In September 2004, engineering graduate Frankie Cheung joined the Asia Banking specialist ¡X DBS Bank's 12-month programme for financial planning executives. Two promotions later, he is already a financial planning manager and feels absolutely sure he made the right career choice.
He opted for this sector during his final year at university and has had no cause for regrets. "Hong Kong is an international financial hub and I felt that, with dedication and determination, I could make it in this field," Mr Cheung says. He admits that it was tough at first to pick up the necessary financial knowledge, but stresses that the time spent to obtain his professional qualifications was definitely well spent. "Studying for them gave me a better understanding of the industry and prepared me for a smooth entry into the profession," he says.
Leslie Wong, assistant vice president and Treasures relationship manager of the bank's Des Voeux Road West branch, has a similar opinion. He joined DBS in 2001 as a financial planning officer and is now one of the few "best in class'" managers recognised by the bank's Achievers Club programme.
"To gear up for this profession, many under graduates now acquire some, if not all, of the necessary qualifications before applying," Mr Wong explains. "It's easier to do that when you're not yet working full-time. It also helps to get used to tracking market information and financial news early on."
Even for the most experienced professionals, every encounter with a client provides an opportunity to learn. "As a representative of the bank or the industry, I need to project a professional image," says Mr Cheung. "Therefore, I have paid extra attention to my interpersonal skills and conversational techniques, bearing in mind that customer service is a key part of financial planning."
Working at a branch in a residential area, he has also learned a lot about investment priorities from his own customers. "The type of clients will differ between branches but, wherever you are stationed, there will be a chance to meet people from all walks of life," he says.
Mr Wong points out that the bank's training programmes are designed to let financial planners deal competently with clients from different backgrounds and with varying investment needs. The main focus is to give trainees technical skills and knowledge, as well as self-confidence and all-round people skills.
At DBS, the process begins with orientation to familiarise new joiners with the bank's services, products, daily operations and business direction. A combination of classroom training and attachment programmes cover the basic requirements, while other courses deal with some of the more technical aspects of investment and the regulatory environment.
Senior executives partner recent recruits to help them operate independently, and daily market updates and regular seminars fill in any gaps in overall knowledge.
The fast pace of the industry and its regular challenges are exactly what Mr Cheung expected. "This job has given me just what I was looking for," he says. I like the responsibility of understanding customers' needs and offering the most appropriate products and services for them."
Support from his employer is a vital part of this. "We have state-of-the-art IT, including an intranet system where staff can find the very latest investment-related information," says Mr Wong. He adds that subsidies are available for staff taking further studies as they climb the career ladder. Banks are now particularly keen to show potential high-performers a clear route ahead, as a way of ensuring lower rates of employee turnover. "If your aim is to achieve something, it may take just a couple of years to reach management grade," says Mr Wong.
Mr Cheung notes that good team spirit really helps in overcoming potential obstacles in the workplace. "It takes a whole team to complete every single transaction, however simple it may be," he says.
For a well-established banking institution like DBS that can offer ambitious young people international exposure, there is plenty of room for career growth. "It is good for them to have a goal," Mr Wong says. "Working for a reputable bank means they will be given the opportunities and support to achieve it."