Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Today's investors smarter and more risk-conscious

by Carmen To

Joseph Cho, assistant general manager, head of branch network and direct banking, Hang Seng Bank
Photo: Ringo Lee

Comprehensive package now needed to meet more sophisticated demands

Dramatic changes in personal banking services have taken place in recent years.

Explaining these changes, Joseph Cho, assistant general manager and head of branch network and direct banking, Hang Seng Bank, says, "In short, the awareness of finding sustainable investment tools to meet various financial needs among the general public in Hong Kong has increased. This is due to the experience gained after various incidents impacting on the financial situation in Hong Kong. These include fluctuations in the stock market and the instability of the property market in 1997, the SARS outbreak, the latest government plan on medical care, and the introduction of MPF. Formerly, people tended to rely on stocks and property as investment tools to generate wealth but now they have become smarter and learnt to minimise risks to attain their goals."

This awareness of investment pitfalls was enhanced by the media's watchdog role in publicising these incidents. As a result, customers learnt that they required a much more comprehensive package of financial services to meet their personal needs, and to ensure that they were not left behind amid the dynamism and complexity of Hong Kong's investment environment. Today, with the economy back on a roll, small investors are even more conscious of taking advantage of this vigorous growth. "All these factors are the reason we shifted our focus to wealth management in recent years to respond to the changing demands of investors," adds Mr Cho.

Younger generations

Hang Seng Bank has tailor-made investment services to appeal to younger generation customers who place greater emphasis on wealth management. In consequence the bank has brought in different funds and worked with different fund houses globally in order to provide more choices for customers, and provide a one-stop solution where suitable. On the insurance side, the bank has introduced a new monthly saving concept for retirees so they will have cash for future medical needs now that the government is gradually shifting the medical care burden back to the users themselves.

Meanwhile, e-banking channels have also been developed for the convenience of its customers, who can now tap into its wide range of services in an effortless and time-saving manner. Mr Cho stresses that the bank's ability to give customers reliable professional advice on their personal wealth management is the key to its ongoing success in the field. He gives credit for this not only to the bank itself but to staff professionals whose wholehearted efforts exemplify Hang Seng's corporate vision, values and strengths.

Before a customer makes any decision about his future plans, he must understand what needs to be done to support him to achieve his goals. This is also an important factor for a bank regulator to consider before he can give professional advice to his customers.

A few years ago, the bank incorporated lifestyles into its personal banking services to serve the needs of different customer segments.

Mr Cho likens the monitoring of financial health to bodily health, saying, "It's like going to the doctor for check-ups to make sure that we are healthy. Sometimes we might need to get a trainer to build up our bodies and so improve our overall fitness to guarantee that we are perfectly all right." Using this analogy, he stresses the need to constantly enhance the quality of services to customers even though doing so is a challenge that requires a concerted effort by the bank's team of professionals. This insistence on excellent service is the reason the bank devotes so much effort to provide talented staff with training, subsidies and sponsorships so they can gain recognition and qualifications for their jobs and skills.

Reliability a top quality

Asked to cite one of the major advantages Hang Seng provides over its competitors, specially the emerging Independent Financial Advisors (IFAs), Mr Cho replies, "Reliability."

"We have our roots in Hong Kong with over 100 outlets in and around the territory together with a strong franchise in all MTR stations. Customers trust us because of the efforts we take and the image we create. We understand different customers' needs and, almost everyone in Hong Kong has been linked with us at different stages of their lives," he says. "Like when you are a child, your parents take you to the bank to start your own saving account and when you start work, your company pays you via Hang Seng. This is the strong bond we have with our customers."

This breeds in-built customer loyalty, Mr Cho points out. Additionally, such long-standing customers will often confide in their banker. "This is another example of where we are different from IFAs," he says.

Developing niche

  • Ability to give customers reliable professional advice a key to ongoing success
  • Services enhancement requires concerted effort by the bank's team of professionals
  • Training, subsidies and sponsorships provided to talented staff so they can gain recognition and qualifications

Taken from Career Times 19 January 2007
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