If anyone had doubts about Hong Kong's position as a leading centre for international finance, a quick glance at the statistics compiled by the Trade Development Council would soon set them straight. These show that, of the world's 100 largest banks, 73 are currently represented in the territory. While providing a wealth of opportunities for professionals in the sector, this also creates an environment where standards are high, regulations are strict and, in order to get ahead, employees must be constantly on their toes.
So, for someone with career ambitions, what can be done to stay one step ahead of the competition - S C Learning, which oversees the Financial Career Institute, can probably provide the answer. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard Chartered Bank and draws on the bank's global resources and local expertise to provide learning solutions for businesses, banks, financial institutions and members of the public.
Sheila Wong, general manager of S C Learning for NE Asia, says, "The programmes we provide are useful for anyone who wants to build a career in the banking and finance industry. We teach subjects which enable people to get better jobs or take on more challenging opportunities."
A number of "Career Workstream" programmes have been developed to help individuals develop the skills and knowledge to excel in a specific role. One of them is designed to train personal financial consultants (PFCs) who work in bank branches. "Unlike tellers, PFCs are there to advise customers about the financial services on offer," explains Ms Wong. "That can be for investing in a fund, buying insurance or choosing a loan."
The modules taught include consumer banking, credit risk management and service excellence. Once a student has completed the programme, S C Learning is able to lend a hand in recommending qualified candidates to HR managers who are looking to recruit. "It is like a headhunter function and works to everyone's advantage," adds Ms Wong.
Similar workstream courses, geared towards training customer service representatives and relationship managers in corporate and consumer banking, are also in place.
In addition, other programmes are available for people already in the finance industry, but who need to upgrade their skills for career advancement. These range from modules on banking essentials and workplace etiquette to Putonghua and credit analysis.
When S C Learning was set up in 2003, the stated goal was to raise standards and set new levels of industry expertise. Developments taking place across the border were also a factor. "As China continues to open up, there will definitely be a greater demand for qualified staff," notes Ms Wong. "At the same time, the industry in Hong Kong is changing fast. With operation centres moving to China and India, financial institutions are altering the way they operate, market and distribute business."
Realising that the sector will have to attract new talent, certain programmes are open to people of all backgrounds interested in switching to a banking or finance-related career. Daytime and evening classes are arranged to ensure that students with other full-time commitments have the chance to attend. Their area of interest and any previous experience will determine which programme candidates are eligible to join and the type of training received. More specialised modules for financial entrepreneurs or business start-ups can be offered on an ad hoc basis.
So far, the courses have seen an increasing number of applicants with each successive intake, something Ms Wong puts down to the unique approach used. "Our philosophy is quite different from other training schools," she says. "We want to be more than just a place to take a course. We want to instil the ideology that learning is a continuous journey and to provide a memorable, worthwhile experience."
To this end, much has been done to create a learning environment which is as thought-provoking and stimulating as possible. The centre is equipped with a mock-up branch, professional banking workstations, study areas and meditation rooms. There are also e-learning facilities and a mini-gym. All the teachers are professionals with extensive hands-on experience in the banking and finance industry who can act as a so-called "living library".
Ultimately, the main objective for those taking an S C Learning programme is to improve their prospects of landing a better job. As Ms Wong confirms: "We want people to come to us for help in boosting their careers. Therefore, the assessments we carry out are mainly to evaluate a person's readiness to achieve their goals."
Recognising that formal industry qualifications are becoming more important, talks are currently taking place with the Institute of Financial Services (IFS), with a view to some programmes being IFS certified by early 2005.
In Ms Wong's opinion, though, obtaining certification is only a part of the process. "One of the most rewarding things about these programmes is that students get real insights into the industry," she says. "They learn about specific job roles and the expectations and responsibilities that go with them. Meanwhile, we get to observe their attitude, behaviour and mind-set, which helps us to give them advice about suitable job opportunities."
Take it from an expert
- Training centre dedicated to raising overall industry
- Programmes to specifically help career progress
- Teachers with up-to-date practical experience in banking
- Close links with recruiters to assist those seeking opportunities