Kimmy Pong has a rather unorthodox advice when it comes to entering the banking industry. The product development and marketing manager at Hang Seng Bank's private banking department told a seminar that a finance degree is never a prerequisite to working in the industry. After all, she herself has a bachelor's degree in business administration.
The November 18 seminar, conducted in Cantonese and organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) and Classified Post, was aimed at providing tips to those who are considering a banking career.
Pong cited the example of Andrew Fung Hau-chung to illustrate that one does not need to have an in-depth knowledge of finance before joining the industry.
"Mr Fung is the executive director and head of treasury and investment at Hang Seng Bank. He always has innovative ideas on a range of investment products," Pong said.
"People might think that he studied a finance-related subject at university. However, he actually obtained a bachelor of arts degree in English literature, and had little technical knowledge of finance when he first entered the industry," Pong added.
She said that having a passion for the industry and possessing a positive attitude are far more important than a specific degree.
Pong recalled that some time after she was hired, she learned from her boss that she was chosen for the management trainee post in 2007 because "she showed passion for the industry and convinced the interviewer that she was hungry to learn."
Pong said that regulation of banks has become stricter in Hong Kong, following the Lehman Brothers minibond fiasco.
However, she sees the strengthening of regulations as a good opportunity for the employees in the industry to give deep consideration to what it is that clients really want, and to enhance the professional standard within the industry.
Pong is confident there is still considerable room for the development of the city's banking industry. "As Hong Kong enjoys the unique position of being the offshore renminbi centre, it is set to play a highly important role in the RMB internationalisation process," she said. "Besides, with a population of 1.3 billion, China is undoubtedly a huge market with enormous space for development and exploration. Hence, the market for the banking industry in Hong Kong will never be saturated."
Pong also gave those who want to develop a career in the industry a useful tip - to learn Mandarin as well as they can.
What's more, she encourages those who are green in the industry - and who lack sufficient financial knowledge - to sit exams to obtain professional qualifications, such as those provided by the Hong Kong Securities Institute.
"Through taking these exams, you not only acquire some basic knowledge of the industry, but also show your boss that you are determined to develop a career in the industry. Besides, these qualifications can equip you for a higher post," she said.
Pong added that people with a creative mindset are more suitable to working in the banking industry.
"To be creative [and on top of developments] is very important, as technology is progressing with each passing day," she said. "No one could possibly imagine just a couple of years ago that we would use an iPhone to buy stocks. Having a creative mind can [trigger] a number of innovative and cutting-edge financial solutions."
On top of being creative, having vision is important for employees in the banking industry.
"A person with vision will not see things in [the short term], but will foresee what clients want and what the market needs in future years," she said.
"Therefore, he or she will keep on devising new investment products, to suit the needs of the market in the future. This kind of talent is exactly what the industry is looking for."
During the seminar, Jessie Wong, senior manager at HKIB, introduced the diploma in banking and financial services offered by the institute.
The diploma is suitable for those who are not degree holders, but who wish to acquire essential banking knowledge. It consists of three core subjects: banking services and professional ethics; fundamentals of accounting and law in banking and financial systems; and risk management.
Wong said these core subjects cover all the knowledge necessary for a new entrant to the industry. She said the three core subjects could be the first step for those who didn't have relevant knowledge or experience, but who were, nonetheless, interested in exploring a banking career.
The diploma is either in classroom or self-study format.