If Hong Kong's banking sector is to maintain its competitive edge, leading institutions must continue to introduce new investment products, while recognising that putting the customers' interest first is the key to higher sales and service excellence. That basic formula has worked well for David Wong, chief executive, Hong Kong, and region head of private bank, Asia Pacific, American Express Bank, who has enjoyed a diverse and successful career in the banking industry for close to 30 years.
He believes it has helped that his personal values are perfectly aligned with the corporate values of his current employer. "My priorities tie in with the expectations of the company, particularly when it comes to the best way to service clients. Our customers are the premium and high net-worth segment. They want expert advice about any market changes and always require fast responses. As wealth management professionals, we are ready to handle any kind of enquiry and be on call whenever needed," Mr Wong says.
He adds that creating brand value is also important for private banks and can serve as a benchmark for customers to assess them. He explains that a number of factors contribute to this, including teamwork, respect for employees, will to win, profitability, and the strength of relationships with clients.
American Express Bank's global wealth management division covers both financial advisory services and private banking. According to Mr Wong, it is common for new employees to progress from the former unit to the latter, once they have picked up sufficient industry knowledge and work experience. Those joining the private banking team usually start as junior relationship managers and, depending on performance, can move up to become relationship managers before assuming other senior management responsibilities.
There are no shortcuts and results are based on how much effort you are willing to put in
Mr Wong joined in 1995 and has steadily assumed greater responsibilities. He was appointed as the bank's regional head of private bank and chief executive of the Hong Kong operation in 2005. Previously, he had spent 20 years with Citibank.
"Over the years, I have witnessed the continued growth of the wealth management sector in Hong Kong," Mr Wong says. " I have also worked in different parts of Asia, gaining considerable experience. My career entered a new phase when I took up the job at American Express."
He is confident that the wealth management market is poised for further growth. "In the past, when the economy was strong, people said anyone could pick stocks and advise on investments. Now the whole market has changed after the financial downturn and there is increasing awareness of the importance of wealth management in Hong Kong," he says.
He notes that many personal investors now accept the need for professional financial advice from qualified experts. They can also benefit from guidance about the comparative advantages of the diversified financial products now available, in order to make the best choice. "It's an expanding market, but also a very competitive one," Mr Wong adds.
Nevertheless, American Express expects to achieve strong growth in 2006 and therefore plans to increase headcount and expand its wealth management team in the region. "Apart from having the right qualifications and experience, candidates must also show they will be able to fit into our corporate culture and be good ambassadors for the brand," says Mr Wong.
He adds that prerequisite qualities include having the right attitude to deal effectively with clients, and demonstrating a high level of integrity. "We place much emphasis on our corporate values, especially integrity because it is the basis of the bank's long-term relationship with our customers."
Mr Wong emphasises that people keen to join the banking sector should be hard-working and dedicated. "There are no shortcuts and results are based on how much effort you are willing to put in," he says. He also points out the importance for young people of setting long-term career goals. "Don't think only about short-term aims," he says. "It is best to be clear about what you want to achieve during your career."
Mr Wong recognises that there is still huge potential for growth in the mainland's banking sector. "After China's entry into the WTO, the country has been introducing changes in the market by referencing various international regulations, and this has increased overall transparency within the industry," he says.
He highlights in particular the opportunities for banks to expand further into credit card business, investment services and wealth management for China's ever more affluent urban population. "American Express has a long heritage in China and we are hoping to introduce more financial products and services to Chinese consumers," Mr Wong says.