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Staff widen skill sets for yuan products
Published on Friday, 27 Aug 2010
HSBC has set up branches to cater to renminbi investments.
Photo: AFP

Trade officials and electioneering senators in the United States have their sights fixed firmly on the renminbi - and they're not alone.

Hong Kong investors are also taking a keen interest in the currency, looking to capitalise on its upside potential and the expanding range of tailor-made products available locally.

"It is certainly a hot topic," says Francesca McDonagh, HSBC's head of personal financial services in Hong Kong. "There is a lot of interest and talk about the renminbi among our customers, driven by the more recent relaxation of restrictions."

This has made it easier to arrange cross-border transfers and remittances. It has also spurred the opening of personal renminbi accounts and the bank's launch of structured products, insurance cover and certificates of deposit based on the currency. "The changes in the regulatory environment have opened up these opportunities," McDonagh says. "We are now able to meet customer demand with products like the first 100 per cent renminbi-denominated fund in Hong Kong."

Such developments, she notes, also emphasise the need for wealth managers and customer service staff to broaden their skill sets. For this, HSBC has weekly briefings and intranet updates to ensure detailed knowledge of renminbi-related trends and provide the latest market news.

Instructions preceding the introduction of any new product entail a combination of technical briefings, online training, role-plays and regular coaching from business managers.

"As customers now see the renminbi as an alternative asset class, we have to make sure our personal financial planners are comfortable and confident talking about this area," McDonagh says. "With the help of a coach, they practise how to engage with a customer and how to explain things clearly."

This is particularly important for staff assigned to one of the bank's designated centres for mainland business, which include branches in Central, Mong Kok and at the airport. Staff there can expect to deal with a high proportion of non-resident customers from the mainland and Taiwan, many of whom have only limited time to discuss investment opportunities during a short business or holiday trip.

"They want to talk to someone who understands their needs and can speak Putonghua," McDonagh says. "The staff in these branches, therefore, need cultural and language skills. They will be talking about renminbi investments and other services and currencies."

To help develop the necessary range of skills, the bank has set up a Greater China exchange programme. It allows Hong Kong-based employees to spend time on the mainland - and vice versa - to give them a better overall understanding of customer expectations and preferences.

"We have to be mindful of regulatory, compliance and migration issues," McDonagh says. "[But this will keep us] at the forefront of recruitment and training of frontline staff, and make sure that is in line with our business and customer needs."