".

Needs-based approach

  • Customer requirements in the field of wealth management are becoming ever more diverse and sophisticated
  • Relationship managers must take a needs-based approach in order to identify the right solutions
  • A major challenge is to keep on top of the sheer volume of financial information and analysis
  • Preferred recruits are university graduates with at least three years' experience in a sales and marketing role
  • Extensive training and a structured career path open up numerous possibilities for promotion

Taken from Career Times 24 June 2005
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