Growth on the upswing
by Grace Chan
International banking institution set to expand its SME services across the border
While there have been some signs of economic recovery in the US and Europe, the greatest potential for economic growth lies in emerging markets such as mainland China, India, Africa and the Middle East.
With a view to capitalise Hong Kong's proximity to the mainland, Standard Chartered Bank plans to increase the foothold of its small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) business across the border.
"The Greater China region is our key business focus for next year," reveals Betty Ku, regional head, Greater China, SME Banking, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited. "To accelerate growth, we aim to recruit 30 new staff and form a dedicated cross-border relationship managers team by next year."
The new team will be stationed in major Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. "Members of this team will tailor solutions catering for its SME customers' specific financial needs," says Ms Ku, adding that the bank will place more emphasis on a service-oriented attitude than on mainland China work experience when screening potential candidates. "People wanting to join us should possess the ability to listen attentively and a knack for understanding our clients' business goals. They are also expected to be enthusiastic team players and remain upbeat on market development."
Standard Chartered's mainland branch network currently stretches across 54 distribution outlets in 15 mainland cities, employing more than 4,000 staff, among these are more than 300 dedicated SME Banking frontline staff. In addition to loan facilities, the bank also provides customised wealth management services to SME clients. One major focus for the coming years is risk management with regard to foreign currency and interest-rate hedging.
As a major sponsor of the "Style Hong Kong Show in Chongqing" organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) in mainland China earlier last month, the bank gave support to some 320 Hong Kong SMEs to showcase their branded products to the people of Chongqing. Ms Ku notes that there is ample business scope for mainland SMEs to invest abroad and, in turn, for their overseas counterparts to invest in mainland China.
Next month, the bank will again join hands with the HKTDC for an initiative under the "Powering SMEs Development Programme". "We will be organising a business delegation to India to help SME clients map out market opportunities in this specific market where we have a leading position and more than 150 years of local experience," Ms Ku points out.
Morever, as the sole sponsor of the "Standard Chartered World SME Night" and "Standard Chartered Global Market Opportunities Seminars" in the HKTDC annual World SME Expo, Standard Chartered has invited more than 500 SME banking customers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to attend the Expo, which will host a number of forums and seminars geared at sharing ideas about new market breaks from 3 to 5 December. "There will be plenty of business matching activities and networking opportunities," notes Ms Ku.
SMEs involved in exports usually find that their businesses recover slightly ahead of the global economy following a downturn, Ms Ku says.
"With 98 per cent of Hong Kong companies being either small- or medium-sized, there is a wealth of business opportunities for them out there," she remarks. "As long as we keep coming up with new, customised products suiting our clients' needs, we can expect our business to grow." For instance, the bank has recorded a 110-per cent year-on-year growth in the first six months of the year in its unsecured-loan scheme for small businesses, due to its timely response to higher demand for financing services.
With a sound financial performance in spite of the recent global financial woes, the bank is also looking to recruit an additional 70 to 100 staff to facilitate the development of its SME business in Hong Kong. Available jobs include positions in frontline sales, product and business development and risk management.
Ms Ku describes the bank's SME banking division as a "mini-bank", which offers staff the chance of vertical career advancements, as well as development possibilities through departmental job rotations.
"Our cross-border relationship managers, for example, will be equipped with wide-ranging skills covering everything from loan products, to risk and wealth management, business development and strategic planning, in addition to the exposure to the sizzling business sector in China," she says.
At branch level, Hong Kong-based relationship managers can start off serving small enterprises, and then move up to deal with medium enterprises.
"Our outstanding business performance guarantees job security, while our total commitment to SME business ensures various career and growth opportunities. We encourage our staff to work towards their goals and to show initiative in grasping the openings that come their way," Ms Ku concludes.
One step further
Taken from Career Times 4 December 2009, p. A3