For decades, banking and finance has been among the most fascinating and fast growing industries in Hong Kong. Thousands of fresh graduates every year are attracted to the dynamic and vibrant field, seizing any opportunity to become a part of it. Alan Tsang, director and chief executive officer of AMTD Financial Planning Ltd, was one of them.
"Hong Kong's retail banking business started to soar during the early '80s, with many young people hoping to land a career in the industry," Mr Tsang recalls. "For me, it was the executive image of bankers projected in films that had the greatest influence."
Holder of both a degree and an MBA from the University of Aston in Birmingham, UK, Mr Tsang has more than 16 years of experience in the personal financial services sector in Hong Kong. He joined Chase Manhattan Bank's Hong Kong branch as a management trainee in 1987 and served in many different managerial roles.
"Being a management trainee, I had a chance to work in different departments. It was during that time I learned that the banking and financial industry was a lot more complex than anyone would have thought," Mr Tsang says. "This business is so multifaceted that it broadens one's horizon and helps develop a sense of team spirit in a person." Gaining experience from different departments within an industry is crucial to career development, as Mr Tsang points out.
"It undoubtedly increases a person's communications capability because once you've worked there you've learned to speak their language. That is to say you have a better understanding of how they carry out their duties. It's definitely an asset if you're heading for a general management position."
It's the person who makes the career
Mr Tsang's career reached new heights. He was appointed vice president and head of consumer loan business at Chase and, in 1998, moved to American Express Bank as general manager for personal financial services. He was subsequently promoted to the position of chief executive for Hong Kong.
In early 2003, Mr Tsang saw the potential in the financial planning business and joined AMTD Financial Planning as director and CEO to lead the effort in providing personal financial planning related services to affluent individuals and families in Hong Kong.
"The room for development is enormous because we still don't see any other company in Hong Kong that has the capability to fill the leading position in the industry," he says.
As a member of AMTD's senior management Mr Tsang keeps a busy schedule, spending two thirds of his time dealing with clients and staff, and the rest with stakeholders and the media.
"Finding out clients' satisfaction level is of utmost importance because services are invisible and intangible. And in order to continue upgrading our services, we need to get a balance between all the different departments that work together to advance our business capabilities. Meanwhile, we also need to strengthen communications with stakeholders and let them see the company's business potential, strengths and direction, and try to understand their long-term expectations."
Mr Tsang's success requires a lot of hard work and intelligence, which in return create a rewarding and satisfying career for him. "Since the first days of our business in 2003, AMTD has already recorded a net profit that exceeded our expectations. It's thrilling to see the speed of our progress. Also, I derive great satisfaction from witnessing the rapid growth of our client base, as well as that of the number of counterparts because it has proved that the market development we foresaw was right."
In Mr Tsang's opinion, Hong Kong's economy is still in recovery at the moment, meaning it may not be easy for the young and inexperienced to enter the business.
"It's the person who makes the career, though, and promotion opportunities depend very much on the company's size and structure. In a regional branch of an international corporation, it may take four to six years for one to be promoted to middle management, and another two to three years to the next level up," Mr Tsang says.
To those who have a burning ambition as Mr Tsang has, he offers a word of wisdom: "Young people shouldn't be too eager for quick success and immediate gain. The advantages of being young are that you have all the time in the world and that you can afford to make mistakes. Just remember not to corner yourself."
Hong Kong plays a supporting role in the development of China's financial planning industry. In the next five years, Mr Tsang predicts, Hong Kong will go further in building the necessary infrastructure, which involves issues concerning legislation, licensing and training. Mr Tsang says, "Hong Kong is still at a very early stage in the financial planning business itself. Providing we have enough experience, intelligence and resources, Hong Kong might serve as a training base for professional talent in the China market."