Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Professionalism essential to long-term competitiveness

by Grace Chan

Linda Leung
head of private banking department
The Bank of East Asia
Photo: Wallace Chan
Human resources excellence is vital for sustainable business development

Hong Kong's private banking sector remains confident about maintaining its growth momentum, thanks in part to the influx of investors from across the border as well as the city's reputation as a world-class financial centre.

This is the view of Linda Leung, head of private banking, The Bank of East Asia (BEA). "Market volatility in the West may have taken its toll on many markets but Hong Kong was one of the first to recover," says Ms Leung. "The overall well-being of Hong Kong's banking and finance industry can largely be attributed to the integrity, resourcefulness and competence of its personnel."

Currently, the bank's private banking capability encompasses a wide array of banking and investment services, including investment advisory, dealing in bonds, equities, and currencies, as well as mortgage loans, securities financing, insurance and premium financing. Ms Leung says that the bank's private banking service portfolio delivers personalisation, catering to the individual needs of its clients. "Service excellence is key," she remarks.

Challenging landscape

The Lehman Brothers fiasco has raised the spectre of tightened regulations, prompting banking institutions across the globe to step up governance, risk control and compliance efforts.

Ms Leung adds that banking and finance practitioners, regardless of their areas of expertise and scopes of duty, must possess a deep and current understanding of regulations, banking products and the service ethos established by the regulatory authorities and their employers.

In order to ensure that its staff remain well-informed in today's regulated environment, the bank's private banking department set up a compliance team to focus on its wealth management service. Aside from this, a comprehensive staff training and development programme is now in place to ensure that the bank's employees, especially those on the front line, keep abreast of change and challenge in the marketplace. This is in addition to daily morning briefing sessions, during which the bank's investment team and external fund managers share news and views on the ever-changing global market.

"Our staff may also log on to a purpose-built online learning portal for self-enhancement at a pace that they find most comfortable," Ms Leung says. "They may even do it on a handheld device or mobile phone." Apart from an insightful e-newsletter compiled by wealth management gurus, the online learning platform contains a wealth of market updates and product analyses, alongside various learning tools such as videos, slideshow presentations, text-based materials and quizzes.

In an effort to keep staff members on their toes, the bank also encourages and sponsors enrolment in industry events such as luncheons and seminars. "We consider it important for our people to keep up with market trends and customer expectations," she points out.

Increased awareness

Although BEA's private banking department was only established some six years ago, it now boasts a strong team of about 40 seasoned relationship managers. This number is set to grow, Ms Leung reveals. "When it comes to talent acquisition, we prefer to hire experienced banking professionals, ideally those in private banking," she stresses.

A significant percentage of the bank's private banking clientele is comprised of SME employers who require a wide variety of wealth management services. To ensure that BEA effectively meets their specific needs, the bank's private banking team includes staff members with a strong corporate banking background. "Corporate banking focuses mainly on corporate trade and loan business. Our colleagues have developed an in-depth understanding of the investment products and contribute their skills and expertise to helping our clients to achieve their financial objectives" Ms Leung explains.

Private banking emphasises interpersonal skills, life experience and professional insight. Young aspirants who look to tap into the field must therefore build a career from the ground up.

University graduates may sign up for the bank's management trainee programme and take it from there. "The management trainee programme serves as an excellent opportunity for young professionals to learn the ropes and gain valuable experience. Only then can they be equipped for the move into the private banking business," Ms Leung advises.

In an effort to promote professionalism and uphold industry standards, the bank has been a keen supporter of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards since the event's inception in 2006.

The HKIB last year incorporated a third category into the event with an aim to give private bankers the stage to showcase their professional skills and savoir-faire in competition with their savvy counterparts. Hong Kong's most seasoned bankers including Ms Leung have welcomed the new addition. She concludes, "The new category helps to improve understanding and awareness of the private banking sector, fostering professionalism in the field."

Raising the bar

  • Banking professionals expected to possess thorough understanding of regulations, products and service ethos
  • Private bankers must remain well-informed in a highly regulated environment
  • Annual industry event drives professional growth and promotes standards

Taken from Career Times 5 August 2011, A8

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