Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Private bankers rise to the challenge

by Wendy Shair

Alan Luk
head of private banking and trust services
Hang Seng Bank
Photo: Edde Ngan

Several cycles of economic turbulence bring wealth management professionals with more challenges

Career options exist for aspiring finance professionals looking to gain a foothold in Hong Kong's private banking sector, but it is crucial for newcomers to be realistic about the demands of the profession, according to Alan Luk, head of private banking and trust services, Hang Seng Bank.

Clients have extremely high expectations of private bankers, states Mr Luk, stressing that building up trusting relationships is key to succeed in the industry.
"Wealth professionals must have the essential knowledge, as well as a broader understanding of the industry as a whole. It's all about credibility.

Sophisticated clients expect their bankers to stay on top of the market," he says. "Bankers must also bond with their clients and be able to look at things from their perspective."

Challenging landscape
While the number of high net worth customers in Hong Kong is on the rise, it is a highly competitive market, says Mr Luk. "Most customers have weathered several financial storms. Economic conditions are becoming more complicated, while the industry is subject to higher compliance standards."

"Considering the lessons learnt during the last few economic downturns, intelligent investors will not blindly follow their financial advisors, instead shopping around for institutions that offer them the most suitable solutions," he stresses.

Another challenge to private bankers is that consumers are increasingly consolidating their bank accounts, tending to focus on a few major accounts, he says. Complying with industry standards is crucial and this also makes their roles challenging.

On-going professional education is as important as a thorough understanding of strategic planning and fund management, Mr Luk points out. "Qualifications and professional accreditations essentially confirm a financial professional's credibility," he notes.

As such, the bank has incorporated The Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' Certified Financial Management PlannerTM (CFMPTM) programme into its staff training and development schedule. Professionals in the field may also work towards attaining the Associate of The Hong Kong Institute of BankersTM (AHKIBTM) designation.

Mr Luk says that industry events like the annual Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards also help to broaden the event participants' horizons. "It is down to the individuals to raise the standards of the banking and finance community and contribute to the wellbeing of the industry," he adds.

Hunting for top talent
Banking institutions across the board tend to prefer drawing existing talent with attractive compensation packages, according to Mr Luk. Many international banks are pumping more resources into private banking and they are competing for the same pool of experienced professionals, often targeting seasoned people with at least 10 years' experience.

Hang Seng Bank plans to increase resources dedicated to attracting mainland-based clients through its branches across the border, as well as independent investment agents. "We're targeting new recruits with mainland China experience," Mr Luk says. He adds that the overall market outlook remains positive, with the bank's customer base growing, particularly on the mainland.

He reveals that the banking industry seeks particularly professionals with good technical skills, as well as a strong commitment to the job. Private bankers need to be proactive in expanding their clientele. "It's the attitude that matters," he says.

Client communication is paramount, with some customers even expecting assistance with matters other than wealth management, such as their children's education and travel. Private bankers must be willing to cultivate strong interpersonal relationships with customers, who may as a result stick with them, he points out.

Many of the financial institutions' private bankers have been promoted through its own ranks. "Our customers are generally loyal and we always aim to enhance our staff's professionalism to help them keep up with industry standards," says Mr Luk. "We also recruit externally, but job hopefuls must have the right attitude to their work, a high level of engagement with the job and clients, and excellent presentation skills."

Private banking can be a fulfilling and lifelong career, provided that job candidates make a strong effort to build up a solid customer network and take good care of their clients, Mr Luk reiterates.

Career conditions

  • On-going professional education and compliance with industry standards vital
  • Banks target seasoned professionals with strong client networks
  • Entrance requirements for new recruits stricter than ever
  • Good client relationships, the right attitude and engagement with the job crucial
  • Taken from Career Times 16 September 2011

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