Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Serving clients on both sides of the border

by Ada Ng

Venus Chiu
head of wealth management
Wing Lung Bank
Photo: Wallace Chan

Growth of wealth management market provides ample opportunity for competent practitioners

The increase in affluent mainland customers and steady growth of high net worth individuals in Hong Kong are reshaping the landscape of the local market.

"Since Hong Kong is the regional financial services hub, a great number of well-heeled mainland Chinese nationals turn to the city's banks for their wide range of products, professional investment services and greater access to the global financial markets," notes Venus Chiu, head of wealth management, Wing Lung Bank.

High net worth investors' needs differ vastly from those of general banking customers. "Affluent clients look for more than just investment services," she explains. "They expect sophisticated solutions spanning life protection, estate planning, asset and taxation management and so on."

Insider knowledge

With a fresh wave of optimism in the sector, Ms Chiu expects the demand for seasoned professionals to grow. "We're looking to expand the relationship manager sales force this year to strengthen our wealth management service. We're also developing a new range of renminbi-denominated investment products to cater for the needs of investors from the Greater China," she says.

Since its merger with China Merchants Bank (CMB) in 2009, Wing Lung Bank has been working in partnership with its parent company to leverage strong customer bases in Hong Kong and mainland China in order to provide a wealth of cross-border financial services.

The wealth management centres in Hong Kong, in particular, have been taken advantage of the strong customer base of CMB's "Sunflower" services, to offer offshore wealth management services to mainland clients keen on investing abroad.

In addition to equity and bond trading services, clients are increasingly demanding property-investment help, as well as trust services related to applications for permanent residency in Hong Kong.

Although high net worth mainland customers are a key target group, the bank retains a strong focus on local customers. "Our link with CMB and its established presence in the mainland market has helped us to win our Hong Kong customers' vote of confidence," Ms Chiu points out, adding that Wing Lung aims at providing a one-stop cross-border financial service to existing customers with banking needs in mainland China.

Growing professionalism

With people getting wealthier on both sides of the border, more investors will need the bank's services, Ms Chiu anticipates. "We'll need more sophisticated investment strategies and solutions to meet the specific needs of mainland investors. This requires a team of professionals with strong China market knowledge and technical expertise."

Wing Lung relationship managers regularly attend work exchange programmes on the mainland with their CMB counterparts. These sessions give them insights into the specific segments of investors, as well as into the different industry regulations and customer approaches prevalent in the two regions.

The bank views staff development as a priority, Ms Chiu stresses. Considering the importance of integrity, trustworthiness and professional ethics, the bank has designed a range of training programmes to highlight these attributes and enhance its employees' level of competence.

"We expect our staff to comply with industry standards and to follow all required procedures to ensure that our clients' needs are catered for and that their tolerance for risk is taken into account," she remarks.

Today's banking clients are more sophisticated and they have easy access to a comprehensive range of information on global financial markets. Therefore, the role of a relationship manager is to analyse all available data and put together an appropriate product mix that suits the customer's investment objectives and risk appetite.

In view of this, Wing Lung rides on role-play exercises and case studies in training to sharpen its relationship managers' professional skills. "These tools also provide avenues for them to gain hands-on experience in dealing with customers with different investment needs and risk profiles," Ms Chiu adds.

Practitioners are also encouraged to engage in extramural studies, with many pursuing the Certified Financial Management PlannerTM (CFMPTM) designation conferred by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB).

"We urge our relationship managers and customer service staff to work towards industry accreditations as we believe that by studying specific cases and customer scenarios, they gain the necessary financial knowledge and skills to customise appropriate individual financial plans," notes Ms Chiu.

She feels that the HKIB's annual Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards serve to raise professional standards in the industry. "The competition provides an ideal platform for planners to review and share their practices with their professional counterparts," she says.

A panel judge in this year's competition, Ms Chiu says candidates are expected to possess extensive market insight and product knowledge. They also need to have the skills to gain their clients' trust by being able to see things from their perspective.

Taken from Career Times 27 August 2010, A5

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