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Designing tailor-made training courses
Published on Friday, 19 Aug 2011
David Langlands
Chief training and development officer of AXA Hong Kong

How do you improve the level of professionalism of your staff?

Training is the foundation of success. This is a bold statement but in times of economic recession, normally the first thing that is sacrificed is the training budget as it is seen as an immediate cost saving. While this may be true in the short term, it has long-term consequences, as the skill set within the company will fall behind that of competitors and thus affect customer service, productivity and retention.

As a progressive company and supporting our ambition to be the preferred company, AXA continues to invest in training. In September 2010, it opened AXA Academy, a new training centre in Kowloon Bay. It is conveniently located at the Exchange Tower in Kowloon Bay, offering contemporary training and meeting facilities covering a total of 28,000 sq ft. With a daily capacity of 800 participants, the AXA Academy provides modern educational facilities, which can host more than 1,200 days of business training. We provide a training service to around 5,000 employees and financial consultants associated with AXA. 

Training for AXA and the financial services  

In this fast-changing economic environment and tough financial services regulatory regime, it is essential that all individuals associated with AXA receive training. The establishment of our AXA Academy marks our long-term dedication and ambition to be the preferred company to all stakeholders. As part of this, improving the professionalism and knowledge of our employees and distributors is essential. We believe that our people are fundamental to driving the company's efficient and profitable performance and long term business growth. 

Courses and programmes  

Over the past eighteen months, the training team has been working very closely with employees and financial consultants through various training task force teams to establish real needs and real training solutions. Collaborative analysis and design has led to the development and delivery of tailored programmes. We currently offer a classroom prospectus of over 50 courses for training of new financial consultants, experienced financial consultants, new managers and existing managers.

Along with lectures, there are interactive elements including role play, observation assessments, written assessments, group discussions and experience sharing by qualified managers, thereby providing new knowledge or skills that can be practiced in a "safe environment". The key to successful development is how that new knowledge or skills are transferred into the working environment, and this is where the support of managers in the field is required. Therefore, "management development" has been the focus. To date, a number of managers have attended a combination of workshops so that they can provide effective fieldwork support through coaching and mentoring.

In addition, the AXA Academy provides continuous professional development courses to support the legislative requirement for financial consultants who are generally external providers, and we cater for external courses organised by our Human Resources department. Through regular course feedback and monitoring of trainees' performance before and after workshops, we ensure that we continue to deliver a very high quality service by being focused, dedicated and professional.

We also need good quality trainers to deliver the training. To ensure all trainers maintain and improve their competence, each member of our training team has a personal development plan that pushes them to new levels in personal and programme delivery. This includes working on project teams that allow their creativity to flow. 

Results  

To date, the results are promising. We have seen productivity of new consultants increase by up to 44 per cent, the license pass rate is 20 per cent above market rate, retention has increased and active ratio has increased. Through the management programmes, we are seeing an increase in new recruits and in the productivity of experienced financial consultants. We recognise that training may not be the only contributing factor to these results and that there are other factors such as campaigns, contests and manager interventions. Nevertheless, training is an initiator or catalyst. 

Future  

We will strive to reach our vision of being the role model in professional training and development for the financial services industry. We will achieve this by continuing to provide quality, effective courses that are business-results focused and geared to develop the capabilities of individuals, so they can fully maximise their performance and potential. In other words, we build careers, not jobs. The AXA Academy serves as a major step forward in achieving our vision and instilling the skill set needed to maximise our performance as a company. Overall, we aim at training all our staff, from frontline financial consultants to operational employees to deliver quality services that exceed customer expectations at all times. We believe this is a crucial factor in driving AXA to be the preferred company in our industry.