Money Moves

Financial advice from the heart

by Alex Chan

Lina Cheng, vice president and head of financial advisory services, American Express Bank
Photo: Johnny Kwok

The realm of private banking is out of most people's reach. To join this elite club, customers must have a minimum of one million US dollars freely available to invest. But, who is to say that customised service and tailor-made investment plans are reserved exclusively for the extremely wealthy?

Vice president and head of advisory services at American Express Bank, Lina Cheng is bringing the private banking experience closer to the Hong Kong public with the introduction of American Express Financial Advisory Services (FAS). FAS fills the vacuum in the market, catering to customers with savings in the US$100,000 to US$1 million range. "This customer segment are not being well served by financial institutions and that is why we've launched FAS," says Mrs Cheng.

She explains that FAS as a whole is like a pre-private banking service that utilises the bank's 85 years of wealth management expertise. Clients receive one-to-one personalised service from trained relationship managers (RM) who are briefed daily by the bank's investment specialists and analysts. They help clients allocate and diversify their assets and base their decisions on a proven formula that can help them achieve their financial goals.

What sets the FAS apart from high-end banking services offered by most retail banks is the sales philosophy. "We have a heart at FAS, and we care about our customers. We use long time well-proven asset allocation model to help customers to build, grow and protect their wealth and we don't encourage hard-selling and definitely don't churn our customers," Mrs Cheng says.

The first meeting with a client is not about selling products, but purely about fact finding and relationship building. In these meetings, a profile is built to review the client's financial situation and identify the type of investments they are interested in. Based on the findings, FAS recommends an asset allocation which would best meet clients' requirements. "It is like going to the doctor, we need to understand the background before we can formulate the right plan," she explains.

As it is such an intimate position, RMs are required to have good interpersonal skills, while also being confident and knowledgeable. "Most importantly, the candidates need to share the same customer-focused philosophy. Candidates who talk about reaching sales targets and selling specific products are not highly regarded," Mrs Cheng stresses.

The job of RMs require extensive experience, therefore American Express offers fresh graduates positions as members of the direct sales team and that acts as a good training ground. After a year, and upon obtaining the HKSI license, they can become assistant RMs and subsequently move up to RM, senior RM and private banking RM.

"We are very selective with our RMs and those who join our team should be very proud," says Mrs Cheng. "We invest a lot of resources in training to ensure that new recruits will fully adapt to our investment philosophy and our unique ways in serving customers. We also offer ongoing training on both soft and hard skills to make sure that they will continue to grow."

Taken from Career Times 07 July 2006, p. A11
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