Money Moves

Top lender to tap SME growth

by Grace Chan

Lena Chan
Managing Director
Head of Business Banking
Commercial Banking, HSBC
Photo: Edde Ngan

With the global economy steadily improving and trade increasing, Hong Kong-based small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are becoming more upbeat about their prospects and many are seeking to finance their growing businesses

Anticipating a boom in this sector, one major bank plans to expand its network and recruit additional staff.

"Smaller companies' swift recovery after the global financial crisis has led SME banking to become one of the key growth engines for our commercial banking business," says Lena Chan, Managing Director, Head of Business Banking, Commercial Banking, HSBC. "We have already seen a year-on-year growth of more than 40 per cent in loans to SMEs in the first half of this year."

In response to this, HSBC has spearheaded a number of initiatives including an all-in-one integrated BusinessVantage Plus account that offers SMEs involved in cross-border trade or international business activities a wide range of trade support and banking services.

The recent opening of the flagship HSBC Business Centre, which provides an extensive portfolio of banking services such as cash management, financing, investments, insurance and company account opening, also demonstrates the bank's commitment in extending its reach across Hong Kong's SME sector.

Industry exposure

In view of future growth, plans are underway to open new SME business centres to expand its current network of 17. "We're looking to take on 200 new frontline staff in the coming six months," notes Ms Chan.

HSBC regards grooming its own team of business bankers as an investment in the future of its SME business, and the bank is now for the first time offering university graduates with limited work experience entry positions as frontline Assistant Manager Associates.

"While we generally prefer to hire experienced banking professionals, there's a massive demand for talent as the economy continues to pick up pace," Ms Chan points out. "It takes time for relationship managers to build up their networks and we see a lot of merit in growing our people together with our SME customers."

A lot will be expected of young recruits. "Apart from being self-motivated learners and good team players, candidates will also need to demonstrate strong interpersonal and communication skills, as well as an analytical mind. They must be able to understand customer needs in order to help them to explore new opportunities and pursue business growth," she says. "Above all, they must be dependable from an SME customer's perspective."

Successful entrants will receive ample learning opportunity and can look forward to superior career prospects.

An Assistant Manager Associate with the necessary credentials and drive can expect to move up to the position of Assistant Vice President, Business Development, within 18 months. With three to five years of solid experience, an Assistant Vice President, Business Development can expect to join as Assistant Vice President or Vice President Relationship Management, dedicated to serving HSBC's valuable SME customers. Those starting off serving small enterprises can eventually move up to handle medium-sized and large enterprises.

Dynamic environment

HSBC operates in more than 80 countries, providing young graduates with greater job mobility in Hong Kong and around the world. "We meet with staff members twice a year to draw up career roadmaps according to their individual interests and aspirations, looking ahead over the next 18 months," Ms Chan remarks.

A key responsibility of Assistant Manager Associates is to provide professional services and to offer solutions to different segments of HSBC SME customers. Newly recruits are therefore placed on an 18-month "block-building" training programme, encompassing classroom lectures and a series of e-learning modules that cover everything from back-office support to frontline services.

"This particular schedule is geared towards honing general banking knowledge and customer service skills for handling import and export documents and credit facilities," Ms Chan adds.

Hands-on experience through job rotations is an integral part of training and all new Assistant Manager Associates are required to kick start their career in frontline positions for a six-month period. "This experience is essential, since responding to customer needs is crucial to every aspect of our business," she notes, adding that this benefits trainees in the sense that they gain a broad view of the way different industries work and come into contact with a wide range of businesses.

Scope for development

  • SME business a strong growth engine
  • High demand for fresh talent
  • Talent development a commitment
  • Young graduates receive all-round training
  • Varied role provides excellent exposure
  • International organisation offers solid work experience

Taken from Career Times 10 September 2010, A3

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