While other areas of the banking and finance industry may attract more public attention, it is worth noting that, despite the consolidation of recent years, commercial banking activities still employ more people than other specialist discipline within the sector. A diverse range of jobs is on offer, providing excellent opportunities for interaction with clients and the chance to gain experience in applying numerous different skills.
Nothing stops someone who starts out as a teller at branch level moving on to assume roles in other departments, such as leasing, credit cards, international finance or trade credit. The route taken will depend, to a certain extent, on the market segments on which the bank concentrates. Their business model may be geared towards serving individual account holders, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or larger trading houses and multinationals.
However, the key to success in commercial banking is to remember that it is essentially a people business. According to David Kwok, director and general manager of Shanghai Commercial Bank, the client is at the centre of everything the bank does. "That's the fun of it. You have to know about the industry, as well as each company, in order to find out what services and facilities are best for your customers," he says.
The role of a dedicated relationship manager involves serving the bank's corporate clients, and that includes understanding all their current and future financial needs, as well as the objectives of each company and the competitive environment in which they operate. With this background knowledge, relationship managers can work with the bank's product and services experts to design customised solutions which meet specific client needs.
People taking on this kind of multi-faceted role must have good interpersonal skills and the abilities to analyse financial statements and crunch numbers when necessary. "Commercial banking gives you a broad view of the way different industries work and brings you into contact with a wide range of businesses," says Mr Kwok.
Generally speaking, a bank referred to as "commercial" will deal mainly with companies. As a financial intermediary, it will collect deposits, raise funds and make loans to businesses and other consumers. If required, it is also ideally placed to offer sound advice on investments or business expansion plans.
Originally incorporated in 1950, Shanghai Commercial Bank now has 41 local branches, four overseas branches and one mainland branch. It handles everything from deposits and loans to remittances, securities trading, insurance, wealth management products, foreign exchange and trade finance. In recent years, the bank has also launched telephone and electronic banking to facilitate all of these services .
"We have more than 50 years of experience in serving corporate customers, and commercial banking has always been one of our core businesses," Mr Kwok says. He indicates that the bank's motto - "listen, understand and support" - as inspired its success and encapsulates the attitude that staff are expected to adopt towards clients.
Special efforts have been made to cater to the needs of SMEs, including a government guarantee scheme which provides loans for new installations and equipment, additional working capital, and covers outstanding accounts receivable. A corporate tax loan is specifically designed to help SMEs meet their profits tax obligations by amortising payments over a maximum period of 12 months. This allows SMEs to make better use of their available cash for business development projects. In addition, the bank provides export finance on the basis of insurance policies issued by the Hong Kong Export Credit Insurance Corporation (ECIC) and reputable insurance companies.
In terms of recruitment, the bank aims to hire university graduates who are mature, positive and confident. Candidates should also be self-motivated team players with strong business sense, plus good interpersonal and analytical skills. "To cope with our expanding commercial banking business, we are recruiting continuously and groom trainees to become key members of a team of experts," Mr Kwok says.
He adds that applicants should have a passionate interest in the banking industry. If recruited, they can expect to take a one-month training course which includes classroom lectures as well as on-the-job experience. As part of the in-house mentor programme, each graduate trainee also receives regular guidance and supervision from a senior member of staff.
The typical career path is clearly set out and good performance is recognised. "Graduate trainees are normally promoted to become a senior relationship officer, and this will lead on to more senior roles in relationship management or running a branch or department," says Mr Kwok.
Backing SME business
- Relationship managers work with product and services experts
to design customised solutions for clients
- Commercial banking is multi-faceted and demands both interpersonal
and numerical skills
- Financial advice and guaranteed loan schemes assist SMEs
with business expansion
- One-month training courses combining classroom lectures
with on-the-job experience offer new recruits a head start