Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Less means more

by Grace Chan

Grace Chow, general manager & head of wealth management division
The Bank of East Asia Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Leading bank enhances services today to capture the growth of wealth management tomorrow

In the arena of banking and finance, it is always beneficial to keep one step ahead of the competition. With the industry steadily regaining its strength and investors becoming more confident, lucrative opportunities are starting to emerge for financial institutions.

At the Bank of East Asia Limited (BEA), Grace Chow, general manager & head of wealth management division, believes carving out a competitive niche within the industry is essential.

Nurturing client relationships has always been a priority of the bank. In the good times when money seemed to grow on trees, a BEA relationship manager could be managing 70 to 80 clients. Nowadays, they focus on serving a smaller number of clients with a view to foster stronger long-term relationships.

Senior managers and the bank's investment advisory managers may participate in client meetings to better understand the clients' circumstances and needs. "Learning from previous experience, quality and effective communication are seen as part of the long-term wealth management process," says Ms Chow. "Our relationship managers can now pay more attention to the needs of the clients and are more able to keep up with clients' demands for real-time updates on the market and their financial positions, leading to win-win situations."

With proper client relationship management, BEA is better positioned to tap into a larger share of the wealth market and foster future growth. Ms Chow explains, "In the current low interest environment, clients remain keen to look for investment opportunities to grow their wealth." To this end, the bank has now realigned its business to provide clients with a larger portfolio of value added services such as trust funds, insurance concepts and interest rate hedges.

Internal guidance

As the financial planning industry tightened regulations, banking and financial institutions across the board have been prompted to meet stricter legal and compliance requirements. "In addition to stepping up compliance, we prioritise service quality over business volume," Ms Chow stresses.

Another challenge posed to financial planning practitioners is dealing with clients from diverse backgrounds and with various levels of financial literacy. In a balancing act of introducing and explaining complex financial management concepts and product features, the bank's relationship managers observe stringent procedures and are expected to perform in accordance with legal and compliance standards and regulations.

By instilling a high importance on professionalism, BEA dedicates a wealth of resources to training its staff. "We provide them with ongoing training initiatives to improve their soft and hard skills. We also invite external consultants to tailor programmes to enhance our staff's specific skills, and to share their practical experience with others," Ms Chow notes.

BEA staff are also motivated to attain higher professional qualifications and the bank's IT infrastructure is consistently upgraded to fulfil compliance requirements as well as the needs of an ever-changing market.

New heights

With the global economy regaining its strength, BEA has noticed a huge demand for wealth management services, particularly on the mainland. Ms Chow believes a gap in the mainland investors market has yet to be answered. The China operation of the BEA was the first foreign bank to launch renminbi debit and credit cards on the mainland. It also took the lead to be the first mainland-incorporated foreign bank to issue renminbi retail bonds in Hong Kong last June.

Less than a year ago, BEA entered Taiwan's wealth management business through the acquisition of a brokerage platform. Meanwhile, the bank continues to build a stronger foothold in mainland China. "Our mainland customers bank their trust on our international banking experience and Chinese heritage. Above all, China is such a huge market to explore," Ms Chow says. "Our long presence in China and understanding of the local culture provide us with a unique position to act as a bridge between mainland clients and the rest of the world. As a Hong Kong based banking institution, we have the advantage of flexibility and proximity to China along with our international perspective and experience."

Staying optimistic for the prospects of wealth management business in the greater China region, BEA continues to nurture its Hong Kong team for both retail and private banking in order to capitalise the potential market opportunities in the region. Currently, BEA has a network of around 80 branches, sub-branches and representative offices in the mainland and sets to expand to 100 this year.

"With our extensive operations on the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan and a proven background in commercial, retail and private banking, we are capable of offering integrated commercial and wealth management services to clients," Ms Chow emphasises. "Our network keeps us ahead of most players in the field."

Game plan

  • Improve client-management relationships
  • Share best practice to tighten internal monitoring
  • Strive for a higher level of professionalism
  • Expand wealth management services in the greater China region

Taken from Career Times 23 April 2010, A8

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