The devastating 1997 economic crisis demonstrated Hong Kong investors' need for portfolio diversification. Some 10 years on, banks are progressively expanding their financial planning capacity, but recruiting and retaining qualified financial planners at a time when all employers seem to be fishing from the same small pond requires strategic preparation.
Maisie Lam, director of human resources, Citibank Hong Kong, says, "The availability of financial planning experts in the market is limited. All banks want to expand in this area but it's not ideal to take from each other's labour pools. We don't want a 'people war'."
Citibank remedies the labour shortage by grooming its own professionals. "We prefer pipeline training and staffing. Our aim is to promote from within so we can be assured of ethics, performance and the overall quality of our staff," Ms Lam says, claiming that Citibank's promotion rate is twice as high as other banks. "We are able to promote people quickly because we give staff training and goals. Training and performance are linked directly to career development. It's not just 'time on the job' that counts."
Citibank has increased its workforce in recent times with the number of personal banker positions up 40 per cent. "We have also had significant increases in relationship managers in the past year," Ms Lam says. "We want to maintain a steady number so as to give them more dedicated attention."
Ms Lam estimates the finance industry's turnover rate averages 15 to 30 per cent but that Citibank's high level of staff satisfaction keeps its turnover in check. The bank's biannual staff survey reveals that satisfaction levels are 30 per cent higher than the market norm. She believes that staff satisfaction is a combination of many factors including remuneration, management, training, development and work relationships. "I think anyone would want to stay with a firm if they can move up career-wise, receive good remuneration and have a nice work environment," she notes.
Good remuneration, Ms Lam adds, includes comprehensive compensation for both sales and service results. "Besides a basic salary, we also offer variable uncapped compensation or sales incentives. For whatever you deliver, you'll be rewarded," she says.
A flexible-work strategy introduced globally in 2003 means Citibank gives equitable consideration to work requests, offering flexible hours, part-time work, a compressed work week, remote work and job sharing options to its employees. "We are the only consumer bank offering this strategy on such a comprehensive basis and the workforce prefers this option," Ms Lam remarks. "They may not need it but it's comforting to know it's available."
Citibank's entry-level customer service officers are fresh graduates with some work experience. Ms Lam says that the bank likes to attract young staff who have great potential and train them into professionals. "A lot of incumbents are attracted to Citibank by what they've heard about our training," Ms Lam says. Before the Hong Kong government required financial planning employees to be Hong Kong Securities Institute (HKSI) licensed, Citibank already required its employees to be internally certified.
In addition to basic products, systems, operations and financial training, new recruits undergo two months of instruction before joining the workforce. Targeted areas include financial planning, intelligent investment approach, professional portfolio management, asset allocation and client relationship management. Citibank utilises several instruction methods including self-study with manuals, online study, video training, classroom study and job attachment.
Outbound investment strategists (OTS) then observe new recruits on the job. Along with branch managers they coach employees on how to plan ahead and execute objectives during a workday. "The feedback that staff receive from the OTS enhances their knowledge and effectiveness," Ms Lam says.
Describing Citibank's supervisor-employee work relationships, Ms Lam says employees feel connected to a professional team. "As a US bank, we don't have the hierarchy you find elsewhere. We are on a first-name basis here."
She believes Citibank's culture is exceptional and attracts exceptional candidates. "People who work here have the energy and drive to succeed. They are competitive and want to do well. They like that we are fast-paced and innovative because they are themselves fast-paced and innovative."
Considering the future of financial planners, Ms Lam says, "Who wouldn't want to build wealth? I tell fresh graduates that if you want a good career without unemployment worries, certainly you should work with a company related to financial planning because Hong Kong is a finance centre."