As new technologies are continuously developed and customers become more sophisticated, the banking industry has to evolve to cater to customers' ever-changing demands and increasingly fast-paced lifestyles.
Standard Chartered Bank Hong Kong is doing this by improving the availability and service options of both its non-branch and branch channels.
The growing need for easy-access, self-help banking service channels in Hong Kong has soared over the past decade. The demand for quick, convenient and real-time access to cash and personal account information has led to an expansion in the availability of such non-branch channels as ATMs, internet banking and call centres, providing customers effective, hassle-free and safe services.
Standard Chartered, an industry leader in this area, has joined together with JETCO in order to reach more customers. "Our ATM network is the biggest simply because of how convenient it is to customers, and our internet banking is growing by double digits every year," explains Catherina Chan, head of branch banking at Standard Chartered.
"Customers in general are demanding better services and we have responded. There is no longer a need to wait and queue up in a line to do a simple transaction such as a deposit when there is the alternative option of using an ATM, internet-banking or phone banking to get the job done much faster and more efficiently," Ms Chan says.
The main benefit of non-branch channels is that they offer 24-hour, seven days per week, self-help convenience. Branch channels, on the other hand, continue to play an important role in providing the bank face-to-face opportunities to discuss the financial matters with customers and to provide them with the total financial solution to suit their needs.
"Looking back 10 years ago to the dot-com boom phenomenon, everyone thought it would be the end of branch banking. However, as products and services became more sophisticated and complicated, customers value the personal advice from professionals and experts in the field, rather than always doing it on their own. Branch banking is used specifically for this purpose," Ms Chan explains.
To better understand its customers Standard Chartered looks directly at their behaviours, conducting regular surveys and holding luncheons with them. Results show that a certain percentage of customers still prefer going to branches to do transactions but are unable to because of time constraints. "Customers don't like to feel or be rushed. We understand and recognise this issue and therefore have become one of the first in the industry to 'retailise' our services by introducing six-day banking, where 20 of our branches are open until five o'clock on Saturdays. This allows more customers to visit us, especially those busy during the week," Ms Chan says. "No matter what, there are situations when customers prefer to see and talk with a person about their personal finances particularly on more complicated products like investments and mortgages and therefore branch banking is still essential. As such, this year alone we have plans to open 10 new branches in Hong Kong. We're also actively looking for more sites so we can continue to expand our reach to our customers."
As Hong Kong's overall economy continues to see growth, people are accumulating wealth at a steady rate, leading them to seek more sophisticated financial products and services that cater to meeting their long-term financial objectives. "Our customers recognise the need to protect their wealth. Therefore wealth management products are currently the most sought after in our banks," Ms Chan says. "To meet customer requirements we rigorously prepare our staff of qualified professionals to build a well-equipped and specialised team to assist and give expert and detailed advice to customers seeking the wide-range of sophisticated products and services that we offer."
Recognising keen competition in the industry, Standard Chartered takes recruitment and its trainee programmes seriously. According to Ms Chan, the bank is committed to developing talents to become senior executives. A "shared distribution trainee programme" is designed to allow fresh graduates to gain wide exposure by working in different departments in their early professional experience, enabling them to understand their career aspirations in the bank.
From orientation to training and on-the-job practice, all new staff are mentored and monitored by experienced managers and long-time professionals who have been with the bank for several years. New recruits are offered insights and support in areas such as basic knowledge and fundamentals of the banking industry, specific product knowledge, customer service techniques, bank policies and procedures, and compliance through a training programme that lasts about two to three months.
"Our employees are qualified banking professionals providing total financial solutions to our customers and are service-oriented, always serving our customers with heart," Ms Chan says. "This is our key to success — our flexibility and overall warm, friendly and caring attitude to both our staff and customers."