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Manulife's agents of change
Published on Thursday, 04 Aug 2011
Manulife management trainee Fiona Chan (left) and agency compensation director Carmen Fu flank learning and organisation development head Cecilia Ng, in charge of the management trainee programme at the HR department.
Photo: Manulife
Kam To
Photo: Manulife

As a financial services company, Manulife's interface with the general public is through their financial advisers, or so-called agents. However, much planning, development, training and other activities take place in the background under the leadership of capable managers, before customers choose an investment and tick a box on our Mandatory Provident Fund sheet.

To prepare talented young people for the management pipeline, Manulife regularly takes in trainees to its structured programme, which runs alongside other graduate programmes such as the actuarial student and the investment division rotation programmes.

"Manulife started the management training programme more than 10 years ago, to groom talented managers who are committed, passionate and capable of developing a fast-track career. We try to take three to five corporate trainees each year, and we do it consistently during good and bad times. We have never stopped the intake, even in the most difficult market conditions," says Kam To, head of human resources, Manulife Hong Kong.

The company is determined to groom leaders from within, and in the past few years, has actually increased the intake. Competition is very tough. The participants are chosen from over 1,000 applicants during a stringent selection process which includes a written test, group discussion, psychometric assessment, ability test, impromptu presentation, case analysis and interviews.

"Different exercises in the selection process aim to evaluate the candidates' career aspiration, personality, motivation and other relevant competencies. In the final stage, candidates are required to present their case analysis to our department heads, followed by a panel interview," To says.

Manulife looks for fresh or recent graduates with around two years of work experience who are confident communicators, fast learners, proactive and flexible. They should understand that the company works in a very sales-driven and highly competitive industry, and should have a basic understanding of financial services.

"They need to be able to tell what Manulife does and how it differs [from banks]. Above all, a strong interest and commitment to the insurance and wealth management industry is crucial. Otherwise, they will not succeed," To says, adding that the management programme will appeal to those who like structure and clear objectives set out in their work life. A five-day induction to the company's basic operations and core values is followed by an 18-month period of rotation to help trainees understand the operations in different departments.

For Carmen Fu, a director in agency compensation, the training was tough but the results outweighed the efforts she put in.

Fiona Chan, a management trainee, says the programme has fired her up to develop her insurance career. "It takes time to gain experience from learning and contributing," she says.