Financial Planning / Wealth Management

In touch with everyday life

by Grace Chan

Amy Choi, director of sales and distribution
Citibank Global Consumer Group, Hong Kong
Photo: Louis Lam
Client focus a growth factor for award-winning financial services group

As the banking industry emerges from the gloom of the financial crisis, major players are pulling out all the stops to compete for a bigger share of the expanding market.

One institution that believes in strategic thinking and quick action is Citibank, which has been extending its wealth management capabilities by strengthening its retail banking offerings and launching new products and services. Clients across the wealth spectrum are benefiting from these developments.

"Our aim is to cater for everyone via offering customised solutions," says Amy Choi, director of sales and distribution, Citibank Global Consumer Group, Hong Kong. "We stand by our clients as they grow financially."

Woes on the global economic front during the past few years have led customers to readjust their financial expectations and needs, with the vast majority of them now going back to the basics. Although most of them have regained their investment appetite, their preference is generally for simple, straightforward products that deliver stable returns and are highly transparent when it comes to fees and risks.

With this in mind, the bank recently launched a new renminbi endowment plan with a relatively shorter tenor and potentially higher guaranteed returns. Ms Choi says, "One appealing aspect of the product is the anticipated strong appreciation of renminbi. Also, the product structure is easy to understand, and all possible risks are clearly stated and the potential returns foreseeable."

All-round service

Having recognised its clients' changing investment behaviour, Citibank aims to provide them with a growing range of personalised services. The bank has recently extended its retail branches' opening hours to 7pm.

"Our customers now have the option of visiting their branches after work," Ms Choi points out, adding that the bank's marketing strategy includes opening new branches in high-traffic commercial areas with large working populations.

The bank aims to double the number of its retail branches by the end of this year in an attempt to maximise the bank's reach. "We will also strengthen our frontline teams by hiring about 100 new staff this year," she says.

The bank recently launched a new Citigold Private Client servicing model to cater for the specific wealth-management needs of high-net-worth individuals with assets of between US$1 million and US$10 million.

The service boasts a relatively low ratio of relationship managers (RMs) to clients, which enables the Citigold Private Client bankers to provide this group with a highly personalised service. The objective is to provide a one-stop financial management service.

Ms Choi comments that the downturn had made people more aware of the importance of risk management. "Clients' financial goals and needs change over time. For this reason, our Citigold relationship managers initiate client meetings and review their portfolios twice a year," she adds.

In a bid to ensure the quality of service, all new Citigold RMs undergo two months of induction training, followed by ongoing coaching exercises. They are also encouraged to participate in practical learning opportunities such as the annual Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.

"Since we only enrol a few staff members in the competition each year, this serves as motivation to our RMs," remarks Ms Choi, who has been on the judging panel for the past four years. In this time, she has noticed candidates becoming increasingly competitive. The contest has also served to uplift industry standards in general.

Raising the bar

The Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards have over the years produced a number of industry elite who not only excel in their positions but also help to promote best practice and professionalism.

Ronald Lam, a Citibank investment consultant who was also the grand award winner (group B) in last year's competition, believes that his success has enhanced the bank's reputation for high service-training standards and quality financial advice.

On a personal level, the accolade boosted his career prospects and last year he had a chance to transfer to a Citibank branch to serve a different client segment that is comprised mainly of professionals such as investment bankers and accountants with high expectations of financial planning.

"While the award has certainly helped me to convince clients of my expertise and professionalism, the way to build long-term client relationships is still by listening attentively to their needs and providing them with the best proposals for their circumstances," he says.

Some investors remain cautious in the aftermath of the financial crisis, but others are aggressively pursuing their options following the quick rebound of the global stock market last year, Mr Lam points out. "It's vital to always put our customers' interests first, reviewing their financial portfolios regularly and offering them the best solutions."

Taken from Career Times 7 May 2010, A5
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