As Hong Kong's banking industry becomes ever more competitive, staff in frontline positions have come to play a vital role in their employers' efforts to offer superior customer service and set themselves apart in a somewhat saturated marketplace. This change has created new challenges for the staff involved and added a whole new dimension to the role of the customer relationship manager (CRM).
"The primary responsibility of our CRMs is to serve high net-worth clients," explains Anna Sampson, head of resourcing in Asia for Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited. Each CRM has a portfolio of priority banking customers who receive individual attention and detailed advice about different types of investments. "The greatest challenge is to package financial products in a way that distinguishes them from other banks, while completely catering to the needs of the client," she adds.
Standard Chartered believes that all CRMs should be capable of selling the full range of products, but should start the process by establishing what their clients really require. Ms Sampson notes that some market players may focus more on promoting specific products. However, Standard Chartered requires each CRM to be not just a salesperson, but a "financial solutions expert" able to put together the right combination of products to overcome financial worries and achieve investment goals.
"These days, CRMs must be a little more financially savvy," says Ms Sampson. "They really need to understand each product and know what the market is interested in today," she adds.
As CRMs have moved progressively towards providing more financial planning and solutions, the profession has become more regulated. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority now requires that individuals complete the Hong Kong Securities Institute foundation programme and the Insurance Intermediaries Qualifying Examination in order to work as a CRM. Furthermore, those entering the profession are generally expected to have three to four years' of practical work experience behind them. This is often gained by working as a customer financial consultant at a bank branch.
As their careers develop, they can opt to become a priority banking centre manager running a team, or continue to build their own client portfolio as a senior CRM. "People have very different aspirations," says Ms Sampson. "Some are better in front of customers, while others enjoy having management responsibilities."
Besides offering a high base salary and performance-related bonuses, Standard Chartered also aims to provide great opportunities to grow. "We encourage staff to have an individual development plan," she adds. "If we find that someone will benefit from further education, we will provide the necessary support." As an example, Ms Sampson points out that the current head of client relationships in Taiwan started out as a CRM in Hong Kong and is still only in her early thirties.
With such opportunities available, many graduates looking for a career in the financial sector see this as an ideal route into the industry. However, Ms Sampson has a word of warning. "It's an attractive position, but only if the candidate possesses the right qualities," she notes, adding that four essential qualities are required. She lists these as attitude, since individuals must be able to relate to customers, colleagues and supervisors; organisational skills, which include multitasking and time management; the ability to influence and make an impact during personal contacts; and the self-motivation and drive to achieve success.
Standard Chartered currently employs around 80 CRMs serving its network of about 60 branches in Hong Kong. Depending on business requirements, they will spend time at different branches and will also deal with clients by phone or by visiting their offices. This is all part of the bank's desire to "outserve". "We want customers to think of us as the best place to get the answers to all their financial questions and investment issues," says Ms Sampson.
With customer service being such an obvious way for banks to differentiate themselves, each position that involves interaction with clients is becoming more important. "CRMs are an integral part of the frontline team and it is thanks to their high level of service that Standard Chartered is able to attract and retain significant priority banking customers," she concludes.
- Increased competition in the banking industry has led
to a focus on customer service
- The aim of CRMs is to meet clients' long-term financial
needs, not simply to push specific products
- The job requires comprehensive training and professional
- Later career options include moving into management or
focusing on building a broader client portfolio
- CRMs must have the right attitude, organisational skills,
the ability to influence, and self-motivation
- Priority banking customers attracted and retained by the
bank's "outserve" philosophy which raises service