Sell your way to the top
by Steven Yau
Hong Kong's vibrant consumer banking sector caters to a very specific demographic group of clients with clear financial aspirations and expectations. Finance leaders are geared to take advantage of new business opportunities with a host of innovative services.
Since the last quarter of 2009, Citibank has been upgrading its CitiFinancial branches into an integrated, fully-fledged retail banking network. The aim is to offer a wider customer segment an integrated platform with a more comprehensive product range, says Lawrence Lam, director of consumer lending, Citibank Global Consumer Group.
The move also generated more career development opportunities for staff, says Maisie Lam, country human resources director, Citi Hong Kong, adding that the company encourages employees to grow and diversify their career options.
To beef up manpower, the bank also has plans to hire more than 100 direct sales staff via internal recruitment as well as an upcoming recruitment day where the bank's line managers and HR staff will screen job candidates.
Mr Lam observes that across the wide spectrum of banking functions, direct sales remains a popular choice for Hong Kong's energetic and ambitious youth. "The profession is dynamic," he explains. "Results are highly visible and immediate and the rewards can be lucrative."
Frontline sales team members face a number of challenges. Performance-based incentives and commissions are affected by the prevailing economic sentiment, levels of customer interaction and the products and services on offer.
Considering the wide range of market offerings from a myriad of financial institutions, the going can be tough, but Mrs Lam believes that new recruits armed with the appropriate training can settle quickly into the fast-paced environment and excel in their jobs.
To get new recruits up the speed, the bank immerses them in a two-week training programme that comprises orientation, a series of product and sales technique workshops, on-the-job experience, role-playing exercises and job attachments.
"We require staff to discharge their duties in an utmost professional manner so training in sales process and compliance are also in place, and staff must pass exams to ensure that they measure up to our expectations and job requirements," Mrs Lam says.
Citibank's sales personnel are well geared for potential setbacks and are supported by an array of business initiatives, marketing programmes, sales activities, corporate partnerships, an extensive branch network and most importantly a diverse product portfolio.
According to Mrs Lam, sales professionals are capable of selling anything from straightforward financial products to total solutions that are catered to the needs of today's savvy customers. The influx of financial information also requires them to take the initiative to keep abreast of market trends and be adept at change.
In view of this, job candidates should possess certain desired personality traits and professional attributes such as perseverance, dexterity and a high level of emotional quotient. "In this line of work, rejection is common, so sales staff must not let this get them down. They must be able to remain positive and professional under all circumstances," Mr Lam stresses.
Working in a team environment can help boost individual staff members' confidence, so Citibank encourages junior employees to learn from more experienced colleagues and favour daily briefing and debriefing sessions. Mrs Lam believes it is important for young staff not to allow anything to curb their enthusiasm.
Leader of the pack
A job in direct sales is not for the fainthearted, but there are rich rewards for high performers, including excellent long-term career prospects and future promotions, vertical moves within the company and progression into management.
Mr Lam's own career speaks volumes. Since starting out as a Citibank management associate in 1997, he has had ample opportunity to work in a number of roles across various banking functions, including treasury and business planning.
In his current position as head of the bank's consumer lending business, Mr Lam oversees the development of a wide range of products, including personal loans, mortgages and revolving credit facilities. He also plays a pivotal role in facilitating cross-sales functions with other Citibank offerings such as insurance products and credit cards.
He believes there is plenty of scope for competent professionals to make their mark in the field. "But you must love your job," he remarks.
Enthusiasm, a customer-centred mindset and can-do attitude are indispensable. "Don't be afraid to go the extra mile and see every assignment as a learning opportunity," he advises. "Make your work meaningful and always focus on your long-term career goals."
Taken from Career Times 14 May 2010, A3
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