Working towards integration
by Grace Chan
The number of well-heeled individuals across the border is rapidly rising. As China and its citizens become more conversant with their investments, this affluent crowd is becoming receptive to allocating their assets abroad.
To capitalise on the recent surge in demand for cross-border wealth management services, ICBC (Asia) is forging closer partnership with its China-based parent company, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). While industry competition is intense, the gradual integration between the two is creating further opportunities.
As the world's largest commercial bank in terms of market capitalisation, ICBC operates more than 16,000 local outlets together with over 140 overseas branches and outlets.
"Our competitive edge hinges on the support from our parent company," says Ying Wei-yun, assistant general manager, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) Limited. "By leveraging ICBC's extensive network and customer base in China, we strive to be one of the leading medium-size banking institutions in Hong Kong in three to five years."
To further strengthen the group's collaborative efforts, ICBC (Asia) has dedicated considerable resources to upgrading its infrastructure. One major project is the development of FOVA—a brand new banking system comprising applications that are compatibility with its parent company's core banking infrastructure.
"Upon completion of system integration by the end of 2011 or early 2012, all of ICBC's overseas subsidiaries and branches will be able to ride on the same banking system. This will certainly help to bolster group collaboration," Mr Ying reveals.
ICBC (Asia) provides a free 24-hour phone roaming service, allowing customers to manage their savings, investment and credit card accounts through phone banking without incurring any IDD charges when they travel across the border.
Additionally, the bank is now looking into further extending its range of e-banking services from time deposits, remittance, foreign exchange transaction to securities transaction and others. "Service enhancement is at the top of our agenda as the internet promises timeless and borderless convenience," Mr Ying points out.
In keeping with the bank's growth strategy, ICBC (Asia)'s next move involves expanding its distribution network in Hong Kong, from the existing 44 branches to approximately 50 by the end of this year.
"For every new branch, we will need about 12 to 15 new frontline staff," says Mr Ying. "We also plan to install offsite ATMs strategically along the border gateways to cater for the needs of frequent travellers."
While new branches and additional ATMs will attract more clients, the key to outrun competitors is product innovation, according to Mr Ying. One such initiative is the launch of a convenient Mortgage Plus service, which allows Hong Kong customers to buy mainland property through monthly instalments. With this, customers may hold the assets in stronger currencies by taking out a loan in weaker currencies at lower interest rates. They may also enjoy preferential RMB exchange rates and discounts on remittance service.
Other beneficial initiatives include a remittance service with a predetermined RMB exchange rate and speedy processing time. "This kind of innovation can be made available not only across the border, but also globally," he notes. "By gearing up for the market recovery, new product initiatives should be customer-centric and most importantly, timely."
When it comes to wealth management, customers today are more knowledgeable about risk management and asset allocation and therefore expect protective measures in addition to growing returns. In a move to cash in on the improving stock market, securities and investment funds are two channels aimed at the mass affluent crowd.
Mr Ying emphasises that market segmentation is essential to increasing business opportunities. As such, ICBC (Asia) has created a variety of products with customised pricing, privileges and services catering to the needs and wants of various customer groups. For instance, a new portfolio of wealth management service targeting mass affluent clients will be launched in mid-2010 along with the bank's existing Elite Club services.
One for all
To facilitate further integration with its mainland parent company and to foster staff cohesion, ICBC (Asia) aims to promote a unique "One Bank, One Team, One Vision" corporate culture.
Mr Ying stresses that staff training and development are an integral part of the bank's corporate vision. The bank has also put in place monthly training programmes covering regular updates on product knowledge, customer service, market information and compliance issues. These are important for the enhancement of professionalism and customer service.
Staff will receive additional training to ensure an overall standard of professionalism whereas high-performing employees are rewarded with internal recognition. "Motivated staff serve as role models for others," Mr Ying remarks.
Taken from Career Times 23 April 2010, A2
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