Retail Banking

Moving forward

by Grace Chan

Felix Lau
executive vice president and head of sales and distribution retail banking group
CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited
Photo: Nolly Leung
Service excellence key to future growth for Hong Kong-based financial institution

Investors' appetite for risk is picking up steadily as the global economy shows increasing signs of recovery and financial fears start to subside.

During last year's downturn, CITIC Ka Wah Bank grasped the opportunity to reassess its business strategies, taking steps to enhancing customer service and diversifying the range of wealth management solutions.

"While the equity market fluctuated, our insurance and currency linked products recorded year-on-year growth in 2009." says Felix Lau, executive vice president and head of sales and distribution, retail banking group, CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited.

In an environment where interest rates remain low, investors tend to favour financial products that offer higher returns, with consideration of portfolio diversification that may cover higher risk equities related products, mid-risk currency linked products and low-risk high-yield deposit products. "Whatever the choice, clients want to be more aware of the liquidity features since they won't want to miss out on opportunities over the course of economic recoveries," Mr Lau notes.

With this in mind, the bank has tailored new products such as the highly popular flexible time deposit in Hong Kong dollars and RMB. Investors benefit from higher interest rates while enjoying greater flexibility in mobilising funds by early withdrawals.

Adding value

Most banking customers would prefer not to put all their eggs in one basket, opting instead for a diverse investment portfolio, Mr Lau points out. The bank is stepping up efforts to help customers understand their financial health and readily check with them on a regular basis. "This is all part of a concerted effort to make it easier for our customers to invest wisely and balance their risks so as to help them meet their goals," he adds.

Quality service makes all the difference. "We employ mystery shoppers to assess the standard of service provided by all our frontline staff," Mr Lau notes. "Telephone surveys are conducted to keep track of our customers' satisfaction levels, and identify customer expectation as well as areas of improvement."

This year, five CITIC Ka Wah staff that participated in the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards emerged as winners, with one walking away with a gold award. "Our continuous success in this industry competition has again confirmed our professional standard and service excellence," says Mr Lau.

Although many investors remain wary of the wealth management industry following the economic crisis, he anticipates demand for wealth management services will rebound. "The financial turmoil has driven increased compliance within the local financial services sector, with enhanced measures to strengthen confidence in the investment procedures, contributing to a healthier and more transparent investment environment." he remarks.

As the offshore platform of its mainland China-based parent company, CITIC Ka Wah Bank benefits from the increasing wealth management business generated by the growing affluence of high-net-worth clients across the border. A comprehensive range of services are tailor-made and delivered by a team of dedicated relationship managers to serve the needs of this specific customer segment.

Development plans

This year, CITIC Ka Wah Bank has expansion plans to expand its branch network and frontline sales force, aiming to open three new branches and six CITICfirst centres and recruit 50 additional frontline staff, including CITICfirst relationship managers.

In order to attract top quality professionals, the bank offers attractive financial incentives, and is committed to providing intensive training and a solid career development path.

The bank's promote-from-within policy facilitates long-term employer-employee partnerships. "Many of our branch managers and relationship managers were internally promoted," Mr Lau says. "Young jobseekers today look at opportunities for growth, rather than only considering monetary rewards."

The bank starts newly joined relationship managers with an existing customer base. "We realise that it takes time to settle into a new position and to nurture client relations," says Mr Lau. "For this reason, we adopt a nine-month progressive target system so that new relationship managers can steadily adapt to the requirements, and take time to build up a client portfolio and achieve business results.

New recruits undergo 18 days' induction training on the bank's core values, product knowledge and compliance requirements, as well as on soft skills.

"Intensive training is followed by a series of comprehensive assessment activities to ensure they meet the required standard before they begin servicing clients," Mr Lau stresses.

There is also ample support for more established staff members, who are encouraged to work towards professional qualifications. To date, more than 70 per cent of CITICfirst relationship managers have attained qualifications such as chartered financial analysts (CFAs), certified financial planners (CFPs) or registered financial planners (HKRFPs).

Taken from Career Times 15 January 2010, p. A9

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