As uncertainties continue to plague the world's banking and finance systems, coupled with tougher operating hurdles imposed by regulators, financial services firms are looking for ways to control risks while maintaining the client experience.
Due to be phased in from 2013, new rules that will require banks to hold sufficient capital to withstand market turbulence are also forcing players to search for ways to cut costs and trim lending.
Despite the challenging operating environment, CITIC Bank International believes that to remain successful, one of the keys to success is managing the customer experience.
"At branch level, we have put in place a set of guidelines on service delivery to ensure quality service is consistently delivered to customers. We also continually open new branches in order to provide customer convenience and accessibility," says Winsome Ha, general manager for sales and distribution with the retail banking group CITIC Bank International. "Our customers should enjoy a similar experience when they visit any branch or talk to our call centre agents," she adds.
To ensure that customers' needs can be quickly attended to by appropriate staff, CITIC trains service ambassadors and CITICfirst associates stationed within branches to greet and attend to customers' needs. Each branch also has a Putonghua service ambassador to serve customers who speak Mandarin.
To help new recruits learn the routine and deliver consistent customer-centric banking services, CITIC has set up a 19-day New Join Staff Orientation programme, which includes training on the bank's corporate culture, operations, systems, services, compliance standards and product portfolio.
Part of the New Join programme also focuses on innovative ways to serve customers and to meet their banking needs. Ongoing staff reinforcement, coaching and role-play workshops are regularly conducted.
"The key is to understand the customer's needs and investment needs before suggesting a financial solution to [them]," says Ha.
She adds that staff licensed to sell investment instruments go through comprehensive product, process and service training. Coaching is also provided to sales staff to sharpen their hard and soft skills. Hands-on practice also forms part of the training. In addition, all members of staff are required to attend ongoing compliance and process training.
According to Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting - a regional firm specialising in executive and top-level talent recruitment and acquisition - with new regulations including Basel III looming, many financial firms are in a cautious hiring mode, doing internal reorganisations or are in a 'hiring freeze'.
In the risk control and personal loan space, Ng says banks are looking for experienced candidates with a proven track record.
"Technically, candidates would need prior experience of assessing risk, doing internal control or be successful at mitigating risk. An understanding of Basel III would offer a distinct advantage," says Ng, adding that ideal candidates are detail-oriented and excel at identifying risk.
They should also have the ability to offer recommendations, and alert senior management to any potential risk areas.
While retail banks look for ways to trim costs, a number of private banks are looking for ways to provide tailor-made services to Asia's rapidly growing league of female millionaires. This comes after a study by RBS Coutts which showed there is an untapped market for high-net worth (HNW) females with a total worth of about US$55 billion (HK$427.8 billion) in Singapore and US$112 billion in Hong Kong. According to RBS Coutts, HNW women expect product offerings to be the same as those offered to men, though they expect the approach to be tailored to their needs.
Eduardo Leemann, chief executive officer of Falcon Private Bank, says the Swiss bank is evaluating a tailor-made services proposition for wealthy females in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. "We are certainly leveraging the key insights to meet the specific requirements of HNW females in Asia," says Leemann.
He adds that there is an increasing demand for top talent to meet the sophisticated needs of a rapidly growing population of HNW individuals, as wealth management is expected to continue to boom in Asia. "There is a need for tailor-made wealth creation and preservation strategies - regardless of gender."