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Fight on for frontline staff
Published on Friday, 05 Nov 2010
Banks will be looking to hire frontline financial planners and wealth management advisers in the new year.

As banks start to plan their business activities and recruitment needs for next year, they do not need a crystal ball to tell them the perennial search for top talent will continue to be a key issue.

Michael Murphy, general manager at Calibre Asset Management - National Australia Bank's (NAB) wholly-owned subsidiary and wealth management arm in Hong Kong - says that following NAB's acquisition of Calibre, the integration phase is now complete and the primary focus has shifted to growing headcount.

He says the firm is looking to start next year by hiring frontline financial planners and wealth-management advisers. Recruitment is also planned to support expansion of back-of-house roles in compliance and operations.

NAB now has almost 250 employees in Hong Kong - a 30 per cent increase in headcount for the year.

"One of our biggest challenges is finding wealth managers with the personal touch. We look for individuals who genuinely get a kick out of constructing personalised investment plans and not just adapting a formula for each new client. Recruitment is also necessary to support our expansion of back-of-house roles in compliance and operations," Murphy says.

At present, two Calibre teams look after specific Hong Kong investment needs with portfolio management services and assist expatriates who spend most of their time in the city. "Following the turbulence of recent years, it is the type of financial or banking service, not necessarily the product range, which is of greatest importance to Hong Kong investors," Murphy says.

Pang Shun-tak, managing director of JP Morgan Private Bank, says while hiring focus is generally on client advisers, new talent is also required to support other areas of the business to improve client experience. "We expect our recruitment activities to continue into next year," Pang says.

While acknowledging a shortage of talent, Pang says significant numbers of job seekers are submitting their resumes to his office.

"The biggest challenge is still to identify the `right' type of talent to fit with the bank's unique culture. Quality is eventually what wins out. New recruits who appreciate quality and join the firm immediately feel part of it," Pang says.

To avoid making the wrong recruitment decision, Pang says making expectations clear at the beginning of the interview processes is crucial. "You have to be 'real' rather than being the all-time top salesperson in front of somebody who will eventually report to and work for you," Pang says.

He says interviewing is a mutual findings process, not a one-way sales pitch. It is not about "I pick you" or "you pick me" - it is about getting to know each other and finding common ground to make the other person successful, he adds.

Edward Hayes, Standard Chartered Bank regional head of resourcing, northeast Asia, says the institution will continue hiring to match overall growth next year.

"We don't focus on a specific business, as all of our businesses are complementary and support our consumer banking and wholesale banking customers and clients. As we increase the number of our frontline staff, there will be a corresponding growth in the support functions including risk, compliance, audit, finance and technology to ensure we are providing the right level of support and oversight," Hayes says.

He says the battle for talent has always been a challenge. One of the toughest areas for the Asian financial services industry is finding support-function staff with the right skills and experience to back up the capital-markets business and the large transaction volume that business growth generates.

Hayes says to be able to win the battle for talent and support organisational growth, a robust strategy in talent identification, development and retention is key. "Growth of an organisation is possible only if you can develop your own talent pool and are able to identify talent with the right strengths and potential who can be trained," he says.

According to Hayes, it also helps if the organisation is open-minded enough to look at different profiles and industries for potential candidates rather than seeking a close fit in terms of technical skills.

He says the Chinese yuan will continue to be a key focus for the financial industry next year.

"We will continue to expand our RMB product offerings, and enhance our product features for our clients," he says.