In the dynamic financial industry, frontline professionals must step forward, offer service with a smile and help clients achieve their goals through personalised advice.
"Competition in the fast-growing wealth management sector is inevitably intensifying," says William Leung, general manager, personal financial services and wealth management, Hang Seng Bank. The bank's personal financial services recorded an operating profit, excluding loan impairment charges, of HK$12.1 billion in 2007. More than half this figure was generated from the bank's wealth management business.
With competitors increasingly employing aggressive measures such as reducing interest rates to get a foothold in the mortgage and personal loan business, and limited room for growth in the traditional banking sector because of thin profit margins due to fierce competition, Hang Seng focuses on developing non-traditional sectors such as insurance, investment and private banking to tap new income sources.
Mr Leung credits the growth in the wealth management market to four factors: established brands, diversified products, mature customers and professional staff. The traditional banking sectors provide a steady source of potential customers for new financial products.
He points out that Hang Seng has the advantage of a large customer franchise, which makes it easier to identify clients for its new non-traditional sectors. The bank's customers also generally have a higher level of risk tolerance, which makes it easier to introduce diversified financial products such as insurance policies linked to stock investments.
Expanding into new territory is not without its challenges. "With up to 100 vacant positions constantly in the industry in Hong Kong, we are experiencing a great demand for qualified frontline financial professionals," explains Mr Leung. "Wealth management is a relatively young industry when compared to other financial sectors. Experienced customer relationship managers who can provide professional financial planning and investment advice are highly sought after."
A university degree related to the financial field is a good starting point to break into the market, as financial institutions have adapted their courses to meet the current demands of the job market, Mr Leung says. Apart from a basic knowledge of financial markets, training on compliance issues, products and clients' needs, as well as analytical skills, are indispensable, he stresses.
To meet increasingly sophisticated customer expectations, Hang Seng now requires all branch managers to acquire the Certified Financial Management PlannerTM (CFMPTM) qualification by the middle of 2010. Other interested staff members such as direct sales or relationship managers who aspire to become branch managers are also welcome to enrol.
The programme, run by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB), aims to improve bankers' understanding of financial regulatory frameworks, investments, insurance, tax and fund and asset management.
In its efforts to raise the bar when it comes to frontline service, Hang Seng accommodates CFMPTM trainers at the bank's premises and sponsors employees' study fees. More than 100 staff members have already earned the CFMPTM designation.
In support of the HKIB's mission of striving for excellence, Hang Seng encourages outstanding employees to take part in the institute's Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards. Last year, two of the bank's staff members won awards.
Hang Seng invests heavily in staff training to ensure that staff continue to grow in their careers, Mr Leung points out. This leads to high employee satisfaction and a low staff turnover rate.
Apart from knowledge of the Hong Kong market, the bank expects frontline staff to also understand the Greater China market, as many Hong Kong people are interested in Renminbi investments with the currency becoming increasingly popular.
In addition, more mainland Chinese customers are seeking to open Hong Kong accounts to make it easier for them to invest on the Hong Kong stock market. Mr Leung is confident that interaction between the two markets will increase over time and that the mainland will gradually open its financial markets and fine-tune its banking system.
He is optimistic about the future of the wealth management industry, which he believes is leading the development of the financial industry and solidifying Hong Kong's status as an international finance centre.