Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Growing wealth and relationships

by Alex Lai

Felix Lau, senior vice president and head of sales and distribution
CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan

Trust is a key factor in wealth management success

As the population ages and people's wealth accumulates, the demand for more sophisticated wealth management services grows. Moreover, as competition for high net worth clients is fierce in the marketplace and banking institutions are continuously improving the quality of customer service to gain the optimum market share.

"At CITIC Ka Wah, our CITICfirst private wealth management service always focuses on the core elements of our customer management — the human factor," explains Felix Lau, senior vice president and head of sales and distribution, CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited. "In this, our relationship managers work closely with our CITICfirst customers to help them achieve their wealth management goals."

Mr Lau says customers nowadays do not only look for financial products. "In line with the bank's philosophy in high human touch, we furnish our customers with trust, which in turn fosters a long-term relationship between them and the bank. This has made us a success and encouraged people to trust their valuable assets and their future to us." For this reason, CITIC Ka Wah has an impressive portfolio of more than 8,000 CITICfirst customers, with assets under management of HK$3.5 million on average.

Four principles

According to Mr Lau, for a trust partnership to click and create a competitively unique position for the bank, four principles must be complied with. "Firstly, we need a forward-looking approach to wealth management. That is, at the moment we provide a service to our customers, we also need to be keeping track of and planning ahead for their financial needs," he explains.

Secondly, he continues, the bank emphasises transparency, which is a matter of clearly delivering precise knowledge about products, such as the risk level, rate of return, fees or certain characteristics that may be of the customer's interest. This allows a client to make an informed choice.

"Thirdly, we must aim to and be capable of growing a customer's wealth. Our relationship managers are just like chief financial officers for their customers, meaning that they don't only aim to complete a transaction but also take care of customers' total wealth management needs." To have this kind of mindset, Mr Lau believes relationship managers need to have a passion for serving customers and helping them create wealth.

"Last but not least, we need to understand our customers," he says. "Every customer has a different perspective. While some are conservative, others may be more aggressive. We must try and understand that people at different life stages have different financial needs. As such we design and devise value-added wealth management solutions to help each of our CITICfirst customers achieve their financial goals."

Following these principles and building a trusting partnership act as a solid foundation for the bank's relationship managers to come up with a total solution for every customer.

However, as individuals differ, developing long-term relationships that are beneficial to both parties can be challenging. Mr Lau emphasises the bank's mission to deliver. "Our relationship managers are provided with the best wealth management tools, continuous training and niche products to upkeep our service promises to our customers," he says. "Our fundamentals start with people. They are the key success factor."

Outstanding employees

CITIC Ka Wah is determined to build and nurture its own workforce. This, obviously, begins with the recruitment process. "Everything starts from hiring," Mr Lau says. "We look for certain qualities and attributes in our prudent selection criteria, including academic qualifications, relevant experience in the field, a recognised designation such as CFMP (certified financial management planner), and a passion to serve."

New staff undertake a four-week comprehensive training programme in products, system operations, service requirements and, most importantly, compliance knowledge. At the end of the training there is a written test and a role-play to ensure standards are met.

Mr Lau says that it can take still more time for new staff to settle in to their positions and the bank realises this. He remarks, "While certain business quotas need to be met, we are more interested in how well they apply their skills, making room for development and helping them create a desire to succeed."

For high achievers, Mr Lau says, many opportunities await and the bank helps them take advantage of these. "Continuous education is important even for an experienced relationship manager and it is a great way to stay on the top," he notes. This can include on-the-job and developmental training, with an aim to assist staff members in achieving career goals. "Figures show that over half of our relationship managers are internally promoted and one-fifth of our branch managers have been promoted from the relationship manager position," he concludes.


Taken from Career Times 31 August 2007
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