Money Moves

Focus on tailor-made financing

By Ella Lee

This is a fortnightly series of articles focusing on the banking and financial industries

Bernard Jacquin, General manager, Natexis Banques Populaires Hong Kong
Photo: Michael Leong

As a way of achieving business growth in an increasingly competitive market, companies will commonly look to diversify by extending their product lines or services into previously untapped sectors. However, if the timing is wrong or insufficient commitment and resources are put into a new project, all manner of difficulties can arise.

That is why Natexis Banques Populaires insists on a focused model for running its business in Hong Kong. The bank is a leading provider of financing and investment services in France and is the country's fourth largest lender to large and medium-sized companies. The broad spectrum of solutions offered to clients range from day-to-day banking transactions to more complex equity deals, structured financing and securities services. In Hong Kong, though, the bank has so far chosen to focus on its core business of financing local and multinational companies involved in international trade.

The Hong Kong branch mainly provides financing for companies involved in manufacturing, trade and commodities and, according to general manager Bernard Jacquin, this activity accounts for about 80 per cent of total revenue. On a smaller scale, the branch is also involved in other lines of business, such as projects or aircraft and ship financing.

Mr Jacquin expects commodities financing to be the major driver of growth in the next two years and Natexis Banques Populaires is already ranked as the world's fifth largest financier in this category. This success has been built on specialised knowledge of energy, metals and agricultural commodities, and a presence in 75 countries.

With around 60 staff, the Hong Kong branch targets quality mid-sized customers. "At present, we choose to have fewer customers and to work with them closely," says Mr Jacquin. He points out that this focused approach makes them different and able to provide tailor-made services, in particular bridging the gap between Taiwan and the PRC.

It is also in line with the bank's worldwide strategy of being geared towards providing exactly what clients require. "Our core mission is to put our expertise to work by creating products and services tailored to their ever-changing needs," Mr Jacquin says.

He is confident about Hong Kong's prospects as an international centre for trade financing, despite the keen competition from neighbouring mainland cities such as Shanghai. Since Hong Kong is "advanced in terms of technical know-how", he believes the city will remain the first choice for business in the foreseeable future.

To achieve business growth and maintain service quality with a relatively small workforce, Mr Jacquin has emphasised the all-round development of staff. A typical employee is therefore expected to be resourceful and able to respond quickly to whatever kind of enquiry a client might bring up.

The result is that the bank has built a close-knit working community by fostering a common culture and a cross-functional approach. For example, bankers now have responsibility for both marketing and risk strategy. To make that possible, the human resources department offers continuous training to ensure all staff have the necessary skills to meet the evolving needs of the business.

Taken from Career Times 20 May 2005, p. 2
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